With a V12 descended from the Enzo hypercar’s under its bonnet, the Ferrari 812 Superfast boasts an engine to celebrate. For its first drive on UK roads, we head to south Wales to let its 789 horses run free. Words by James Disdale. Photography by Aston Parrott.
2019 Ferrari 812 Superfast THE FAST SHOW There are engines and there are naturally aspirated Ferrari engines. As we discovered this month, the 6.5-litre V12 in the nose of the 812 Superfast is one of the very best.
The last village is way behind us and the road has opened out into one of those straights that stretches well beyond the vanishing point. I’ve clicked down to second gear and the Ferrari 812’s manettino control is switched to Race. With nothing ahead and the barely contained forces of the Ferrari’s 6.5-litre V12 eager to escape, my self-control lasts barely a fraction of a second. Well you would, wouldn’t you?
‘YOU CAN METER OUT THE NATURALLY ASPIRATED UNIT’S ALMOST LIMITLESS PERFORMANCE WITH SURGICAL PRECISION’
That said, I’ve been building up to this moment during our first drive of the Superfast on UK roads – you don’t simply hop into a 789bhp supercar and bury the throttle before you’ve so much as got out of the car park. No, there’s a period of shadowboxing first; some tentative exploration of the car’s lower reaches that you hope will give you a clue as to its character when you both start getting serious.
‘THIS V12 IS VYING FOR THE HONOUR OF THE GREATEST INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE OF ALL TIME’
On the long drag west to the almost Alpine vistas that surround Treorchy in south Wales, the 812 barely broke a sweat. Even stroking it along – the seven-speed, twin-clutch gearbox changing up as early as possible – it’s easily the fastest thing on the road: accelerating from just 30mph in seventh it can comfortably rinse most hot hatchbacks when it comes to roll-on urge. It simply surfs along on a tidal wave of torque that’s available, electric motor-like, from the first revolution of that vast engine ahead of you; peak torque of 529lb ft is at a heady 7000rpm, but 80 per cent of that figure is available from 3500rpm.
It helped make the 812 surprisingly civilised on the trudge toward the Severn Bridge, the muscular motor working in combination with the adaptive dampers’ supple ‘bumpy road’ setting that takes the edge off the worst road imperfections. The insistent exhaust drone at a cruise is a bit wearing, and the ‘long arm, short leg’ driving position a throwback to Italian cars of three decades ago, but driving the 812 long distances isn’t exactly a chore. It wouldn’t be quite as easy to live with day-to-day as, say, a McLaren 720S, but it’s hardly a temperamental diva – and it has that most wondrous of engines, which makes almost anything forgivable.
Anyway, that was then and this is now, and that arrow-straight stretch of tarmac is still waiting. This is it; the polite getting-to-know-you period is over and it’s all business from here on in. Squeeze the throttle and the V12 responds with an unexpected savagery – there’s no delay, no inertia and no lag, only an instant explosion of naturally aspirated energy. So quickly does the needle spin to the 8900rpm red line (nearly 9000rpm from 6.5 litres, I ask you) there’s barely time to pull the long, carbonfibre shift paddle for third.
The gear slots home so quickly and smoothly that there’s virtually no let-up in the vicious onslaught of acceleration, which is accompanied by a glorious, shrieking mechanical howl that’s a happy by-product of superunleaded and oxygen being mixed and burnt at a relentless rate.
The scenery rushing past has gone from pin-sharp panorama to hyperdrive blur, while that magnificent engine is chewing through third gear with the same demented intensity as second, and before you’ve had a chance to pull your finger back from the paddle it’s already time to grab fourth and repeat the whole dizzying, intoxicating experience. Again, the gearchange slots home virtually unnoticed, while the ferocity of the acceleration isn’t at all blunted by the taller ratio, and in what seems like nanoseconds that seemingly endless straight is reeling in a tight-looking bend. Time to lift the throttle, squeeze on the ceramic brakes and breathe for what feels like the first time in a lifetime. Even if there hadn’t been a corner ahead I’d have lifted, because as you near the top of fourth gear the Ferrari is travelling at the sort of speed that even the most liberal magistrate would struggle to turn a blind eye to. Wow, this thing is fast. Super fast, in fact.
