The call for lighter, smaller, wieldier fast cars has been cried for a long time now, yet here we are in 2022 with 1,700kg BMW 2 Series and Porsche 911s seemingly as wide as a Panamera. Good job Ferrari paid attention...
Alright, so the 599 GTB Fiorano was always a bit chunky - even when people cared less about it. But the transformation to the F12Berlinetta really was enormous. It was a decision taken more than a decade ago now, too, don't forget. Here was a car 50mm shorter, 60mm lower, 20mm narrower and 70kg lighter than its formidable predecessor. While also boasting more downforce, a lower centre of gravity, improved efficiency (despite a huge increase in power) and retaining the sort of space customers expect from a Ferrari V12 super GT.
The F12 was a real statement of intent about what Ferrari's immediate future looked like, with less flab, more performance - this was the firm's fastest road car ever at launch - and a dramatic new look as well. A decade after its introduction at the 2012 Geneva show, the F12Berlinetta is 176mm shorter and just 55mm wider than a new BMW M4. With another 230hp. And a whole lot less weight - told you Ferrari was onto something.
Today, even with the F12's successor (the 812 Superfast) out of production, it demands attention in a way that the 599 arguably never did. Partly that's due to the dimensions - the F12 is squat and taut where the old Fiorano wasn't - but also thanks to Ferrari's dramatic aero features. With kit like the Aero Bridge (those ducts in the front wings), Active Brake Cooling and rear diffuser arrangement, Ferrari claimed both a 76 per cent increase in downforce (123kg at 124mph) as well as reduction in drag (to 0.299Cd) over the 599. And you're never, ever short of something to look at. Some might even go so far to say the F12Berlinetta's styling was better resolved than the 812 that replaced it. This was the last Ferrari designed with some Pininfarina input, after all...
The interior will seem familiar to anyone with experience of a recent Ferrari. Of course it will, you'll say, because this isn't an old car. But such is the rate of progress now, with Ferrari often at its bleeding edge, that a lot can happen in not very much time. A decade ago, this many buttons on the wheel would have seemed novel, perhaps odd - now look what's happening. And yet it still makes more sense than many others. Porsche was very proud of its analogue tacho being flanked by screens in the 2019 992-era 911 - yet it was far from the first. Of course, graphics and display quality date it, but Ferrari's decisions at the time are arguably validated by just how contemporary the F12 feels. And you wouldn't say that about a 2012 McLaren.
Talking of progress, it's worth noting that by Maranello's engineering standards, the F12 is distinctly old school. After all, it has hydraulic steering working on just the front wheels (the 812 introduced EPAS and 4WS), no Slide Slip Control (which came with the 458 Speciale) and no stop-start, either, which had only recently been introduced to the California by the time of the Berlinetta's launch. Fuel consumption was reduced by 30 per cent, anyway - even with another 120hp.
Of course, the colossal engine dominates the F12 experience like fillet does a Beef Wellington. Even surrounded by excellence, it's what you're paying the premium for, so it's only right that it lingers longest in the memory. However what's notable to start with - at least once the cold start histrionics have died down - is just how easy and docile the car is for something with such outrageous performance. The steering is heavier than a brand-new Ferrari's (if still super sharp) and the pedals need a reasonable shove - but it bimbles around so undramatically: engine subdued, DCT slurring gears, ride cushy. It's popular to bemoan the modern supercar's ease of use, but when the lanes are narrow and the owner is waiting for their car back, compliance of all kinds is very welcome. As are those more compact dimensions.
Ferrari's stated (and very laudable) aim with the F12 was to combine the agility of the mid-engined cars - think transcendent 458 Italia - with the usability that comes with the engine out front. For all its approachability and accommodation, this is still a Ferrari faster around Fiorano than both an Enzo and a 599 GTO. Extremely fast cars reach 100mph in 8.5 seconds - the F12 is already at 124mph by that point.
If for nothing else, that's why the F12Berlinetta is a PH Hero. Nobody needed a car faster or more thrilling than the 599 GTB, really, but Ferrari built it - while at the same time ensuring it was easier to get the most from, more refined, more efficient, more stylish and better appointed. Imagine being there when it was decided the Fiorano's replacement needed another 120hp, on top of 620, from an enlarged version of the Enzo's 6.0-litre V12. The Lamborghini Aventador arrived the year before the Ferrari with less power and four driven wheels; the standard model didn't get to the F12-matching 740hp until 2017. Putting this much power in a rear-drive Ferrari was three-parts genius, one-part lunacy. And boy does that make for a wonderful supercar.
