By Mike Espindle
It’s always nice to have friends. So when my friends at Ferrari invited me to brave the sweltering temperatures of the recent heatwave in the Northeastern U.S. to attend the annual Challenge Races at the Lime Rock race course in Connecticut, I gladly accepted.
For me, frying in the sun while watching top drivers attack a challenging track is preferable to frying in the sun at the beach. But perhaps as a reward for my racing enthusiasm, I was unceremoniously given the keys to a spanking new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta for a “quick run” in the Connecticut countryside, making me one of the first auto writers to actually get my mitts on this fantastic, sexy tourer on a real, live American road–not a test track in Maranello.
Let me first say, the air-conditioning was incredible (it was 98 degrees at Lime Rock and it was the first thing I noticed). Seriously, as the heir to the incredible 599 from a few years back, the F12 exemplifies everything that is great about front-engine Ferraris (although the F12 is really more of a front-mid type vehicle). The berlinettas have always taken the brand’s fiery Italian aggression and dressed it up a bit in smooth Italian couture. Driving the two-seat V12 auto through the Berkshire foothills was an experiment in perfection: Ample power throughout the gear ranges, a deliberate nose-heavy steering dynamic that delivers an uncanny sense of driver control in and out of curves, light-speed paddle shifting that elicits throaty exhaust growls, and just, well, I mean, the F12 is very fast. I ground-and-pounded my route on the way out, but when I started driving back, I selected full-auto to take a closer look at the interior. In full-auto this beast became a purring pussycat: It still delivered plenty of high-octane thrills, but it practically drove itself back to Lime Rock for me (which is not something you could have said about a Ferrari even 5 years ago).
Speaking of the interior, if you are after a sedate flavor of luxury, look elsewhere. The F12 interior is made from all the components that define luxury design (high-quality leather, sleek carbon fiber, polished metals, cutting-edge technology), but Ferrari just kicks the whole deal up a flashy notch. A traditional analog tach meter is bookended by two fully-digital instrumentation panels. But, the tach has a bright yellow face and the digital read-outs shine like crazy diamonds. Wide dash and center console surfaces create a sea of carbon fiber and leather, where other luxury cars only have ponds. There is even a slim digital gauge above the glove box to let your passenger know relative rpm volume and mph (the read-out can, thankfully, be disabled for those times you run your mother-in-law down to the bingo hall).
Of course, I didn’t give my friends at Ferrari the keys back until I secured my name on the list for a more in-depth test drive in the near future. Keep your eyes open for a full report later in the year in the pages of Elite Traveler.