‘THERE’S NO DELAY, NO INERTIA AND NO LAG, JUST A SUDDEN EXPLOSION OF ENERGY’
‘GETTING THE BEST FROM THE 812 REQUIRES ROADS THAT ARE FAST AND FLOWING’
The 812’s engine really is a work of art. In an age predominated by forced-induction motors it’s easy to dismiss natural aspiration as out-of-touch and inefficient – yesterday’s technology, if you will. When you consider that the McLaren Senna delivers the same power output from a relatively small but turbocharged 4-litre V8, the 812’s vital stats don’t look quite as impressive. But that’s to miss the point, because with its almost telepathic throttle response and soul-enriching soundtrack, the Italian V12 is vying for the honour of the greatest internal combustion engine of all time. It’s certainly got the breeding to mark it out as something very special. Yes, it’s essentially an enlarged version of the 6.3-litre unit that appeared in the F12, but the block itself is the one that made its debut in the Enzo back in 2002. Not bad genes, then.
At 6.5 litres it’s now at the very limit of its capacity (the extra swept volume has been found by increasing the stroke by 2.8mm, the bore having been stretched to its maximum already). To get the heady 789bhp, Ferrari’s engineers have gone over the V12 with an obsessive attention to detail, with the result that it carries over only around 25 per cent of the components used in the F12. One of the biggest upgrades is the adoption of a direct fuel-injection system that runs at an astonishing 350bar pressure – that’s a 150bar increase over the F12’s set-up. There’s also the F1- inspired variable-geometry inlet tracts that are an evolution of those used on the F12tdf. The 812 also benefits from new six-into-one exhaust manifolds that help expel the extra gases faster and more efficiently, plus an increased compression ratio that must ask for new levels of integrity and tolerances.
It’s not just the engine’s internals that mark it out as extraordinary – it looks stunning, too. From the red crackle finish (natch) of the cam covers to the beautiful carbonfibre airboxes, the Superfast’s engine bay is a sight to savour. A sight sadly lost with so many great cars today.
Such a force of nature is the engine that it’d be easy for it to dominate the rest of the car, but once you’ve got over the nuclear fission-fuelled performance you start to appreciate that it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t wrapped in a machine of rare ability. Taking lessons learned from the F12, in both standard and frightening tdf guises, the 812 advances the art of the front-engined, rear-drive supercar to previously unimaginable levels. Despite the increase in engine size and the addition of extra aero (we’ll get to that), the Superfast manages to weigh no more than its predecessor’s 1630kg thanks to less soundproofing (all the better to get closer to that heavenly engine), ancillaries (wiring, pipes and the like) that have been carefully shorn of mass and, of course, the use of carbonfibre here, there and everywhere.
Another big change is the adoption of the tdf’s four-wheel steering, which Ferrari has dubbed Virtual Short Wheelbase. It made that car a somewhat spiky steer, its efforts injecting a nervousness to the handling that could be anything from unhelpful to downright terrifying. Ferrari has worked hard on the system (we’re now on version 2.0), claiming that it’s ironed out the edginess, yet retained the increased agility. Working in tandem with the all-wheel steering is a whole suite of dynamic control systems that’ll stretch your capacity for initialism retention, with SSC, EPS, FPP and FPO all featuring.
What does it all mean? Well, EPS is Electric Power Steering, a significant addition as it replaces the F12’s hydraulic set-up, itself hardly a paragon of free and easy communication, while FPP (Ferrari Peak Performance) and FPO (Ferrari Power Oversteer) are functions of the new steering that effectively deliver positive feedback to help the driver correctly guide the car at the limit of grip. The latter of these two works in unison with the fifth-generation version of SSC (Side Slip Control), Ferrari’s trick addition to its stability control software that aims to allow some sideways fun without the fear of rolling your supercar into a ball.
The wizardry doesn’t end there, though, because like all modern Ferraris, the 812 is dripping with active aerodynamics. In fact, its whole exterior and underside is a moving advertisement to the power of the wind tunnel. You’d struggle to call the 812 beautiful, but its singularity of purpose is difficult not to admire. The aluminium bodywork is covered with slats, scoops, diffusers and turning vanes, while hidden away are various active moveable devices, including a trio of flaps under the rear bumper that can move through an arc of up to 14 degrees. It all adds up to a car that can generate the same levels of downforce as the tdf, but with 40 per cent less drag.