Of course, opportunities to fully experience the V12 are limited on the road, but you won't forget a single second of them, either. Peak power is delivered at a wild 8,250rpm, the F12 getting stronger with every single shift light, sound evolving from fierce bark to deranged howl as the scenery blurs. The DCT might lose something to Ferrari's new eight-speed gearbox, yet it remains assuredly rapid both up and down on those gloriously oversized paddles. The rush to redline is intoxicating; the Lamborghini V12 isn't quite as urgent and the contemporary Aston engine nowhere as accelerative. There's the rabid energy of small, fizzy four-cylinder over the final few revs (from a 6.3-litre engine!) with the most glorious V12 vocals. And yet it's the very opposite of peaky, with 80 per cent of max torque from 2,500rpm, so as soon as you're done with (bumpy road enabled) Race mode, the F12 is back to its best behaviour in Sport. A V12 this tractable would be impressive, as would one with comparable fireworks beyond 7,000rpm; the fact that both features co-exist in a single unit has always been the distinguishing characteristic of a very special engine.
The combination of that powertrain with a freakishly direct front end and a little more roll than perhaps might be expected (or permitted today) sounds like a disaster, but the F12 really works. Like all Ferraris since the 458, once trust is placed in the steering's response it all starts to make sense, the car tracking like it's laser guided and with its rear always in sync. And perhaps it's a facet of cars getting ever larger since 2012, but the F12 fits onto a standard British highway better than you might think. Granted, it isn't a V12 GT86, but appreciation of its scale works wonders for driver confidence, aided in no small part by those raised front wings that help place the extremities. Just like the little Toyota, in fact...
And when the engine inevitably gets the better of two driven wheels, the F12 ups its game in a manner which has become quintessential to the modern Ferrari experience. The newly introduced E-Diff replaced the 599's old mechanical LSD, and while its incorporation into the firm's other dynamic tech has proceeded at dizzying pace, the seamlessness of it all is still easily recognisable in the F12's transparent handling. Set free it'll be utterly sensational, such is the level of trust the Ferrari confers on its driver. One review back in the day used the phrase '740hp M3', which seemed a tad silly at the time, but you really can invest enormous faith in the behaviour of both axles, and in what seems like supreme balance (Ferrari actually shifted a bit of weight back for this car, with official distribution at 46:54). Factor in the razor-sharp responses of the V12, and you can understand the shout a decade later.
Truthfully, the remarkable duality is still hard to comprehend even after actual experience of it. This is a 740hp rear-drive monster that can be trundled around like a much less powerful, much more unassuming car, yet is also mere seconds from the sort of exhilaration only a Ferrari can offer. Of course, its predecessors weren't bad by any means, but F1 gearboxes date them now - and we all know 500hp doesn't hit quite like almost 50 per cent more again. Delivering a thrill previously reserved for the race track alongside superior ease of use is a neat trick, and doubtless very helpful in persuading customers to move from the old V12 flagship to the new one.
Of course, you'll still pay for the privilege today. Even the highest mileage F12s now sit around £160k, which is still £20,000 more than the nicest, lowest mileage 599s just a couple of years older - such is the step on. An F12 might still cost £200,000, actually. And while there's no such thing as an undesirable Ferrari V12, by bringing together a powertrain of such ferocity, a chassis of this ability and a stunning new look, Ferrari really did ensure something spectacular resulted. The uncertain future for the V12 only makes it look more appealing a decade after launch; that said, given how emphatically its maker resolved the lighter, smaller, more efficient conundrum with the F12, maybe we shouldn't be too concerned just yet about what's to come.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI F12BERLINETTA
Engine: 6,262cc, V12
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 740@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 509@6,000rpm
Top speed: 'over 211mph'
Weight: 1,525kg (dry, with lightweight options)
On sale: 2012-2017
Price new: £239,746
Price now: from £160k (2022)
Image credit | Harry Rudd
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