Even Colin Chapman, famous for, among other things, his take on the old maxim, “less is more,” put turbos on the Lotus Esprit. Because sometimes more is more. No one who drove a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta would argue it needed more power, yet its successor, the 812 Superfast, has just that.
Actually naming a car “super fast,” regardless of historical justifications, requires the same sort of “damn the torpedoes” approach to car building. It had damn sure better be fast or forever be mocked as a triumph of arrogance over engineering. Fortunately for Ferrari, there’s no risk of a Mondial T redux.
The 812 Stoopidfast, as tester Chris Walton took to calling it, is exactly what it claims to be. It’s among the top five quickest rear-wheel-drive cars we’ve ever tested and far and away the quickest front-engine, rear-drive car. Every quicker two-wheel-drive car—McLarens, other Ferraris, and a Porsche—is aided by a mid- or rear-engine platform that shifts weight to the rear wheels at launch to increase grip.
How quick? How about 2.8 seconds to 60 mph and a 10.4-second quarter-mile pass at 138.6 mph? Even in the modern pantheon of supercars, a 0–60 time under 3.0 seconds is damn impressive. The 812 really gets its legs farther down the road, where its quarter-mile time vaults it ahead of cars like the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren P1, though the P1 carries slightly more speed.
All this from the only purely naturally aspirated car in the group. If there’s never another new naturally aspirated V-12 developed—and the possibility becomes more likely every day—this will be the greatest swan song ever sung. With 6.5 liters of lung, Ferrari’s 789-hp, 530-lb-ft V-12 is equal parts musical instrument and mechanical precision. It makes you want to pass other cars, not to show off but to share this aural perfection with them. It’s classic V-12 F1 car in the tunnel at Monaco good.
For the fullest appreciation, make liberal use of those long, delicate shift paddles. The seven-speed twin-clutch transmission does a fine job of shifting for you in all circumstances, but it doesn’t seem to understand how sinfully glorious this engine sounds at redline. The computer knows the torque peak is well below the rev limiter and will let the engine dig out from 5,000 rpm. But there are another 4,000 rpm on the dial, and their voices must be heard. This world will be a colder place when this engine is gone.
Such an evangelist am I, I took to giving other editors three pieces of advice before they drove this car: The auto engine stop/start switch is by the map lights; use a light touch; and drive it at 9,000 rpm every chance you get.
About that second bit: Everything happens very quickly in the 812, in part because every input is hair-trigger sharp. So sharp that for the first 30 minutes you drive it, you’ll feel like it’s twitchy and high-strung. Eventually, though, you learn to slow your inputs—steering, braking, throttle—more than you thought you could. You slow them to the point where you’d barely get a reaction from a normal car, but the 812 will feel like magic. Then it flows down the road perfectly.
Once you’ve had a taste, legal limits will never do. All perception of speed is perverted, such that the car won’t feel fast until you’ve left the double digits well behind. At this point, it will occur to you that you don’t seem to be spending much time at wide-open throttle. It seems like a heinous oversight on your part, but it’s OK. This car is so powerful that trying to get to wide-open throttle just for the sake of it will cause you to drive erratically. You’ll always be at full throttle or full brake, never enjoying the in-between. Waiting for the appropriate time and place for full throttle makes it all the more rewarding, and everywhere else, the throttle’s adjustability allows you to fine-tune exactly the amount you need for any given situation.
It gives me great pleasure to write that, because it wasn’t the initial impression from our instrumented testing session. There, the 812 put up fantastic numbers but felt loose and a bit unrefined. On the figure eight, it wanted to be manhandled. Driving delicately just got you midcorner understeer. Coming in hot with a healthy portion of trail braking delivered extra bite from the front tires and rotated the rear slightly. Once the understeer was managed, you could aim for the exit and roll on the throttle, at which point it became all about managing power oversteer. The ultra-quick steering and easily adjusted throttle make it easy to do a little drift off the exit, and even with a slight rear weight bias and front-mid-engine placement, it’s not snappy like a mid-engine car. If you’re using CT Off mode rather than ESC Off, the computer will let you hang the rear end out, provided you’ve got it under control, but just wood it, and the nanny will straighten you right out.
Out on the road, absolutely none of that matters. The 812 is far too quick for you to ever worry about limit understeer or trail braking. The car has so much grip that if you were actually going fast enough to worry about any of that, you wouldn’t have time to think about it. The car shrinks around you in the best possible way, right up until there’s a car coming the other way on a narrow road and you instantly remember how wide it really is.
Even more important is how much better all of this behavior is than the F12. A few years ago, I wrote, “Too much power for public roads,” in my notes after I tried to hustle the F12 down a back road where a Corvette and a 911 were getting away from it. The F12 just couldn’t put the power down, and it only got hairier when we lined the three cars up for a drag race. Piloting the F12 from the middle position, I fought a fishtail through second gear on every pass, praying it wouldn’t get away from me and take out another car. The 812 isn’t like that at all. Whatever Ferrari’s done to the suspension, the Side Slip Control computer has turned a wild child into a straight-A student.
Accelerating in the 812 doesn’t have the jump-to-hyperspace feel of today’s latest turbocharged supercars but rather a short swelling of intention followed by a long, continuous burst of acceleration that feels like it ought to let up at any moment but never does. It’s naturally aspirated perfection we so rarely get anymore, and grabbing the next gear at redline almost feels like a turbo boost hitting. Pulling an upshift at the exit of a long sweeper feels as though the outside rear tire is somehow digging in a little harder and pushing you out of the corner with some secret reserve of power.
The 812 does have a few bad habits left, though. For one, the braking isn’t as strong as you think it is. It stops hard, but the car weighs 3,845 pounds (about 150 pounds less than the F12) and you don’t realize that until you need to turn triple-digit speeds into medium double digits for the next corner. ABS intervention comes on sooner than you expect, and it’s in no small part due to how fast you’re traveling. The car is far more enjoyable when you brake early than trying to wait until the absolute last second.
The other downside is its touchiness in city driving. You need only blow kisses at the pedals to get a mature reaction from the car. The slightest bit of aggression will get you a tenfold return from either. Everything with this car is done with the smoothest and most minimal effort; the trick is to never ask for more. Touch the gas lightly, and be patient while the transmission lets the clutch out. Pushing it harder won’t make it work faster; it’ll just dump the clutch and snap your head back. Same with the brakes: Touch them nicely, and let them work. They don’t bite all at once, but they do their job fine without you micromanaging them to a stop.
When I was making notes about the 812 for this review, my phone autocorrected Superfast to “superfluous,” almost as if Siri had been eavesdropping on my drive. Is it? Absolutely, in every sense of the word. A car like this is as unnecessary as it is ostentatious, and that’s what makes it wonderful.
|2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$465,509|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.5L/789-hp/530-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,845 lb (47/53%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||183.3 x 77.6 x 50.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||10.4 sec @ 138.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||99 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.03 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.3 sec @ 0.93 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||12/16/13 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||281/211 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.43 lb/mile|