Ferrari 812 Superfast Review: One of the Best Engines of All Time
The 6.5-liter V12 is the most powerful naturally-aspirated motor ever dropped in a production car. Can the rest of the 812 Superfast measure up?
Let's start with an apocryphal quote often attributed to the late Enzo Ferrari: "I don't sell cars. I sell engines." Even if the Great Old Man never said those words, their sticking power comes from the inexorable link between Ferrari's image and the mechanical concerto of an Italian-built V12. Ever since its first car rolled out of Maranello's gates in 1947, the considerable pull the company exerts on the popular imagination has always come down to that simple fact. A Ferrari sounds and feels like a Ferrari when you bury the throttle.
You're not supposed to use a word in its own definition. Mea culpa. But I think you know what I mean. Decades of cars like the 250 GTO and the Testarossa and the LaFerrari have conditioned you to understand the sense of occasion that a Ferrari is supposed to bring. You can gaze at the 812 Superfast and hear that rhapsody in twelve, a pealing, blissful roar washing over your mind. You can imagine the lightning throttle response and unending acceleration and the way the right road can make the chassis sing. But looks, handling and performance can only do so much. That engine—an engine—well, it's as vital to Ferrari as the human heart.
That is essentially the reason the Ferrari 812 Superfast exists. It's a wheeled wrapper for Ferrari's latest masterpiece, a 6.5-liter, naturally aspirated V12 that stands as the most powerful such motor to ever grace a production car. I'll add one more superlative here: it's also one of the best engines ever, an all-time great showing up at the 11th hour of the internal combustion age like a deus ex machina sweeping away the convolutions of twin turbos and superchargers. Suck, squeeze, bang, blow and repeat, all the way 8,900 rpm. It rocks.
The F140 GA is an evolution of the version that powered the F12berlinetta, the Superfast's predecessor, stroked from 6.3 liters because there really is no replacement for displacement here. Now, it's funny to imagine the company's brilliant engineers thinking like backyard hot rodders. But there's a real kernel of truth to that. The 812 Superfast is part of a long line of front-engine, rear-drive grand tourers, a setup whose increasing obsolescence forced Ferrari to throw every trick in the book at it to keep up with the times.
The result—an aero-focused, heavy-for-Ferrari GT supercar with rear-axle steering and hyperintelligent traction control—is far more than the sum of its parts, a completely enchanting ride with more than enough theatrics to justify the $358,000 ticket price. Still, when an engine is as good as this one, it breaks the curve for the rest of the car. Every other part of the experience has to rise to the moment as well.
Ferrari 812 Superfast Specs
- Base Price (as Tested): $358,102 ($416,153) ($336,962.00 in 2018)
- Powertrain: 6.5-liter V12 | 7-speed dual-clutch transmission | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 789 hp @ 8,500 rpm
- Torque: 530 lb-ft @ 7,000 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 2.8 seconds
- Top Speed: 211 mph
- Curb Weight: 3,593 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: 12 mpg city | 16 highway | 13 combined
- Quick Take: A masterpiece of an engine wrapped in a stubborn artist's favorite form.
The Engine. That Engine
Like it or not, we are approaching the limits of what can be done in a car with an engine in the front driving only the rear wheels. Do I even need to mention the mid-engine Corvette? The edge of the envelope is in plain view—what a thrill it is to watch Ferrari work the remaining margins for all they're worth. The weapon of choice is, as mentioned, a 65-degree V12 displacing 6.5 liters of rarified air with every combustion cycle.
Ferrari could've done any number of turbo or hybrid tricks here. Instead, the 812 Superfast relies entirely on atmospheric conditions and its own brilliance. A complete rethink of the internals means its version of the F140 V12 is 75 percent new parts compared to the F12berlinetta. It feels it; the high-revving, inertia-free character seems impossible at first, like there's no way 12 cylinders can react that quickly to your right foot's commands. Believe it—the engine spins into long, broad crescendoes or sudden thunderclaps with the eagerness of an F1 motor half its size. The tach tops out at an alluring 9,000 rpm, while Ferrari says it's limited to 8,900.
Top that off with the variable intake from the F12tdf, a super high pressure fuel injection system and magical six-into-one exhaust headers and you've got the gist of it. There's one last trick, though. Ferrari managed to stuff the entire V12 behind the front axle to make the 812 a front-mid-engine car and avoid the nose-heavy handling that typically comes with twelve-cyl engine bays. You can sense it intruding a bit on cabin space as a result, but that only adds to the sense that the engine is the star.
