Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast First Drive Review

Truth in advertising

Truth in advertising

812 Superfast. The name tells you a lot about Ferrari’s muscular new front engine coupé. It has 800 horsepower—well, 800 European horses, at least, which translates to 789 American ponies. It has 12 cylinders under the hood. And yes, it’s super fast. Ferrari claims a 0–60-mph time of about 2.8 seconds, with 124 mph (200 km/h) coming up in 7.9 seconds, and a top speed of 211 mph (314 km/h). But there’s more to the 2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast story than just the raw numbers: This might just be the most desirable front-engine Ferrari road car since the legendary Daytona.

The 812 Superfast is fundamentally a rework of the acclaimed F12berlinetta. With no need to reinvent the wheel, the engineers at Maranello were able to instead concentrate on sweating the details, focusing on engine, chassis electronics, and aerodynamics to create a car that combined the Berlinetta’s everyday usability with the edgier, track-focused F12tdf’s performance, agility and responsiveness.

The F12’s 65-degree naturally aspirated V-12 has been taken from 6.2 liters to 6.5 liters courtesy of an increase in stroke. There’s a new crankshaft, new connecting rods, and new pistons, as well as material upgrades to the block aimed at increasing strength around the main bearings. But the real focus, says powertrain engineer Andrea Napolitano, was on improving breathing efficiency, optimizing combustion, and reducing friction. Redesigned cylinder heads therefore feature larger diameter intake and exhaust valves and new runner designs. Reprofiled camshafts push the inlet valves deeper into the combustion chamber and hold them open longer.

That’s all Tuning 101. The trick stuff includes a new ultra-high-pressure fuel system—a world first on a production car, says Ferrari—that operates at up to 5,076 psi and can change the way it pulses the fuel into the combustion chamber to strike the right balance between performance and emissions. And Ferrari has used its Formula 1 engine experience to design and build a sophisticated electronically controlled continuously variable intake runner system that uses engine oil pressure to alter the length of the intake runners and optimize power and torque.

“We wanted an engine with maximum performance at higher engine speeds,” Napolitano says. And by all that Enzo held holy, the 812 Superfast engine delivers. Those 789 ponies arrive in a stampede at a shrieking 8,500 rpm, just 400 rpm before the big V-12 nuzzles the soft limiter. Peak torque of 529 lb-ft is generated at 7,000 rpm, though 424 lb-ft is available at 3,500 rpm. But it’s not what the engine does that impresses the most. It’s how it does it.

The 812 purrs around town on part throttle, pulling cleanly from as little as 1,000 rpm, allowing the dual-clutch transmission to shuffle into seventh gear by 35 mph (51 km/h). Throttle response gets crisper as the revs build, enabling you to make the most of the broad swathe of midrange torque. Then you hit 6,000 rpm, and all hell breaks loose. Although most engines feel like they’re starting to fade at these revs, this Ferrari V-12 hits warp drive. The tach needle leaps toward the redline, accompanied by a vivid surge of thrust, and a soundtrack that’s part Pavarotti, part F15 airstrike.

Sergio Marchionne has said he’ll never put a turbocharger on a 12-cylinder Ferrari. God bless him: The Superfast’s naturally aspirated V-12 is an engine for the ages.

To take advantage of the increased power and improved response, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has been fitted with shorter gear ratios—6 percent shorter on average, says Ferrari—and both upshift and downshift times have been reduced by 30 percent. Hold in the left-hand paddle under heavy braking, and the Superfast’s transmission will bang off two downshifts in the time it took the F12 Berlinetta’s to make one.

The 812 Superfast is the first Ferrari road car in history fitted with electric power steering, and, cleverly, the vehicle dynamics team headed by Stefano Varisco has treated it as more than just a replacement for a hydraulic system. After getting the EPS to match or better the hydraulic setup on the F12berlinetta, Varisco’s team then looked at ways of using some of its enhanced functionality in a fifth-generation version of Ferrari’s highly sophisticated Side Slip Control (SSC5.0). What they came up with is a steering system that varies torque levels to help drivers sense the onset of understeer and control oversteer.

