Every young boy dreams of being able to fly and driving a race car. The Ferrari F12 Berlinetta realises both ambitions.
It is — until the launch of the hybrid La Ferrari — the fastest Prancing Horse in the road-registered stable, hitting 200km/h in 8.5 seconds, or less time than most cars take to hit 100. It defies supercar conventions by being smaller and cheaper than its predecessor, the 599 GTO. And if grandma keeps the tacho under 4000rpm and has a light right foot, she can safety drive it to the shops.
A lot more car for a lot less money should motivate potential owners to at least test drive the F12 — and the first example landed in Sydney last week.
The $691,000 sticker price undercuts the 599 GTO by $200,000. That makes cheaper than a Lamborghini Aventador — though still more than double the cost of a pair of Porsche 911 Carrera 4Ss. Standard gear runs from carbon-ceramic brakes to a Bose sound system, voice activation of the stereo and phone, satnav, magnetic suspension damping and a massive boost to the occupants' egos.
Where do I start? As the Ferrari flagship, the F12 gets the latest and greatest toys the Maranello masterminds can conceive.
Engineers took the 6.3-litre V12 of the FF, gutted it and fitted lighter and stronger internals. Many components — carbon-ceramic brakes, traction control and seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission among them — are evolutions of Ferrari's F1 technology.
The spaceframe chassis uses 12 alloys, with key components fashioned from aeronautical-grade metals for their lightness and strength. Ferrari doesn't use structural carbon fibre in the F12, arguing the relatively big distances
F12 owners clock up make alloy a more practical choice if the car needs to be repaired. Weight distribution is 46:54 front-to-rear, a momentous achievement given the F12's engine is front-mounted, even if most of that weight sits behind the front axle.
It looks stunning from any angle but the shape of the F12 is determined by fusing style and stability. The signature elements — the bonnet vent, the "aero bridge" channels above the front wheel arches, the side scoops and the multi-vaned rear diffuser — have been designed using computational fluid dynamics to meld aerodynamics with aesthetics.
Slip into the enveloping driver's seat and the big central tachometer dominates the view, flanked by a pair of TFT screens. The left display toggles through various readouts on the car's dynamics and shows which performance setting has been chosen from the steering-wheel mounted knob Ferrari calls a manettino.
Each of these displays includes a small digital speedo in the bottom right corner. It's clear at constant velocity but dissolves into a whirl when the go pedal is pushed. The right screen is reserved for the satnav and infotainment displays and is relatively small, but high-res. An alloy bridge (carbon fibre is an option) arcs from the dash to the centre console and houses a trio of buttons; one to select reverse gear, another to engage full auto and a third simply marked "launch".
There are no stalks behind the wheel — Ferrari doesn't want anything getting in the way of the paddle shifters — so the ancillaries are in the dash or, in the case of the indicator switches, mounted on the steering wheel hub.
Life will never be the same again. A leisurely jaunt towards the hills above Maranello shows just how tractable and easy to operate the F12 is in traffic. Then the road clears and starts to twist and climb so I use the last decent straight to brake test the Ferrari and learn how it stops before plumbing the Marianas Trench-like depths of car's abilities.
The pedal travel is longer than anticipated, so I abort for another go. This time the carbon ceramic discs are warming to the task. They display brutal efficiency. The seat belt is the only thing stopping me from splattering the inside of the windscreen and I still haven't activated the ABS. I've ridden in a couple of race cars that haul up quicker but that was accompanied by tortured protests from the brakes and squeaks from the chassis. The F12 is serene.
Time to get serious. Switching the manettino to "CT" dispenses with the traction control but leaves the reassurance of ESP to ensure the F12 doesn't become a scenic feature. The corners are calling a siren song and the F12 launches at the first with all the intent of Odysseus going overboard.
The steering is quick — two turns of the wheel take it from lock to lock — so incremental adjustments are the only way to play. A gentle throttle application metres before the apex to get the car to build up pace almost proves my undoing. Much like the steering, there is no delay in power application in the F12, as the quick twitch of the rear end and twin spires of smoke in the rearview mirror attest. So it's not just fast, it forgives average drivers who overstep the mark.
I'm now more skittish on the broken Italian bitumen than the car is. It translates every undulation into steering and chassis feedback but at the speeds the F12 is doing, that's more sensory input than most people can react to, especially when the driver is enduring a high-speed "massage" as the car rocks and thumps over bitumen that would make Aussie road repairers proud.
It dispenses with straights like a charging cheetah and devours corners with the same relish. Concentration must be absolute — you anticipate reference points because the closing speed means non-race drivers will overshoot them.
Gradually I find a rhythm and the next 12km are a succession of increasingly high lateral G-forces and faster entry and exit speeds. Grip taxes credibility — unless you are in the car it just can't be appreciated. I pull up with a shuddering chest and sweaty palms, calm down and repeat the exercise for 120 minutes of driving nirvana that will take some beating.
If your child has an interest in cars but isn't trying at school, pay for a ride in an F12. If that doesn't transform them into wannabe millionaires, adopt new ones, because they're a lost cause.
Those who can afford the F12 Berlinetta will be rewarded with the best combination of supercar performance and daily driver I've had the privilege of steering. The rest of us will have to dream on.
Ferrari F12 Berlinetta
Price: from $691,000
Warranty: 3years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: 7-years' free maintenance
Service intervals: 12 months/20,000km
Crash rating: Not tested
Safety: 6 airbags
Engine: 6.3-litre V12, 545kW/690Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto; RWD
Thirst: 15L/100km, 98 RON, 350g/km COinf2
Dimensions: 4.6m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.3m (H)
Spare: Repair kit