LOS ANGELES — How to communicate the experience of driving Ferrari’s fastest machine on one of the world’s great roads? It’s like the first time you watch Silence of the Lambs, tense and clammy and you wish it would both end and never stop.
It’s like the part in the Thriller video where Michael Jackson looks straight in the camera and begins to dance. It’s like you are Miley Cyrus swinging on that wrecking ball. It’s the first time you light a firecracker.
Ferrari doesn’t sell cars, it sells drugs. They’re addictive and ferociously expensive and exactly what your parents warned you not to get tangled up with.
This is the Ferrari 812 Superfast. It’s painted in the yellowest yellow and shines as brightly as the California sun. It costs $474,486. Now, you’re thinking that’s expensive. Yes, but $130,000 of that price is optional extras: Horse Stitched On Headrest ($1,266) and Exterior Sill Kick In Carbon ($2,025).
Have it all; tick every option box. It feels so wrong but it’s oh so right. By the way, these are U.S. dollar figures. In Canada, the 812 starts at $397,591, so this Giallo Modena monster would set you back roughly $630,000, which is more than the average price of a condo in Toronto.
You may catch yourself now trying to rationalize living out of this car. Do not.
Historically speaking, the Ferrari 812 Superfast is an overhauled version of the F12 Berlinetta, which itself is part of a long line of front-engine, V-12-powered coupes which can trace their lineage back to the 1940s.
Sadly, the 812 Superfast is likely the last of its particular kind — more on that later. For now, admire the artistry at work here.
The cabin is bony and skeletal, compared to, say, the plump interior of an Aston Martin. There are more intersecting lines in here than in an MC Escher drawing, and yet it all fits together perfectly. The leather is stitched spandex-tight across the steering wheel and dashboard.
From the driver’s seat, the hood is freakishly long, as has been the fashion on cars like this since time immemorial. For anyone coming from, say, a normal car, it might feel like driving an articulated fire truck from the rear end, Cosmo Kramer-style.
On the move the car soon shrinks around you, thanks in large part to the Virtual Short Wheelbase System 2.0 (aka four-wheel steering). The flick of the wrist is all it takes to manoeuvre the 812 around a city.
The magnetorheological dampers in “Bumpy Road” mode do a fine job of making for a comfortable ride, even on LA’s ragged streets.
Escaping from Los Angeles, the enormous front wheels — 275 / 35 Pirellis on 20-inch rims — sniff out every camber, which keeps the steering moving around enough to let you know the 812 is hungry. It’s the first Ferrari with electric power steering, which, frankly, who cares anymore. All cars are going to electric power steering; the Ferrari’s is quite good as far as these things go. Initially it feels a tad light and artificially boosted, but it’s not the steering; it’s actually the whole car. The chassis’ is preternaturally quick-witted, which is the last thing you expect from a big front-engine car like this.
The eastern section of California State Route 2, known as the Angeles Crest Highway, threads into the mountains above Los Angeles and is undoubtedly among the best driving roads in the world. On this day, the Angeles Crest was closed just past Cedar Springs. So, as it happened, two-thirds of the highway were miraculously deserted.
In any other car, the 6.5-litre V-12 engine would steal the show. It makes 789 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, and 530 lb.-ft. of torque. It sounds like an old Formula 1 car running laps inside your skull. It’s a refined, cultured sound, not as violent or dissonant as the Lamborghini, more spine-tingling than Aston’s new twin-turbo V-12.
Picking up the pace, the 812 becomes something like an F-22 fighter jet, inherently unstable to achieve maximum agility.
Electronic wizardry keeps the jet from plummeting out of the sky, just as it makes this Ferrari surprisingly easy to exploit, even for merely average pilots.
The fact is 800 horsepower should probably not be channeled through just the rear two wheels of a car. It’s like powering a blender with an atomic bomb; things are probably going to get messy.
And yet, here, it works. The chassis is more than a match for the engine. The tires stick to the road with up to 1g of lateral acceleration in corners.
Changes of direction are instant, as if there’s no mass. The super-stiff body structure transmits copious amounts of information up through the seat.
A deer decided to prance across the road. Luckily for Bambi, we can report the 398-mm front discs are more than up to the job of slowing this 1,630-kg. machine.
Driving flat-out in Race mode is an out-of-body experience. The car flows into corners and puts down power in a devastatingly effectively manner.
The throttle response is so precise you can control all 789 horses one at a time, metering out as much oversteer as you dare.
There’s finesse at the limit, not fear. The speed at which you can cover ground is enchanting. But, like any good addition, you should quit before it gets you into trouble.
Handing the keys back was painful, and also a relief. It was a melancholy goodbye because this may be the last one of these purely gasoline-powered V-12 cars from Ferrari.
Given increasingly strict CO2 emissions regulations, something has to change. Lamborghini said it won’t turbocharge its V-12 in pursuit of fuel efficiency; instead it will keep the naturally-aspirated engine and pair it with some kind of hybrid system.
It seems Ferrari will likely go the same route with its flagship V-12 cars, although nothing has been confirmed yet.
Take a hit while you can. The 812 Superfast is the most potent medicine in Ferrari’s cabinet right now and it will knock you out.
Model: 2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast
Base Price: $397,591
Engine: 6.5-litre V-12
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.1 L/100 km (European WLTP cycle)
Alternatives: McLaren 720S, Lamborghini Aventador S, Aston-Martin DBS Superleggera