The key point is this new feature is baked into the SSC5.0 digital neural network, not something overlaid on top. It’s designed to work in real time with the 812’s E-diff, the traction and stability control systems, the rear-wheel-steering system, and wider 275-section front tires adopted from the F12tdf. And does it? Difficult to say. There’s certainly a different tactile signature in the steering, which feels calmer, meatier than in most recent Ferraris, but any changes in torque at the steering wheel rim were hard to detect. What is as it should be, says Varisco: “This is meant to support the driver. It is not linked to anything autonomous or a self-steering function. If a maneuver is performed in a good way, nothing is suggested by the steering.”

 

Ferrari made a point of demonstrating just how agile the 812 Superfast is by pointing us down some rough and tumble, tight and twisting mountain roads outside Maranello on our test-drive. It’s still a big, wide coupé, but the enhanced grip from the bigger front tires and the four-wheel steering had it pinballing from corner to corner like a WRX. Although it doesn’t quite sashay over the rough stuff with the poise of a 488, the 812’s standard spring and damper rates handled violent heaves and humps in the tarmac with commendable compliance, the car tracking true at all times. A softer “rough road” damper setting is available at the press of a button.

The 812 Superfast isn’t the prettiest front-engine Ferrari ever built. It swaggers down the road, muscles bulging under surfaces rent by random slashes, the Hulk in a Zegna suit. “The target was the same downforce as the F12tdf, but with a small increase in drag,” says Matteo Biancalana, head of aerodynamics. “The main concept was to boost the underbody of the car in order to create downforce and use the body of the car to reduce drag and support the underbody in creating downforce.”

 

So despite the visual drama of the bodywork, most of the real aerodynamic trickery is underneath, where Ferrari has used its Formula 1 experience to create a floor bristling with diffusers, turning vanes, and vortex generators to help suck the Superfast down onto the tarmac at speed. Neat tricks include two passive flaps up front that are opened by the pressure of the airflow at 124 mph (200 km/h) to stall the front diffuser and reduce drag and three electrically actuated flaps at the rear of the car that do the same to the rear diffuser.

All those extravagant curves and slashing vents on the 812 Superfast’s exterior are there for a reason; this is a Ferrari whose form has been driven by function. The gashes across the top of the front fenders bleed hot air from the radiators, and those behind the front wheels guide air up the deeply sculpted sides of the car. Air entering the scoops at the base of the C-pillars is vented through slits on top of the rear fenders to create a strong laminar flow across the fender surfaces and reduce lift. The rear spoiler sits 1.8 inches higher than that of the F12berlinetta’s, contributing to a two-box fastback profile that’s very reminiscent of the Daytona, and the trailing edge of the lozenge-shaped rear window sits proud of a small shelf—a tiny detail that helps keep the airflow hugging the car over the spoiler, increasing downforce while minimizing drag.

Ferrari likes to suggest the Superfast is a sports car with GT capability, and that duality of purpose is reflected in an interior that’s a halfway house between the pared-down cockpit of the 488 and the lavishly equipped cabin of the GTC4Lusso. There’s no big infotainment screen in the center of the dash as in the GTC4, for example, but the Superfast is available with the narrow, passenger-side mini-screen that’s a feature of the luxo-Ferrari. The instrument panel is dominated by a giant tachometer—of course—flanked with a pair of configurable screens that handle everything from auxiliary instrumentation to navigation, phone, and audio. All minor controls, including the iconic manettino, are located on the steering wheel.

Grand Tourer. Supercar. The 812 Superfast is equally at home playing either role. It can be driven comfortably and quietly, the engine note and tire noise pleasantly subdued, phone and music and sat nav at your fingertips. But when the mood takes you, and you have the room, flick the manettino one stop past Race mode to disable the traction control, unleash that mighty V-12, and feel the rear tires struggling to tame all that power through each and every gear. This is a Ferrari in which you can feel sublimely relaxed, or thrilled to your very core. Just like the Daytona.