We’re moving deeper into the hills around Treorchy now, and it’s fair to say there’s currently not much call for downforce. The roads are narrow and it takes a neat, tidy and measured approach to thread the Superfast along between the white lines on one side and the rocky hillside on the other. Yet despite its size – at 1971mm wide, this is a big machine – the Ferrari is fairly straightforward to place, the new electric power steering being as wrist-flick quick as ever (it runs to just about two turns lock-to-lock). As with the old system, it suffers from a glassy feel away from the straight-ahead that limits the amount of chatter between tyres and fingertips, but with such a razor-sharp response to your inputs you can use your eyes’ feedback and seat-of-the-pants feel to fill in the blanks.
Opportunities to enjoy the Superfast’s towering performance are few and far between. Even the briefest foray beyond half-throttle is enough to devour a short straight in a fraction of a second, and also more than enough to discover that, in the dry at least, there’s way more traction than a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive 789bhp car has any right to deliver. That’s partly down to relatively supple ride in the adaptive dampers’ base Sport setting and partly due to the efforts of the E-Diff electronic differential and the latest F1-Trac ESP software. You can get greedier with the throttle than you’d ever think possible, with only the occasional flash of the stability control warning light letting you know that the car is working hard to keep you on track.
As we strike deeper into the Brecon Beacons the roads get wider and faster, allowing the 812 to start to show its true potential. I’m learning to trust that somewhat mute steering now, relying on its instant and faithful responses to inputs to make up for its unwillingness to open up a meaningful dialogue. In tighter turns there’s the merest whiff of stabilising understeer, but the rear axle works its magic immediately, neutralising any slide wide and keeping you locked on your line.
Before long you’re throwing the car at corners with a confidence that borders on abandon, safe in the knowledge that the front tyres will cling on doggedly. You also begin to revel in the incredible agility of the four-wheel steer, which creates this glorious feeling of the whole car pivoting gracefully and quickly around your hips, encouraging you to push harder than you’d ever imagined you’d dare.
As you’d expect, it’s the rear axle that becomes the limiting factor as it starts to squirm around on the exit of bends under the immense provocation from those demonic forces of the V12. Yet it never feels snappy or edgy, because you can meter out the naturally aspirated unit’s almost limitless performance with surgical precision: your rate of acceleration is directly proportional to the angle of your right foot, and in today’s motoring world that’s a hugely refreshing tonic. Soon you’re twisting the manettino through Sport and Race and on to CT Off, which effectively activates the Side Slip Control. Sure enough, this piece of electronic witchcraft gives you just enough leeway to have fun, but not so much that things get expensive. Coupled with the sublime throttle response and that willing engine, it goads you into hanging the 812’s tail out just a little when exiting slower corners – and I mean a little, because any more than a snifter of oversteer has this big car covering two lanes.
Yet such is the Ferrari’s adjustability that you can genuinely throw it around with the sort of confidence that you might a Caterham. OK, there are some caveats to that statement. For starters, you’ll never get entirely used to the lack of real feedback through the wheel, while getting the best from the Superfast requires roads that are wide and flowing.
Yet even on more contained stretches of tarmac the 812 never fails to entertain, and it’s largely down to that engine. Yes, its incredible performance potential means you rarely get to exercise it at full-throttle (unless you find a circuit), yet while that might sound frustrating, it arguably makes you savour each visit to the red line even more, because the performance and that screaming soundtrack live with you far longer than whatever most other cars can offer. This engine is that good, that exciting.
The relentless drive for efficiency means that units like this could be consigned to history sooner than you’d think, although Ferrari reckons there’s still more to come (surely it can’t rev beyond 9000rpm?). Either way, let’s celebrate this engine while we still can. The fact that it’s ensconced in a car of such rare ability is merely the icing on the cake.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 2019 Ferrari 812 Superfast
Engine V12, 6496cc
Max Power 789bhp @ 8500rpm / DIN nett (metric)
Max Torque 529lb ft @ 7000rpm / DIN nett (metric)
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive, E-Diff 3
Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear
Wheels 10 x 20in front, 11.5 x 20in rear
Tyres 275/35 ZR20 front, 315/35 ZR20 rear
Top speed 211mph
Basic price £262,963
Drive-My rating 5.0