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.
So, if you're the sort who lets your significant other (or perhaps even a passenger of lesser-import) control the radio and the nav system, you're going to have to learn to take control for yourself. As for the passengers, they'll make do with a thin display mounted on the right, which shows things like traction control settings, current speed and RPM, and so on. Perfect for rally co-drivers -- or nagging co-drivers.
Keep in mind that this, like so many of the details that make this car as comprehensively impressive as it is, is an optional extra. That little display will cost you $4,336. The leather parcel shelf behind the seats, with the lovely stitched straps, is $2,730. The high-power JBL sound system adds on $5,695.
Whether those items are worth it is between you and your accountant, but it is a very nice-sounding system. Smartphone connectivity is limited to Bluetooth pairing for A2DP audio and phone calls, but the integrated nav system, while dated, is tolerable. Entering addresses via the little jog-wheel is painful, but the voice recognition is surprisingly good, allowing you to speak the entire address in one shot. I tried many destinations, even those with complicated names, and the car never missed a beat.
Insert the key in the ignition, give it a twist and...nothing happens. You'll need to thumb the big red Engine Start button on the wheel to start the party, and after a brief cry from the starter the V12 snarls into life. Pulling away from a stop with the transmission in Auto mode is a doddle, just apply a little light gas and away you go. Smooth.
In its softest suspension setting, with the steering-wheel manettino dialed to "Wet," the F12 is a comfortable cruiser. The suspension is surprisingly compliant and the throttle response gentle enough that you needn't worry about lighting up the rear wheels while pulling away after dropping little Johnny off at school.
Unless you want to, of course, as a deeper prod of the pedal on the right quickly brings the car to life. Even with traction control in its most paranoid of settings, the power of 730 horses is fully on display, rear wheels scrabbling for grip and complaining on hard accelerations. Dial it up to "Race" and you will find yourself sitting low and snug in a raucous and loud rocketship.
The power delivery on the F12 can be brutal, and when shifting manually in Race mode the transmission has no qualms about delivering a bit of a kick to your posterior with each hard shift. Find a straight that's long enough (and doesn't have a speed limit), hit the launch control button, and take off from the line hard, and the car will fight for traction well into third gear. The official 0 - 60 time is rated as 3.1 seconds, which I can confirm. Sadly I wasn't able to test the reported top speed of 210 mph, but I have absolutely no reason to doubt it.
The 6.3-liter motor situated between and behind the front wheels, in a front-mid configuration, certainly provides for this kind of performance, but the chassis is a willing partner. The car feels incredibly stiff and nimble, aided by a curb weight under 3,400 pounds. That's more than 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the 599. Much of the savings comes thanks to smarter use of aluminum and carbon fiber, plus slightly reduced dimensions, but light weight does come with a few drawbacks. Most noticeable is road noise. You'll be hearing plenty of it coming from the tires, and while that's not much of a bother if you're canyon carving, on the highways and more boring byways of life, the feedback can get to be a bit grating.
Oh, and should you be worried about the efficiencies of such a motor, well, you might want to skip down to the next paragraph. The car is EPA rated at 11 mpg in the city, 16 on the highway, with a combined rating of 13. In our testing, consisting of mixed driving we came in on the low side of things, just over 11 mpg. And yes, it drinks premium, so filling up that cavernous 24 gallon tank won't come cheap.
In the grand scale of grand tourers, the F12 skews well toward the extreme performance side. As such, it makes a few compromises to creature comforts along the way, but the net result is a ridiculously fast car that is still extremely civilized. It's lovely to behold, lovely to drive, and a truly epic package. But, do be prepared for an epic price tag. The Ferrari F12 Berlinetta starts at $318,888 (that's £239,352 in the UK, AU$691,000 down under) -- but, like most cars in this category, quickly goes up from there with options. The as-tested price of our car was an eye-watering $434,114. This is not an insignificant sum of money, but if you should be of the means, you must consider this car. Rarely has a piece of machinery moved me quite like this. Enzo, it seems, wasn't so far off.