THAT'S NO TYPO: The name of Ferrari's latest thunderbolt is LaFerrari, with the article lewdly rubbing against the proper noun. It's a great name.
First, note the anapestic gallop: la-fer-RAR-eee. For a company whose symbol is a black horse this is a trick worthy of our beloved Dante. Please observe, too, how it's a name that doesn't give a damn about Anglophones. Is it "the LaFerrari," which parses as "the the Ferrari"? Away from the factory gates, English dog.
In tune with a Latin ear, the name italicizes exclusivity and rarity. Ferrari has said it would build 499 of the hybrid hypercars in the next two years, and no more. Prices vary with markets but the conversation starts at €1.2 million ($1.6 million). Or started. LaFerrari's order book was filled within weeks of its debut at the 2013 Geneva auto show.
Now, it is true that to American ears the name is just a tiny bit hard to take seriously. It would be a good name if you were the best tango instructor in Boca Raton. LaFerrari dances with Fifi or no one.
And yet in the presence of the car it's hard to sustain bemusement. Holy hell. What a spectacle, a blood-red vase with black flowers, a robot lover. This is the first Ferrari hypercar designed in-house, without styling atelier Pininfarina, and in this and other ways it is a technical manifesto of the company's future direction. Note the absence of heritage cues. LaFerrari was designed in collaboration with Ferrari's F1 mastermind, Rory Byrne, and the carbon-fiber chassis are baked in the same autoclaves as the race cars. The designer of record is Flavio Manzoni, though aero management—that is, satisfying the demands of engine induction, cooling, and downforce—dictated the larger contours.
LaFerrari makes beauty out of technical necessity with a shape that is an erotic entanglement of the air around it, wrapped in red silk sheets.
And, of course, it's fully mega in the ground-effects department. There are active underbody flaps at front and rear diffusers, an underbody aero vane, and most conspicuously, LaFerrari's hyperkinetic rear wing that swivels into the airstream in mid- to high-speed cornering, and also doubling as a high-speed air brake. All of these aero appliances actuate independently but operate synchronously to provide real-time aero balancing, front to rear, side to side, and up to 800 pounds of road-gripping downforce. And it will suck the meat from your face. Active aero is just one of many semi-automated, integrated systems—the amazing E-Diff is another—that toil away quietly lap after lap without the driver being much aware of it. The KERS regeneration scheme, scavenging electrons during braking and anytime the V12 is producing more power than required, needs no special button or e-mode to engage. It's always on. The traction-control algorithms are poetry, and LaFerrari's tires-on-fire, hip-swaggering corner exit is how babies are made.
These cars aren't sold to your run-of-the-mill Ferrari idiots, mind you. They are handed out as rewards to lifelong clients, connoisseurs and Friends of Enzo, people well known to the firm and to Chairman Luca di Montezemolo. This practice has been institutionalized with each of Ferrari's era-defining hypercars: the F40 (1987), the F50 (1995), and the Enzo (2002). I was in the chairman's office in Maranello, Italy, in June when he waved a letter from a certain irate king of a certain oil-rich world power, an unrequited LaFerrari suitor.
I'm not discounting the possibility of theater on the boss's part, but am I loving the show.
We are in Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. The sky is red here, and good-natured joshing about the latest Formula One results is met with, ahem, stony stares. Sorry. Neither is Ferrari taking anything for granted in the highly esoteric business of building four-wheeled fighter planes.
Please enjoy the following pornography: LaFerrari is a full carbon chassis and body car, 43.9 inches high, a bit narrower than the Enzo, with similar wheelbase and length, and the whole smash is built to Formula One specs. Mounted longitudinally behind the passenger cell is the 6.3-liter, naturally aspirated 65-degree V12 engine, a fiery dragon's heart generating on its own 789 hp. This is an evolved version of the engine in the F12 Berlinetta, internally lightened and reinforced to sustain its soaring, flame-splitting 9,000-rpm peak horsepower. Forget your curling iron? No problem.
Bolted to the southern end of the rear transaxle is an oil-cooled 161-hp, AC synchronous electric motor, the centerpiece of the hybrid kinetic energy recovery system (HY-KERS). Total system output: 950 hp and 664 pound-feet of electrified, trip-hammer torque, unspeakably smooth and refined, which when pumped through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and the (brilliant, incomparable, secret-of-it-all) torque-vectoring rear differential and thence to the foot-wide bastards in back produces interesting inertial effects. Zero to 124 mph in under seven seconds and 186 mph (300 kph) in 15 seconds.
