Join Date: Apr 2011
The LaFerrari's performance is even more absurd than its name
Intimidating, yet supremely usable. Oh, and obscenely quick.
By Chris Harris
The first thing any of us does with these hypercar things is look for the power figure. In the case of the LaFerrari, that figure is 950 hp. The next figure we snaffle out is, quite naturally, the weight, which in this case is around 2954 lbs, wet. Then we do the math. We always do the math: 643 hp per ton. Six hundred and forty-three. Boom.
Add in 715 lb-ft of torque and the LaFerrari's rear-wheel-drive setup, and the combined foreknowledge does little to quell the sense of intimidation you feel on a public highway—especially one of Maranello's narrow, lunatic-in-a-Fiat-strewn roads. And then you discover that the car's most admirable quality may be the ease with which it can be driven slowly. It won't grab headlines, and it won't help the 120-mph smoky drift for the video shoot, but if you're one of the 499 chosen few, then it will probably be the single most pleasing aspect of the car's performance. Take a 458, lose a little rear visibility, add some width, a 10 percent intimidation factor for the sticker price, and a few extra points for fellow motorists who seem hellbent on crashing into you while they gawk, and that's the slow-speed difficulty summarized; that's your LaFerrari in traffic.
The transmission is key. Gone is the Enzo's mostly hateful mechanized manual; in its place is a modified version of the F12's Getrag dual-clutch box. You can pop it in auto and pretend you're in a C-Class Merc. It's that easy. The only telltales to the contrary are the firm brake pedal with zero dead-travel at the top, and the long throw of the throttle pedal, which, even on small openings, allows access to performance levels not entirely compatible with narrow Modenese roads.
We like to think of cars like this as being no-compromise performance exercises defined though lap delta and Vmax, but the reality is that, perhaps more than any other Ferrari special, the LeFerrari is designed for usability on the street. Just look at the funky door opening and the cut-away sill. Both allow perfectly dignified access and exit strategies for occupants outside the casino. The ride is perplexingly good on the road, too. As in the F12 and the FF, you thumb the damper logo on the steering wheel, the dash says 'bumpy road' and everything slackens to the point of being comfortable.
I always marvel at how these engineers manage to take such mechanical ferocity and make it so calm and usable. You simply have no idea what's going on underneath your bottom. You don't know that 57.5 lbs of high-voltage cells are bolted into the carbon tub, and that someone has taken the F12's already monstrous 740-hp V12, added a variable length intake system and a hydroformed exhaust, and rounded it up to the magic 789 hp at 9000 rpm. You don't know that they've then somehow integrated a harvesting system that can draw energy from the brakes and even the differential. All the driver has to do is pull a paddle and dawdle.
But you want to know what the LaFerrari, the most absurdly named car in the company's history, is like to drive fast.
This of course happens at the Fiorano circuit. I'm always a little skeptical of drawing absolute dynamic conclusions of Ferrari product here for obvious reasons, but there's only one chance to drive this car.
The driving position is pretty radical. You sit low in a padded area of the carbon tub, not in a separate movable seat because that can flex and contaminate the driver-machine connection. The pedal box moves on a sprung handle and the steering wheel has a greater amount of movement than a series production Ferrari. It's a great position, and owners get the padding tailor-made for them.
The wheel is standard Ferrari, but oddly quadrate in shape. The dash readouts are all new, full TFT and riddled with information. The rest is bare, sculpted carbon and Alcantara. Few cockpits are more inviting.
The V12 yelps when you push the red starter, sounding much like the F12 but with a slightly deeper edge. Pull a paddle and you have first gear, tweak the little manettino into 'race', because we need to get on with this, and push the throttle. Take a lap, building speed and tire temperature, and ka-bam! We're traveling.
Throttle response is, well, electric! I've always wanted to say that in the literal sense. Urge is instant and entirely predictable on the throttle input. It just goes from 1500 rpm and keeps pulling, building to 9000 rpm, all the while leaving a rooster of V12 shriek that must be one of the finest noises ever created. This feels profoundly faster than the F12. Traction is superb, and the traction control allows decent slip angles without jagged throttle cuts.
Braking performance is race-car standard. The vast carbon ceramic Brembos leave you pinned in the optional harness belts. Given the regenerative capability, something the McLaren P1 doesn't have and that we know can ruin pedal feel, the work Ferrari has done is exceptional. And the steering is spot-on for speed, weight, and, dare I say it, a better sense of connection than either the F12 or the 458 deliver. I love the way Ferrari decided to effectively automate the driving process—there's active aero constantly juggling downforce levels, an electronic diff, and lord knows what else, but the driver just drives. No boost buttons, no DRS, just concentrate and drive. And you need to, because the LaFerrari is just so damned fast.
It's approachable, too. You can hang half a turn of opposite lock at high speed, just the way you can in a 458. The sense of agility is always there, and of course the power is so overbearing you can always alter your line with a prod of your right foot. Switch off all the safety aids off and the LaFerrari will reduce its tires to blue smoke very effectively. It will also a reveal a chassis with so much balance at extreme slip angles that you wonder if the car actually does anything wrong.
I'm still pondering that now. The noise, the excitement, the sheer, blistering speed, the spread of ability in being so usable on the road and such a missile on track. The LaFerrari is a triumph. We'll tell you more in the magazine very, very soon.