With a V12 descended from that of the Ferrari Enzo under its bonnet, the 812 Superfast boasts an engine to celebrate. We let its 789 horses run free

So, the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera has impressed mightily, but is it really a better GT than the Ferrari 812 Superfast? After a few days of schlepping and strafing, I can’t think of a car with more bandwidth than the Superfast.

Aside from an undercurrent of nervous tension created by the value of the car and its accompanying insurance excess, the Ferrari slips into the role of transport as readily and easily as the most mundane of white hire cars. And then, at the flick of the manettino and prod of the throttle pedal, the 588kW V12 awakens and Mister Hyde becomes the life of the party. When the shift lights are romping across the top of the steering wheel and the tacho needle is storming beyond 8000rpm towards that soaring 8900rpm redline, there are few cars that can hold you in their thrall quite so completely as the Superfast.

But we’re about 24 hours ahead of ourselves, so let’s rewind. After a casual hand over at the Ferrari dealership, I slot myself into the driver’s seat and a feeling of familiarity washes over me. Plenty of F12 Berlinetta DNA remains within the cabin architecture, and the view out of the broad windscreen is similar, though the arches appear more pronounced when viewed from within the new car. The driving environment isn’t as intimate as that of a 488 or McLaren 720S, but then that’s not to be expected of a front-engined GT. I find the seats are a size and half too big for me, but there are two caveats to that note.
Firstly, I’m a week out from a marathon and have been running 150km per week, so my physique probably isn’t within the bell curve of the average buyer – certainly my wallet isn’t as fat. Secondly, were I in a position to put my name on the rego papers of a Superfast, Ferrari gives you the option of narrower buckets with race harnesses. (Note the car in the photographs is not the car tested. Long story short, the test car was dark grey and it rained.)

It’s raining when I nose the Superfast out into Sydney traffic, which isn’t the introduction anyone wants to a 588kW car that channels all of its absurd output through just two wheels. Given the expanses of rubber tucked under the back of less powerful cars, the relative slenderness of the Superfast’s 315/35 ZR20 rear Pirellis suggests for either a busy driver or hard-working electronics. Probably a combination of both. Interestingly, the rubber under the front is huge – 275/35 ZR20.

Matching the McLaren Senna, the Superfast is the most-powerful car currently available in Australia. Unlike the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8-powered Senna, the Ferrari makes its outputs the good old-fashioned way with capacity, cylinders and revs. The 6.5-litre V12 is a naturally aspirated wonder with 588kW produced at 8500rpm and 718Nm at 7000rpm. Yes, that last figure suggests that the 812’s delivery might be a little hollow in the bottom of the rev range, but there’s a minimum of 575Nm from 3500rpm. Coupled to one of the slickest-shifting dual-clutch gearboxes on the market, the Superfast is never more than a toe twitch away from delivering on the promise of its name.

Despite the outputs, the Ferrari can be a doddle to drive so long as you resist the temptation to poke the bear. The engine is butter-smooth and in auto mode the seven-speed gearbox slips up and down the ratios almost imperceptibly – beyond the gear indicator, the best evidence of a shift is the drop of the tacho needle. Then there’s the ride. Even without opting for the super-soft bumpy road mode, the Superfast’s suspension deals with Sydney’s pock-marked road surfaces with a relaxed gait that helps put you at ease. Until, of course, you glance across at the car beside you and notice that the driver is pointing his phone at you while getting awfully close to the flanks of the Ferrari. Time to blow this joint.

Throughout our time with the Superfast, the rain comes as goes. It was the same with the F12 Berlinetta and 458 Speciale, and both of those all-time great Ferraris shrugged off the changing conditions. Wet and dry roads only serve to highlight the Superfast’s broad spread of talents. You’d reasonably expect that a rear-drive car with 588kW (near enough to 800 good old-fashioned horsepower) would wind up the intimidation factor on anything other than bone-dry, ultra-smooth tarmac. And while I’m not brave nor foolish enough to dial out ESC in the wet, damp roads don’t really temper the pace or cause the electronics to suffer a repetitive strain injury. I’ve no doubt that clever computations are trimming torque here and there, but so long as you aren’t clumsy with steering, braking or throttle inputs, the Superfast gives you a long leash. But with that leash comes responsibility and an expectation that you will uphold your end of the bargain.

Around town, I’d had no problem letting the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox take care of the shifts, but out here, away from the cloistering traffic and prying eyes (human and electronic), it seems sacrilegious not to curl your fingers around the slender carbonfibre spars that protrude provocatively from behind the steering wheel. The engine might be the star of the show, but the gearbox brings it all together, delivering shifts that keep the mighty V12 right in the meat of its fury, but also smothering any brutality that might shock the diff or chassis into a scare.

