The Ferrari F12 was hardly short of firepower, but you don’t get ahead by standing still, so it came as no surprise that the Italian brand now has an even faster flagship. Designed to humble the likes of the Lamborghini Aventador S and McLaren 720S, the Ferrari 812 Superfast (yes really) goes it’s own, front-engined way in the pursuit of ultimate road car performance.

Essentially a heavily revised F12 that incorporates many of the lessons learned with the fearsome TdF, the 812 packs a 588kW development of the incredible V12 that can trace its routes back to the Enzo. It also features a more advanced chassis with four-wheel steering, plenty of active aerodynamics and the latest suite of driver aids. The result says Ferrari, is the most exciting yet approachable supercar it’s ever made.

Is it right? We’ll come to the answers in more detail in a moment, for now you can take it as read that the Superfast is an almighty piece of work on Ferrari’s behalf. It is monumentally fast, sounds absolutely out of this world, has a gear change – and, more to the point, a new shorter set of gear ratios – that will fray the outer edges of your imagination with its brilliance, and its chassis has mostly been improved to create a deeply seminal range of abilities – on both road and track.

But there are caveats, albeit highly subjective ones. One, to our eyes it no longer looks as classically beautiful as the F12, thanks mainly to the new aerodynamic elements along its flanks and at the back. Second, its new electronic power steering is more hyper-active than ever in its response, thanks in part to a new rear-wheel steering system that improves turn in, yes, but which also takes time to warm to because of the way it behaves. All up, though, the Superfast is a quite extraordinary car.

Performance and 0-100 time
As ever with a Ferrari it’s the sound that hooks you first, and the higher you rev the 812, the more magnificent it gets. But the pure performance of the Superfast in a straight line, and the traction it somehow manages to generate, even on quite bumpy roads, is what leaves you with the deepest impression of all. It feels nothing short of rabid in a straight line, with the kind of throttle response that only ever comes from a big, atmospheric engine that revs high and hits hard, everywhere. Even at 4000rpm in third gear it feels pretty much ready to take off. And at 8500rpm in second gear it’s actually hard to describe how fast it feels, how loud it sounds, how utterly fantastic it just is. And the way the gearbox slices through the ratios, up or down, is very much integral to the experience. I think this is surely the best dual-clutch gearbox there has ever been in a road car.

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In many respects the raw statistics don’t really do it justice. Like many superheated two-wheel drive machines the Ferrari can’t defy the laws of physics, so it’s 0-100km/h time of 2.9 seconds is almost identical to the likes of the McLaren 720S. Yet once the 812 is rolling it gathers speed with a ferocity that borders on the manic. Keep your foot in and, where conditions allow, you can keep going all the way to 339km/h.

Engine and gearbox
The Superfast is powered by a 6496cc V12 that is 75 per cent new. It’s essentially the F12’s 6.2-litre V12 but has a longer 78mm stroke that stretches capacity, plus a compression ratio of, deep breath, 13.64:1. As a result of this, plus numerous other internal upgrades – predominantly to the intake system to maximise the efficiency of the combustion process and help it breathe better, basically – the new V12 produces 588kW at 8500rpm, 717Nm at 7000rpm (although 80 percent of this is available from 3500rpm) and revs to a quite magnificent 8900rpm before the limiter intrudes.

The shape of both the power and torque curves are quite different from those of the F12, in which the torque fell away towards the top end. In the 812, however, torque is stronger from the word go and builds to a crescendo until the rev limiter comes into play, pretty much mirroring the power curve. And this, says Ferrari, provides the 812 with a subjectively more exciting form of power delivery; one that builds very quickly as the revs rise, becoming stronger and more visceral the faster the engine spins.

The exhaust features a six into one manifold that is, again, a fair bit more efficient than the system used in the F12, says Ferrari, allowing the engine to breathe better both in and out. And the sound it allows the V12 to emit over the last 3000rpm needs to be experienced to be believed.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels via the familiar seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, which has been tweaked with shorter gear ratios and shifts that are 30 per cent faster on the way up the ‘box, and 40 percent quicker on the way down. The electronically controlled rear differential also incorporates the F1-TRAC technology and the fifth iteration of the brand’s Slide Slip Control.

