Everyone has their unicorn. You know, the item they’ve lusted after their whole life yet never had the chance to sample: one of Elijah Craig’s “Old” bourbons, a PRS Private Stock Super Eagle guitar, a steel Patek Philippe Nautilus. For yours truly, it’s less a single product than a very thin category of them: the front-engined, V12 Ferrari sports car. From the day I spotted the 550 Maranello on the cover of a dog-eared copy of Motor Trend in the middle school library, well, that was it; it had me. I read that magazine over and over again for a year. Some guys taped pictures of girls to their Ti-83+ graphing calculators in high school; I had one of the Ferrari 575M. When I moved to New York for college, I walked past the Ferrari showroom on Park Avenue every week, waiting for a 599 GTB to nest there. I checked FerrariChat four times a day in the months leading up to the F12berlinetta‘s 2012 reveal, scanning for any leaked detail or spy photo.
Then, in September 2019, after a decade of writing about cars for a living and a quarter-century of lusting after Ferrari’s wares…the unicorn finally showed up at my doorstep in the form of the Ferrari 812 Superfast.
Say Hello to the 812 Superfast
In casual conversation, it quickly becomes habit to drop the awkward numbers that make up this stallion’s middle name. It’s not only more succinct, it makes the point with brutal simplicity; My car? It’s a Ferrari Superfast.
Those numbers, however, signify real stats: the 12 signifies the number of pistons pumping away in the bow, while the 8 stands for how many hundreds of horses that motor develops at full whack. Of course, those are metric ponies, each of which is worth just 0.986 of an American one; in imperial units, the 812 Superfast is rated at 789 horsepower.
That figure, by the way, is achieved without any steroidal supercharging or hybridized juicing; the Ferrari’s engine is naturally aspirated, just like almost every 12-cylinder Prancing Horse production car to gallop out of Maranello since 1952. But likely not like any will be again, though; even Ferrari can’t escape the automotive world’s push towards earth-friendlier powerplants. Whenever the 812 goes gently into that good night, its successor will all but certainly come with an electric motor tacked between engine and wheels.
Of course, I’d have to say goodbye to that engine much sooner. Ferrari’s loaners, not surprisingly, are in high demand; whereas most test cars are given to journalists for a week or longer, the Superfast would be mine for just two days. I’d have to start preparing myself to give it back from the moment I laid eyes on it.
Laying eyes on it was something I did at every opportunity, by the way. In pictures, the 812 Superfast looks like an overdesigned,complicated version of the F12berlinetta it’s effectively a mid-cycle refresh of. (While famed design studio Pininfarina penned the F12, Ferrari’s own in-house design studio had taken over by the time the 812 was in play.) In person, however, the new F-car’s aggressive design sucks in the gaze the way black holes pull in light; the menace radiating from it makes it impossible to look away from. The sharp maw, squinting headlights and crouched proportions all scream apex predator. The deer in New York’s Bear Mountain State Park normally pay cars no mind, but a young buck glanced up at the Ferrari from 20 years away, eyed it warily, then bounded off.
If the 812’s outsides were more alluring to the eye than expected, the insides were twice the delight. Most two-seat sports cars are cramped propositions inside, built around compact wheelbases for jockey-sized pilots; the Superfast’s cabin, however, neatly bisects the difference between supercar and gran turismo, with space for my Lincolnesque frame to sprawl behind the wheel.
The seats — outfitted in my tester in the vintage-style leather pattern Ferrari calls “Daytona” — feel a little light on bolstering at first, compared with the flank-groping chairs in most cars at this performance level, but once the car starts tackling turns you quickly realize how extraneous those race-style seats in other cars are for anything other than 10/10ths track driving. The Superfast always holds you right where you want to be.
It’s not just the seats that feel like they’ve hit the Goldilocks zone. As in the Portofino and the rest of the lineup, the controls are arranged by primacy and location; the ones you’ll need for the actual act of driving (shift paddles, drive mode selector, wipers, headlamps, etc.) lie right on the steering wheel, while secondary controls you’ll use less often are a hand’s breath or two from it. There’s no distracting infotainment screen riding on the center line, just a small secondary display next to the analog tach — and, should you opt for it, a super-widescreen touch-sensitive one for the passenger to change the music or see how fast you’re going.
Ferrari is known for giving buyers the chance to customize virtually whatever they like about their cars — depending on how much they’d like to spend, of course. The one that crossed my desk showed off Maranello’s skills with accent bands of white leather tastefully spaced around the black-over-brown cabin. (Well, mostly tastefully; the one on the dash above the steering wheel forcefully reminded me of its presence every time its reflection bounced onto the windshield and into my eye line.) The leather is nice, but not exceptional; for a car with a pricetag that starts around $335,000 and can climb like a Saturn V from there, the components you see and touch inside feel a bit proletarian.
That said, it may lack the impeccable materials and tactile sensations of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, but it also lacks the mass those heavy woods and extra leather bring. You’re not buying a Ferrari to ogle the cabin.