It’s an addictive process to watch the tacho needle climb and recede, and see the shift lights illuminate and extinguish as you rev out each gear and pluck a new one with the right-hand paddle. Do that more than a couple of times and the Superfast is snorting up the tarmac at a rate that is borderline uncomfortable, especially so for your licence and liberty. Beyond the rate of acceleration, which is truly heroic, the noise from the engine is all consuming. Smooth, cultured and even a little demure at low revs, the engine note hardens through the mid-range, delivering the kind of baritone you’d expect of twelve cylinders displacing 6.5 litres. But right up top, up above 7000rpm, the engine delivers another burst of sonic energy and outright thrust. The scream sounds like it’s emanating from a smaller-capacity engine, as does the speed with which revs build towards 9000rpm. I have to remind myself that it’s a 6.5-litre V12 monster up front that is making that shriek and piling on revs like a 1000cc sports bike.

On a straight road, a multi-gear run to redline is a thrill, but throw in some corners and it’s a life-affirming game of who dares wins. The deeper into the throttle’s arc that you travel, the more the chassis comes alive to match and manage the fireworks from up front. Like all modern Ferraris the steering in the Superfast is light and quick. However, and perhaps it’s a matter of exposure, but the Superfast doesn’t feel hyper reactive to your inputs. While the F12 maintained hydraulic assistance for the steering, the 812 has made the switch to electric assistance, but if anything, it paints a more detailed picture of the available grip from the front end. It’s certainly not alive with feedback like the steering of a Porsche GT car, but it doesn’t leave you guessing. Even with the addition of rear-wheel steering, which often makes a car feel jumpy, the Superfast feels alert but not alarmed to steering inputs.

Without having to overthink your driving, the steering and throttle can be opened and closed with rewarding linearity. And like the throttle response, the steering can be measured or manic, allowing you to float the Ferrari down a road, or really grab it by the scruff and throw it about (while continuing to pay obvious respect to those 588 kilowatts). Such is depth of the 812’s talents that it allows you to flick between these dramatically divergent driving styles almost within the same corner. During one of evo’s favourite three-corner stretches of tarmac, the Superfast puts everything on display with such clarity that if I ever find myself as a Ferrari salesman, I’d fire the 812 through here, wait for the prospect’s heartrate to resume normal operation and then enquire as to which colour they would like to order.

On approach to the sequence of corners – an on-camber sharpish left, an opening-radius left whose exit drops off camber and threatens to spit you away from your intended line for the rapidly approaching tight right hander – the manettino is primed in CT-Off mode, leaving the guiding hand of ESC still in play. A couple of tugs on the left-hand paddle drops the gearbox to third, while the tacho needle jumps to attention around the 5000rpm mark. As the throttle snaps open, the needle piles on another 1000rpm in the blink of an eye and the Ferrari lunges forward, up on its toes and full of energy and intent.

Though I’ve already been in the car for 24 hours and several hundred kilometres, this burst of savagery is briefly disconcerting. But then the Ferrari communicates its ferocity with such clarity that you can stay on top of the speed – the thought of falling even a half step behind the 812 isn’t one I want to contemplate. In a shriek of V12 and a sprint of shift lights, the Superfast devours third gear by the apex of the first left hander. Even at wide-open throttle, the gearbox delivers a fast but smooth upshift that doesn’t shock the chassis into a slide. The throttle stays pinned as the steering is unwound briefly before tipping back into the second left hander. The mighty V12 is deep into fourth now and the mid-range baritone yields to that top-end howl, but a new sound joins the induction and exhaust opera. As the road rolls off camber, the rear tyres can no longer transmit the engine’s fury to the tarmac and they exhale into wheelspin. Despite the lateral load on the chassis, the 812 doesn’t spike into oversteer (thankfully), instead it continues to drive forward at a ferocious rate while the Pirellis erupt into a bonfire. As the chassis unloads on corner exit, the shift lights demand an upshift, but the tight right hander is upon me and my left foot clamps down on the brake as I feed in two downshifts. The engine yelps twice as the revs match engine speed to road speed. Even under such provocation, the chassis remains stable as it answers the last of the questions from the previous corner. With the carbon-ceramic brakes shedding speed as easily as the monster engine built it, now is the time to man handle the Superfast. Without the square-shouldered confidence of Michelin’s Cup 2 tyres, the Pirelli P Zeroes aren’t as quick to react to the steering, but their 275 width and the reflexes of the rear-wheel-steering system means that understeer is never on the menu. A faster than normal steering input coupled to an early crack of the throttle in second gear sets up a stab of oversteer that is easy to control partly because the third-generation Side Slip Control is subtly guiding the way. The road speed is such that I don’t feel like I’ve ridden my luck too much, but as the steering opens and the rotation of the rear tyres begins to harmonise with that of the fronts, it’s hard to suppress a smile.

Over the next few days and several hundred kilometres, the Superfast continues to display its prodigious grand touring talents – relaxed cruising in the rain, tearing up a series of dry corners, stuck in traffic. There certainly are cars that are better at each of these disciplines, so I’m not going to argue with Adam Towler’s assertion that the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera is a more-relaxed GT car, but I maintain that no car can combine the Superfast’s spread of speed, savagery, luxury and civility. As Richard Meaden wrote in his column last month, Brock Yates and Dan Gurney used a Ferrari Daytona to ‘win’ the first ever Cannonball Run across the United States. Over 40 years later, a front-engined V12 Ferrari still seems like the perfect choice for such a drive. Jesse Taylor