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When it comes to engine placement, Enzo Ferrari famously said "The horse doesn't push the cart, it pulls it." In other words: the proper place for the engine in a sports car is in the front, not the back. That mantra would take years for his engineers to finally overcome and start putting engines behind the driver, considered a more optimal place to reduce weight on the front and enable quicker turning. Still, Ferrari (the company) has always maintained a fondness for cars with engines up there ahead of the driver. That fondness is doubly grand when we're talking about a big V12 slung between the front wheels.
Of all the cars Ferrari has built with this configuration, the F12 Berlinetta is the fastest. In fact, before La Ferrari came along, the F12 was the fastest production car the company had ever made. With 730 horsepower on tap, a relatively trim curb weight of 3,362 pounds, and seating for just two, the F12 is a rocketship disguised as a grand tourer. It's brutally quick when it wants to be, yet mostly civilized when it needs to be.
The word "berlinetta" means "little limousine" in Italian, but memories of bachelor parties and prom will likely be far from your mind the first time you see the F12 in the flesh. It has the same long, low, dramatic silhouette as its predecessor, the 599 GTB. That shape looks amazing from outside, and just as good from within, where you're situated low and gazing out over that long nose, looking between the two flares on the hood, making room for 20-inch front wheels.
You might be surprised to learn, however, that perhaps the most beautiful portion of the car is hidden. Now, there are certainly plenty of engine compartments out there that have received plenty of detail. Polished chrome and anodized aluminum and extraneous carbon fiber have all been used in the past to dress up the lumps in cars of all sorts -- but never have I seen something like this. Lift the hood on the F12 and you're greeted by a breathtaking temple to horsepower. Lovers of big-displacement will have a near-religious experience the first time they gaze on the 6.3-liter V12 under the hood. More casual automotive fans will merely be left speechless.
OK, that's slightly hyperbolic, but the engine compartment here is a truly stunning thing to behold. I opened the hood for many a curious onlooker and not a one could retain their glee. Of course, it helps that the rest of the car looks great. Angular in places, curvaceous in others, it's a nod to many of the best parts of the 599 GTB, yet a clean step forward at the same time. The most dramatic piece is the so-called Aero Bridge, a gaping cut-out in the fenders that channels air from the hood to the sides of the car, filling the turbulent void created by the front wheels. Tweaks like this give the car significantly more downforce than the GTB, yet lower aerodynamic drag.
The interior, likewise, is a mix of new and old -- especially in the model we tested, which featured the same shade of tan hide we've been seeing in Ferraris for decades. However, beyond that and the cross-drilled pedals, everything else is thoroughly modern. The optional "Leaf" seats here are thin with backs of exposed carbon fiber. They look dramatic and racy and offer a good support, but lack adjustment. Shorter drivers will want to opt for one of the multitude of other seats Ferrari has on offer.
The steering wheel is the same as found on the Ferrari FF and 458. I'm usually not a fan of parts sharing, but this part is so good it's hard to mind. Everything you need to drive and drive fast is at hand, including the manettino for changing drive modes, buttons for wipers and turn signals, another to lift the suspension, and even the shiny red one labeled "Engine Start." Carbon-fiber shift paddles aren't far behind, though you can just reach down to the "Auto" button in the center console if you can't be bothered.
Many of the rest of the less-critical functions of the car are controlled through a twistable four-way joystick mounted on the dash, just to the right of the wheel. Things like navigation and infotainment are controlled here. It's a comfortable reach for the driver, but a bit of a stretch for the passenger. They needn't worry, though, as the display controlling all those functions is integrated in the dash just to the right of the large, central tachometer. In other words: a quick glance down for the driver, but impossible to see for the passenger.