The clean purity of line that characterised the 599 has been replaced by something a little smaller and more extrovert.
The clean purity of line that characterised the 599 has been replaced by something a little smaller and more extrovert.
The basic proportions are just so, but a lot of work has gone into the detailing.
The basic proportions are just so, but a lot of work has gone into the detailing.
Lleather interior is nicely complemented by plenty of carbon fibre and aluminium trim.
Lleather interior is nicely complemented by plenty of carbon fibre and aluminium trim.

The prancing horse shows it can still pack serious horse power as Ferrari unveils its latest 340km/h masterpiece, the F12 Berlinetta, holder of its test track record

Although many people's idea of an ultimate Ferrari is something mid-engined, most of the classic road cars have the driver sitting behind the enormous V8 or V12 under the long bonnet.

A V12 in the case of the 250 GTO, the Daytona and the magnificent 599, all of which sent power to the rear wheels. And now the latest, the F12 Berlinetta.

It's billed as the most powerful road-going Ferrari ever and with good reason. With 545kW to call upon, the F12 Berlinetta has the power to face down cars such as the Lamborghini Aventador and the Mercedes SLS AMG.

It succeeded the much-loved 599 GTB and was unveiled at the 2012 Geneva show to generally favourable reaction. Seasoned motoring correspondents knew that the red car with the prancing horse badge was the real story and it's one that bears closer scrutiny.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

Ferrari is one of a privileged group of manufacturers with its own test facilities. The Fiorano test track features a gnarly figure-of-eight configuration and provides Ferrari with a regular datum point as to the performance of its cars.

For reference, a Testarossa laps Fiorano in 1min40, an F40 in 1min29.6 and a 458 Italia requires only 1min25.

The F12 Berlinetta? It smashes its way round in just 1min23, quicker than the special edition 599 GTO or an Enzo, giving the lie to the barb that front-engined Ferraris are an old man's option.

The F12 Berlinetta can bludgeon its way to 100km/h in 3.1seconds flat and 0-200km/h in just 8.5 seconds, helped by a very clever launch control system. Its total torque output is 690Nm, 80 percent of which is available from just 2500rpm.

The F12 Berlinetta does brute force very well.

Ferrari decided against turbocharging and went with a normally aspirated V12 which revs all the way 8700rpm.

While even Ferrari isn't immune to emissions regulations - and tax laws in Italy have made this even more germane of late - it's great to see brute force winning against the bureaucrats.

It tops out at more tan 340km/h. That's not to say the engine isn't a technical masterstroke. You only need to realise that it makes 87kW per litre to realise that this 6262cc, 65 degree V12 really does squeeze every horsepower possible out of every cubic centimetre.

DESIGN AND BUILD

There's quite a lot to take in from a design perspective. The clean purity of line that characterised the 599 has been replaced by something a little smaller and more extrovert with an overall more aggressive look. The basic proportions are just so, but a lot of work has gone into the detailing.

At 4618mm long, 1942mm wide and 1273mm high, the F12 is slightly narrower but a good deal shorter and lower than the 599. The wheelbase is also 30mm shorter than the 599's 2720mm and this, coupled with an engine that's set well back behind the front axle line, gives this car its amazing agility.

The rear end looks tight and the transaxle dual-clutch gearbox and rear suspension have been redesigned to take up less space. The centre of gravity is both lower and further rearwards than the 599, with Ferrari quoting what it feels is a 'perfect' distribution of 54% over the rear axle.

GLASS TAILGATE

It's more practical too, with the luggage compartment behind the seats now accessible when the owner lifts the glass tailgate. The leather interior is nicely complemented by plenty of carbon fibre and aluminium trim, with some vaguely aeronautical air vents also catching the eye.

Some of the aerodynamic features are quite lovely. The 'Aero Bridge' channels air from the side bonnet air intakes, through the wheel arches, and exits it through deep slashes in the doors.

Although there will doubtless be special edition versions, track packs and, it's rumoured, a drop top version, for the time being there's only one car in the F12 range, the Berlinetta. Ahead of its appearance at the Geneva show, the car was unveiled to Ferrari's most trusted customers. Of the 450 who clapped eyes on it, nearly 80 percent paid a deposit there and then.

DRIVER AIDS

As you might well expect, Ferrari includes a generous roster of electronic driver aids to keep the F12 on the straight and narrow. It's fitted with Ferrari's E-Diff, ESP Premium stability control, F1-Trac gearbox, an adjustable magneto-rheological suspension system and a fiendishly smart anti-lock braking system.

Like the 458 Italia, there are plenty of controls mounted on the steering wheel and the same central dial flanked by two configurable displays.

VERDICT

If there's a catch to the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, I'm struggling to see it. It's eye-flatteningly quick, it looks great, it's packed with some amazing technology and it elevates itself to a position where its obvious rivals look a little half-baked in comparison. Maranello is on a roll at the moment, with great products such as the 599, the 458 Italia and the FF emerging in recent years.

You know your luck's in when the model that received the least rapturous critical reception, the California, goes on to become the biggest revenue generator.

The F12 Berlinetta is everything a modern V12 Ferrari should be. It's bold and unapologetic, with a clear focus on the future. The supercar's obituary has been written repeatedly. Here's proof that there's a lot of life left in that particular formula. - Belfast Telegraph