Sitting back at the rear axle for better weight distribution (47 percent front/53 percent rear) is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission built by Getrag with 30 percent faster shifts than before. First through sixth are for the good times; seventh gear is reserved for highway overdrive. Not that it does a lot to keep revs down when you're cruising at superfast speeds, and highway fuel economy stinks as a result, especially for something that deigns to be a grand tourer. No matter.
One of the more eye-popping specs on this engine is that peak horsepower arrives at 8,500 rpm, peak torque at 7,000. The reality of such a large, naturally-aspirated engine is that the power feels immediately accessible throughout most of the rev range. Ferrari's official numbers peg it at 80 percent of max torque available at 3,500 rpm. I'd wager it's closer to 2,000, meaning you don't have to hit the redline in every gear to get a fast start. Once you short shift into fourth, the vast power band keeps it engaging.
But come on—if you're buying an engine here, you're buying it to wring it out. Ferrari wouldn't put that peak horsepower so high if it didn't want you to reach for it. Wide open throttle delivers a sense of frenzied acceleration that gives the sense of falling down a steepening slope as the V12 spins up toward 9K. It is a brutal, exquisite sensation, 3,700 pounds of car and driver completely in thrall like a storm chaser being drawn in by funnel clouds. To hell with risk. You must know what it's like to see the tach tap out, to hear this engine at its limit.
Not so impeccable: the gearbox is a joy under manual control on a good road, but it's easily confused at slow speeds and the throttle feels languorous and rubbery as a result. Auto mode stretches things out to the point where there's over a one second delay in the response when you hit the gas from a dead stop.
There's another quote by Enzo that's relevant here, and this one is real. "Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines," he said in 1960. Over a half century of engineering progress since then has proved that to be a little shortsighted, but it's a maxim that could've still applied to the F12 when it launched in 2013, favoring a more classically inspired body with clean lines to match the old-school character of its engine. Not so with the 812 Superfast, which has an intense focus on aerodynamics heretofore unseen in Ferrari's front-engine cars.
The lean, almost gaunt design reflects that whole cloth. Everything from the double mouth fascia to the eyebrow intakes on the hood to the concave sides has been shaped with the express purpose of cutting through the atmosphere more efficiently. Last year, head Lotus designer Russell Carr told us that the future of supercar design will be about porosity, finding ways to bring air through the car to reduce drag and use its force in even more targeted ways.
An example of that here is found in the 812's "passive mobile aerodynamics," an intake along the lower fascia that leads to a dead-end tunnel. Above 112 mph, the pressure forces the far end of that passageway open and allows air to move out and under the car, increasing front downforce. In the rear, an active diffuser can adjust its flaps according to drive mode, aided by a fixed spoiler that's almost 1.2 inches higher than on the F12.
Overall, the exterior is function over form. I understand that's necessary to reach the target performance goals. 211 mph is not slow. Two of the most objectionable elements for most internet commenters, the eyebrow intakes above the headlights and the highly sculpted door panels, are actually linked to guide the same air channel through the tops of the front wheel wells and out over the back. But I do believe that given its raison d'etre, the 812 Superfast would've been better served by a more classic, restrained design. Ferrari wants you to see the 365 GTB4 Daytona in its windswept two-box profile. Instead its curved sheet metal is a bas relief of performance, which is really all you get from it. It looks sharp, expensive and fast, not especially pretty.
Although, I'll admit to giving any Ferrari extra credit if it comes in a shade other than red or black, and the Argento Nurburgring paint on this car tones things down nicely, as do the blacked out wheels.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Ferrari 812 Superfast is that it sends its nearly 800 horsepower through a pair of 315 Pirelli P Zero tires out back without feeling as dangerous as that sounds. Granted, those shoes need to be nice and hot before you can make use of it, and even then you can induce wheelspin at 80 mph and above if you really punch it. There is so much power on hand that even at 100 mph in seventh gear, the car feels like it's surging, barely satisfied, ready for takeoff.
Ferrari's traction control (sorry, Side Slip Control) is nothing short of heroic in the way it maximizes grip to reward a firm hand. (I didn't have track time with it, and a week of rain made going nannies-off seem like a bad idea.) You might expect that to make the biggest qualitative difference in a straight line, and it (along with launch control) certainly does a lot in achieving the 812's recorded 2.8 second 0-60 mph time. But the Superfast is a dancer that relishes trail braking into a hot corner, rotating just enough to let you know you're alive and powering out with the sure-footedness of a heavier car with half the horses.
