I just handed back the keys to a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta in full Red Raider regalia - black over black with red seatbelts and stitching to match - and I wanted to sit down and put down some immediate driving impressions in a timely sort of fashion. The only issue with that is that I've got no idea whether I like the car; which, for a seven hundred and whatever horsepower sports GT sort of locomotion, should make for a roughly simple equation to solve.
I've talked this over with the editors and they haven't dismissed my trepidation as the ravings of someone desperate to make a name pooping on newish Ferraris, which is nice although even negative feedback from Ferrari would probably bode well for all of our collective careers.
So, for my immediate driving impressions - timely! for once! - I can say that it's an absolutely brilliant machine that absolutely doesn't linger on the mind. I'm not sure if that's an indictment of Ferrari with the ghosts of their flaws and fame achieving absolution and finally being set free to wander about the afterlife or whether that's rapturous praise coming from someone who closely identifies with mostly awful automotive pursuits. Whatever it is, it's keeping me awake late on a school night and I'm remembering why I don't write these in a timely fashion anymore.
I guess we can work our way from the outside in, which is where the confusion starts. The car has enough metal flake in it to be featured on TNN on Saturday morning, which is a gift because without the flake this shade of black is a cloak for an otherwise spectacular design. Ferrari, over the last 20 years, hasn't exactly been batting 1.000. The dimensions on this car are quite proper - with 3/4 views that are both risky enough to advance the design and so unmistakably Pininfarina that it renders the badge adjacent to the door redundant.
As much as I'd like to say I'd go for the blue or the green or the purple, the black is very possibly the perfect color for a daily driver with this much pageantry. Pontoon fenders and LED strips viewed at speed through a rear view mirror are quite easily mistaken for a seventh-generation Corvette. The color absorbs the silhouette until it's immediately upon your neighboring drivers, at which point you have an escape route from someone who's full attention switched from driving to their next Instagram story just as soon as traction control gets itself together.
The inside is very modern Ferrari, in that the ergonomics are put together with all the care and forethought of an office prank. It's as though the interior crew in Maranello sat down in a Honda Accord and decided "okay, now we have to move every button at least two feet in a direction, literally any direction." I suppose we're lucky the seat adjustment panel isn't mounted directly to the frame rails.
I'm not sure if their cars have become so good at the basic everyday tasks like "idling" or "commuting" or "keeping the fiery bits contained inside the engine" that the part in Enzo's will that very clearly stipulated that you have to show open contempt for your customers was put at risk of being violated, but it certainly has that feel to it.
Navigating the HVAC controls either feel like a level of Myst or attempting to construct the Shrine of the Silver Monkey with 24 seconds on the clock and no pendants left to give. There are buttons and knobs that don't have a clear purpose except for possibly a diversion from some other glaring shortcoming elsewhere inside the car. Getting your F12 to move forward and back is somewhat self-explanatory, but setting the parking brake while the car has the motor running escaped me entirely, regardless of what sequence or frequency I communicated through what appeared to be the parking brake controls.
The blinkers are buttons on the steering wheel. You get used to it. It has that sort of annoyance that after a couple months of ownership turns into charm, I suppose.
Once you get acclimated to a car that decides to break most ergonomic conventions for...reasons?...it's a lovely place to find yourself even if you aren't going anywhere in particular. It has way more room than you think it would (even in the trunk and parcel shelf), seats that work well for distance once you figure out the lumbar support, and the Bluetooth took me exactly 13 seconds to figure out.
I'm going to actively avoid using the words "it has too much power" in the sentences that follow this section, but please know that 1. that is difficult for me to do that and 2. I am thinking about doing it anyway.
The car is quick. For perspective, it has 20.7% more power than the Carrera GT we were running with this weekend, and that car is quick. It has the kind of power that makes you second-guess passing cars on two lane roads not because you don't have the speed but at 75 mph you went a gear too low and it's going to need a moment to sort out what's going on out back because it's busy carpeting a two lane with fresh Michelin.
Fast-car-fast has been punted into a league of such titanic numbers that you're doing triple digits well before the tachometer even winds halfway to redline. The V12 in this car is a masterpiece capable of unfurling such grotesque speeds that I'm not sure I can responsibly recommend using one at wide-open throttle in a populated area. I'm thankful we're a Texan outlet because this car just doesn't make a whole bunch of sense to me on anything more technically demanding than our long, wide sweepers strewn about the countryside.
Ferrari’s dual clutch will always play second fiddle to PDK, but it does just fine on its own and has atoned for most sins of the F1 gearboxes of years prior. The car has enough torque and the computer has enough patience that you can lug along at frightening speeds without the transmission slipping out of 7th gear. It is constantly sending you the message that you are driving a car that is dizzyingly powerful. You don't measure this car's performance on the street in linear time but by bail amount.
It takes a toll on you while driving even if the rest of the experience suggests it is a storied marque's flagship effort.
Big Ferraris are the best Ferraris, which is a phrase that I immediately am second guessing but still feels right being fresh out of this highway monster. It is a glorious effort at overkill, one that won't beat you up on long hauls or grocery runs, but not one that is immediately likable. I suspect that this car on a racetrack would obliterate that notion thanks to equal servings of tire smoke and opposite lock, but here in the real world with the other 98.3% of Ferrari GT owners you just find yourself hoping that you can fly below the radar enough in a parking lot before it draws a crowd.
This is an extrovert's effort at producing a car that appeals to introverts, if that makes sense, and particularly in the spec you see here.
This is the most petty complaint I may have ever had in my short time on this planet, but it's what put the whole car in perspective for me: the horn doesn't sound like they ripped it off of a Riva that was cruising Lake Como but rather just whatever was in the FCA parts bin. And that puts me right back to where we were a couple hours before I started writing this draft. The primary takeaway I've got is that the competence of this car as a means of transport removes not just any silliness that the car has, but any real sense of humor. It's a hell of an effort at a car, and if you found yourself in the position to purchase one, I wouldn't hesitate to give you whatever evolution of the high-five comes after social distancing.
The hardest thing to reconcile with this car is that I *should* like it. I've been hard on this car, I'm aware of that. It's an incredible privilege to take care of it for a weekend. If I haven't done a sufficient job of mentioning it through this prose, I'll mention it again here - it's an outrageous piece of hardware even if you feel like every time you start it up, none of the buttons are where you left them.
This could be my isolated experience growing up with Testarossas on my bedroom wall, your mileage may vary - but it feels like there's just something missing from the experience. Maybe that's me projecting decades of Ferrari admiration onto a car that has to comply with modern regulatory mandates and market demands for a car that leaves no creature comfort unfulfilled. Maybe it's unrealistic to expect that when Ferrari steps into the ring to create a competent sports GT with a panicked and dehydrated badger under the hood, it feels like it should stir you and validate the price tag with insanity.
This car will leave you well rested with a new sensation for speed, but will somehow leave a craving for engine-out service Ferraris that are worse in every aspect with half the power. For all boxes that this car can check simultaneously, there's an itch that only some ancient, vague notion of what a Ferrari is like can scratch, and despite a monumental effort, this F12 just ain't it for me.