Ride and handling
All Ferraris feature steering that’s unusually light and unusually fast in its response, but in the 812 it’s perhaps a touch heavier than before, which is good, but is also even faster in its responses, which to begin with at least, is not so good. The same is true of the glassy feel off the straight-ahead, which keeps your fingertips just one step removed from the action.

That said, you do eventually get used to the way the 812 hyper-reacts to your inputs at the wheel, and after a while it does then get close to becoming intuitive, at which point you start to guide the car more with your brain than with your hands, which is of course Ferrari’s intention. So strong is the front end grip and so good the feel through the seat of your pants, that you learn to trust that the steering will point the car just where you want, meaning you don’t miss the feedback through the rim as much as you’d think.

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In all other respects, however, it is a quite incredible car to drive. The new seats are hard but clamp you in place behind the new multi-adjustable digital dashboard to perfection. And from that moment onwards the 812 over-delivers on your expectations in just about every department.

On the track it feels lighter and more agile – and just faster – than you would ever believe possible from a 1630kg front-engined car. And to be honest, the best way to get the most enjoyment out of it is to wind the mannetino all the way to the right and turn everything off, because only then can you revel in the pure balance the 812 displays on the throttle. It goes sideways everywhere, sometimes even in fourth and fifth gear, but at the same time it’s still extraordinarily friendly while doing so. With everything off you can basically drive it like a BMW M3. Which is genuinely extraordinary given that there’s the thick end of 580kW beneath your right foot.

It’s faster and arguably more “impressive” with the systems switched back in, but if anything the electronics are a bit too keen to take the throttle away from you on the track, even if they do allow a fair bit of slip before the safety net is deployed. And on the road they are very much there to help you keep your quarter million pound 812 Superfast out of the undergrowth, and they do so very well indeed.

> Ferrari F12 review

On the road, in fact, you never really notice that they are there at all. And on the road, of course, the 812 feels approximately twice as fast as it does on the track – to a point where I can’t really imagine anything else, at any price, with any engine configuration, feeling any faster – or better to drive – than the 812 Superfast. Yet knock the dampers into their Bumpy Road setting and leave the gearbox to its own devices and you’ll find the Ferrari is remarkably docile and comfortable. At a cruise only the constant growl from the exhausts upsets the calm of the cabin.

Design
Arguably, the 812 isn’t as classically beautiful as the old F12, Ferrari’s pursuit of aerodynamic advantages giving the car a more aggressive and technical look. In fact the whole exterior and underside of the car is a moving advertisement for the power of the wind tunnel. The aluminium bodywork is covered with slats, scoops, diffusers and turning vanes, while hidden away are various active moveable devices, including a trio of flaps under the rear bumper that can move through an arc of up to 14 degrees. It all adds up to car that can generate the same levels of downforce as the TdF, but with 40 percent less drag.

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Highlights under the skin include a new electronic four wheel-steering system that increases stability everywhere, while dramatically improving turn in response and eradicating understeer. Called Virtual Short Wheelbase, it’s a development of the somewhat spikier reacting set-up first seen on the TdF. There’s also a new F1-TRAC electronic differential and a fifth generation version of Ferrari’s side slip control system, which is engaged (or disengaged) via the tradition mannetino switch on the steering wheel.

At the front there’s a new electric power steering system with variable torque assistance, which sounds a bit weird and indeed is, slightly, to begin with. It’s especially so when you realise that the system is actively designed to help you apply opposite lock when the rear end steps out of line. The brakes are by Brembo and feature vast 398mm carbon ceramic discs at the front and almost as big 360mm CC rotors at the rear. Interestingly, the tyres are regular Pirelli P-Zeros rather than Corsas, Ferrari justifying this choice on the grounds that it wants the 812 to be perceived as a fully usable road car first, not a full-on track weapon that can merely be tolerated on the road. JAMES DISDALE