It's difficult to pigeonhole Ferrari's F12 Berlinetta. It offers the performance of a supercar, yet the refinement and usability of a GT. So what is it? It's the current flagship of the most famous car company in the world and that, ladies and gentlemen, is all you really need to know. How could it fail to be totally epic in its brilliance?
Any idea what model currently lays claim to being the fastest roadgoing Ferrari? With a terminal velocity of 340kph, it's this one. The F12 joins the pantheon of all time greats - the Testarossa, the F40, F50, 599 GTO and the Enzo. It's faster than of any of them and, truth be told, I've been feeling a little apprehensive about driving it. The speed - 740hp through four wheels - is frankly ridiculous, never mind through just the rears. Surely this is a recipe for a disaster of monumental proportions.
What Ferrari wanted the F12 to offer, apart from colossal power and speed, was usability. And, would you believe, those genius designers and engineers have done it. Driving it through slow moving traffic is as easy as piloting a Honda Jazz, taking it in its considerable stride with an air of nonchalance and a relaxed demeanour that means nobody is in any immediate danger. Having said that, an injudicious stab at the throttle will, indeed, send you fishtailing down the road until the computers get you straightened out. Make no mistake, this is a wild one and, despite its low speed manners, it can be a bit of a handful. Which is how a Ferrari V12 should be.
Visually it's a triumph - an almost perfect marriage of aerodynamic superiority and emotional design. The shape is haute couture, a complex amalgam of curves, swoops, slashes and vents, designed by both Ferrari's in-house stylists and Pininfarina. It shouldn't work but it does. The lower nose section is more aggressive than the smiley FF, giving it a distinctive face that, to these eyes, is the most resolved of any current Ferrari.
Open the door and, while the drama and excitement of the exterior is somehow absent, the cabin is still a lovely environment in which to find one's self. There's leather absolutely everywhere, that goes without saying, and the dash comprises a large, central rev counter flanked by two screens that show all necessary trip, navigation and entertainment information.
On the move, the steering is light and totally precise, the front end beautifully nimble - it really does feel like the engine's weight is centred behind the cabin.
Put your foot down and the gathering of pace is shocking - not that far removed from a Veyron and easily as rapid as an Aventador - the delivery of power is seamless and massively strong, with the gearbox changing ratios faster than the blink of an eye. The car also feels immensely planted and stable - obviously those fancy aerodynamic details work. Ferrari says that, at 200kph, there's 123kg of downforce keeping the F12 from getting airborne.
And then there's the noise. Acoustic engineers have worked their aural magic on both the exhaust and the intake sounds, the latter of which is channelled into the cabin from the engine. At tickover it sounds like a caged lion and when you're really on it, it's loud, unmistakably Ferrari, gloriously complex, textured and layered. Engineers might have written the score but this car is the orchestra.
Bumps and potholes are beautifully soaked away through the new suspension set-up and, at low revs, it's quiet enough to have a virtually whispered conversation with your passenger. But what's really impressive is that it's enjoyable in just about all circumstances. The throttle is beautifully weighted so that it's instantly responsive without being jerky or tricky to judge. Cruising along sweepers at a medium pace? You'll be entertained without feeling frustrated at not being able to use the full power spectrum. Attacking tight hairpins? You'll be astounded by the grip and braking ability, and at the traction when rocketing out of corners. My fears of intimidation are almost completely dismissed.
During my time with the F12, I soak up so many sensory pleasures that, when it comes to an end, I'm on a total high. And then reality sinks in. I have to hand back this car that has grabbed my attention, reached into my chest and taken possession of my thumping heart. I love it, adore it, want to cherish it and never let it go. And I know that, when I see one on the road, I'll be overcome by an envy so intense that I might not recover. All I need to do is find a way of breaking the "savings gone, Ferrari in car park" news to Mrs Hackett - I'm sure she'll get her head around it eventually.
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