Shut Up and Drive
No, you buy a Ferrari to drive it. Unfortunately, in my case, that meant navigating the streets of New York City before doing anything else. There can be joy found behind the wheel of a supercar in NYC if you know where to look: driving through Times Square to see the wide-eyed stares of the tourists; slicing and dicing up the FDR at zero dark 30; letting the neighborhood kids snap pictures and climb into the driver’s seat.
But with only two days to taste the car I’d spent most of my life lusting over, there was no time for such canapes. So I pointed the nose north of the city to the winding roads found in the Catskills, where the police are few and the curves are many. Staring out at that hood from the driver’s seat, driving through traffic feels like wielding a gladius into a crowd, blade pointed straight ahead to clear a path. At first, it’s intimidating, your brain hypersensitive to the distance between the Ferrari and the cars around it.
Passing other vehicles is easy, of course; that’s the case with any fast car nowadays. But to feel how the Superfast lives up to its name requires a road bereft of cars and trucks — because once it lets loose, you don’t want to have to worry about anything interrupting your forward progress. Natural aspiration means there’s no sudden afterburner slug of power halfway up the rev range; instead, it’s growing constantly and steadily as the revs rise, all the way up to the 8,500-rpm power peak.
It’s less explosive than fast-burning, but oh, how fast it burns, the tach needle sweeping counter-clockwise briskly as a conductor’s baton. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission’s gears are short, the throttle as sensitive and intuitive as a surgeon’s hand. Power is nothing without control, as Ferrari’s tire partner Pirelli says, and the Superfast has more than enough of both.
The car feels so well-formed, so complete, in the way that all those mechanical and electronic systems work together in perfect harmony. Floor the gas, and you’re hanging onto a freshly-broken bronco; the rear end shudders and dances as the traction and stability control manhandle the torrent of power, leaving you feeling like you’re on the edge of losing the reins when you’re actually in complete control.
Of course, turn all those Maranello-mastered control systems off, and you’re left with a wild animal. I found an empty parking lot, held the manettino dial all the way to the right until all the systems went away, cranked the steering wheel, floored the gas — and found myself turned 270 degrees from where I’d started before I knew what had happened. With nigh-on 800 horsepower and rear-wheel-drive, the 812 Superfast doesn’t do donuts; it pirouettes.
Yet in spite of all that power, the car isn’t intimidating. Drive it like a Lincoln, and it’ll purr about docile as a lap cat. That accelerator may be sensitive, but its travel is long; you won’t use too much of it by accident. The finely-honed combination of Ferrari’s computers and equipment, hardware and software make it an easy beast to drive. It never feels like it’s on a hair-trigger; instead, it feels like an extension of your own body, doing exactly what you want without any extra thought.
Perhaps the best example of its versatility and capability is, well, just how fun the 812 is to drive in the real world. Most sports cars with 500 horsepower under the hood feel like overkill anywhere but a race track, but the 789-pony Superfast always feels as though it’s exactly the right toy for the game you’re playing. The 812 Superfast uses Ferrari’s first example of electric power steering; for most car companies, that tech leads to a reduction in steering feel (looking at you, BMW), but Maranello nailed it on their first try. The helm is fast and responsive, with no dead spot on center and a solid amount of feedback. It’s not as much as, say, a classic Porsche 911, but nothing on sale these days is.
That sharp steering rack (supplemented by the rear-wheel steering system Ferrari calls “Virtual Short Wheelbase 2.0”) and flexible power delivery mean the 812 has a playful, accessible nature on the sorts of two-lanes you’d usually prefer a Toyota 86 or Subaru WRX for. You can toss it down a back road at barely over the speed limit and still have fun, or rip it up to ludicrous speed and slow it down on a dime before the next turn. It drives lighter and smaller than it has any right to do.
Like the McLaren 720S, this Ferarri preternaturally capable, but in a different way. If the 720S is an Iron Man suit, the 812 Superfast is Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. Either one of them lets you accomplish wonders, but the McLaren wears its technological accomplishment with pride, never letting you forget what it’s doing for you. In the Ferrari, you just start it up…and become a god.
All Good Things…
In hindsight, some of my notes from those two days with the 812 Superfast have a bit of a breathless air to them:
God, I love that there’s a breeze inside with the windows down. Most cars today don’t give you that. It’s like it was made just for me.
The nose doesn’t even scrape much. Not like you’d expect with a schnozzola like that. Speedbumps and curbs are usually fine. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Plenty of storage space too. Trunk is deep and wide enough for a giant duffel or more, and the parcel shelf has enough room for good-sized backpacks. I could totally live with this as my daily driver.
Still, while they may be tinted a bit by rose-colored lenses, those details are still true. Perhaps more to the point, however, they — and many of the other largely profanity-laden notes I took over those two days — point to the added sharpness that comes with knowing you need to pay extra-close attention to every finite moment with something or someone special.
Like autumn’s leaves, like the World Series, like life itself, my moment with the 812 Superfast was fleeting, and all the better for it. Recognizing that, though, was the key. My expectations were high; the Superfast lived up to them. Don’t meet your heroes, some people say. I can’t speak to that. But I can say that if you ever have the chance to meet your unicorn, don’t avoid it out of fear that you’ll ruin the magic.
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