Yeah, drink it in, the machine-ness of it all. Just a tick under 3,000 pounds, LaFerrari stores its lightning quite near its center of mass, in a 132-pound refrigerated lithium-ion battery pack transverse to about the driver's tailbone.
Due largely to its battery, LaFerrari's center of mass is 1.4 inches lower than the Enzo's. In the interests of further reducing mass, LaFerrari dispenses with actual seats; rather, occupants' backsides are snuggled into couch-like contours in the carbon structure. Instead of a seat adjustment, a lever to the driver's right positions the pedal assembly, and the steering column moves the nearly square steering yoke fore and aft. Starfleet, at last.
There are many things that make LaFerrari an incomparable road-car experience, but high on the list is the neuro-mechanical connectedness between man and machine the racecar-like, fixed-seat arrangement creates. That, and having a Ferrari V12 sawing away at nine grand a couple inches from your nethers.
LaFerrari is the last of a trio of dawning-tech hybrid hypercars in the past year that have disrupted what is possible in a sports car performance: The Porsche 918 Spyder, which I drove on public roads in Germany's Eifel Mountains last fall on the very day it set the Nürburgring lap record of 6:57 seconds; and the McLaren P1, built by some very polite androids in Woking, Surrey, U.K., a car that I drove on an asphalt wasteland at Dunsfold, in the U.K., the Top Gear tarmac. Neither venue allowed me to drive the cars very hard or for very long except to report that they were both savage.
For LaFerrari I was favored with a closed test session at the company's test track at Fiorano (I am fully assured of your best wishes for me in light of this information).
LaFerrari's predecessor, the celestial Enzo, dispatched the 3 kilometers and 12 turns of Pista di Fiorano in 1 minute 25 seconds. According to the company, LaFerrari does the deed in 1:19. This is consistent with the car's primary sensation on track, which is having easy mastery of this hellacious acceleration and tail-sweeping power exiting out of corners, really unprecedented in a road car, and the only challenge is how hard you can grit your teeth to hold your foot down. Down-track distances at Fiorano just dissolve in a hectic watercolor blur of red, yellow and green and corner-to-corner acceleration.
The results of the car's carbon-ceramic brakes, the rear wing's aero braking and the HY-KERS regen effect is stupendous, dead steady, drama-free threshold braking to hang you from the seat harness like your parachute snagged in a tree. LaFerrari operates in a realm of physicality and pace reached only in hard-core production-based race cars, with full aero and slicks. After a half-hour I was sweating like a waiter.
Purists may find it appalling that one such as myself could handle the car, but the truth is, LaFerrari is effortless. The electrically assisted steering is luxury-car light but needle sharp. Throttle response is just plain mind-expanding but gas-pedal travel is long enough to be easily modulated. Once you get used to the phenomenal velocities, you can sashay the tail around corners around like it was any other track-day toy. I spent most of my time with the dynamics mode selector, the manettino, set to CST Off, deactivating the car's protective failsafes, and never felt threatened.
Mr. Montezemolo has made the difficult but necessary case that even as next-generation Ferraris get faster, the performance has to be safely accessible to the enthusiast driver of ordinary talents and reasonable will to live. In the case of a 950-hp, 3,000-pound LaFerrari, and the cars that follow, that means a significant amount of electronic mediation between the driver and the road. It really can't be helped.
As for any alleged lack of driver involvement, maybe. But hurtling down Fiorano's main straight, punching up through the gears—HAAAR-bang! HAARRR-bang!—staying flat on the gas around that lazy left-hander while climbing through 160 mph, trusting only in the car's ground effects to keep you from skittering wide of the mark in a seven-figure car. It's pretty involving.
And the sound, the pitched notes of a Ferrari V12 with its tender bits in a wringer, headers glowing. Forget about it! Well, here we have come to the end of it, the prime mover in this drama. For all LaFerrari's hyper-optimized engineering, the scourging of every gram, the one thing designers took as a given was a big ol' naturally aspirated V12, a legacy power plant chosen for no better than emotional, which is to say irrational, reasons. Who says you can't build a Ferrari hypercar without a macho V12? They do.
Another engine, a smaller, turbo'd engine like the McLaren's or Porsche's, might have been squeezed for more power but it would never rock the Kasbah like the almighty bark of a red dozen.
Full Article By DAN NEIL