I can't emphasize this enough—the way Ferrari's made the 812's handling stand out from all other FR performance coupes is the crowning achievement here, especially as it introduces its first fully electronic power steering system. At first it's busy and tightly wound, verging on twitchy, though the quick rack and four-wheel steering does make typical city maneuvering a breeze. Once you acclimate and get it on the right road, it makes all the sense in the world.
Ferrari calls its four-wheel steering Virtual Short Wheelbase; the wheels turn opposite the fronts below 6 mph and in parallel above that speed. What sounds like a bit of Orwellian marketing speak is actually a damn accurate descriptor. The first time you throw the 812 into an extremely tight corner you'll feel it tuck itself toward the apex as the rear axle adjusts. A big, front-engine, V12 grand tourer shouldn't be capable of that kind of bright-eyed handling. The heretical EPS system has two more tricks up its sleeve, the ability to increase steering wheel torque as you reach the edge of lateral grip and use that torque to help you manage power oversteer. It's both a warning and a beckoning hand—things are getting real. If you're up for it, the Ferrari 812 Superfast is, too. Though I'd still like a bit more feedback through the wheel.
So, the incredible (albeit computer-assisted) grip, smart engine packaging and eager steering, you've got unreal straight-line acceleration and vivid performance in the curves. Even the LaFerrari-sourced brakes—Brembo six-piston carbon ceramics with 15.7 inch rotors up front, four-piston/ 14.2 in back—are dialed in for a 5.8 percent faster stop than in the F12 and feel up to the challenge of halting a fast car that's approaching two tons.
Perhaps the only mark against the 812 Superfast is that it's a bit too stiff and busy to make a real GT car. The bones are all there, including a cavernous-for-a-supercar cargo hold with 18 cubic feet of space. But even the "Bumpy Road" mode on Ferrari's magnetorheological dampers doesn't deliver the relaxed ride you're looking for on a long haul trip. And you'll be stopping for gas a lot. I saw 10 mpg combined over my week with it, and that's not counting the half-tank of premium I vaporized in a two-hour canyon run.
If you're wondering how we've gotten this far in talking about a $400,000 car without addressing the interior, it's because the Ferrari 812 Superfast's cabin is perhaps its least impressive part. Remember what I said about the perfect V12 wrecking the curve for everything else? Apart from the F1-inspired steering wheel, whose flat bottom and cartoonish dials are a constantly fun reminder that you're driving a Ferrari, there's little about it that captivates. It's a handsome space in Iroko Brown with white accents and the optional Daytona-style horizontal stitching on the standard eight-way power seats (also, no lumbar adjustments at this price is a demerit). A suitably uncluttered dash reminds you that it's best to operate the 812 sans distractions. But chiefly, the interior is a place to sit, not another showstopper like the motor.
Two LCD displays rest on either side of the central tach in the gauge cluster—the left relays vehicle information, while the right controls the rudimentary infotainment (Apple CarPlay is a $4,000 option, and Android Auto is not available). In a weird ergonomic/UI decision, both have separate, unintuitive clickwheel controllers on either side of the steering wheel that makes anything beyond scrolling menus a chore; forget about inputting an address into the native navigation software.
It says a lot that perhaps the standout feature is a small, rectangular touchscreen mounted directly in front of the passenger that can display a speedo/tachometer combo or interface with the audio system. Fun party tricks aside, there's absolutely nothing wrong with crafting a cabin based around the driving experience. But given the price and the heritage-minded ethos of a V12 grand tourer, the 812 Superfast's interior styling doesn't reach for those classic notes the way the engine does.
Any critique of the Ferrari 812 Superfast must acknowledge one thing first and foremost: this is a phenomenal car. To probe its faults is the very definition of nitpicking. The world is better off for having this machine in it, and for Ferrari's continued efforts to keep the front-engine, rear-drive V12 game alive. That its few downsides are grounded in the everyday, the quotidian, the humdrum of normal life speak to its powertrain's exceptional nature.
There it is again. It keeps coming back in my mind—this idea that of all the cars Ferrari currently makes, it's the 812 Superfast that puts its engine on a pedestal and challenges you to think anything else really matters. Behind the wheel, it's nearly impossible to argue against that approach. Because while the result might not be the quickest or fastest or most capable Ferrari, the 812 is probably the best at being a Ferrari right now, with all the sound and fury and poise that badge is supposed to bring. It exists in a space where no one else does, a classic V12 GT with true modern supercar performance.
This was not the path of least resistance for Ferrari, to make a diminished format newly relevant by pumping it full of technology and the know-how that only comes with 70+ years of building twelve-cylinder engines. But it's precisely all that effort that makes the 812 Superfast special. What's that they say about things that are easy? Oh yeah. F**k 'em.
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