Ferrari LaFerrari First Drive
It was strange that when we arrived at the factory in Maranello for the briefing on the LaFerrari, Franco Cimatti, Ferrari technical director, started with the car’s seat position and visibility. Never mind it’s the most powerful Ferrari ever. Never mind it’s the first hybrid Ferrari ever. Never mind its carbon fiber tub is baked in the same autoclaves as the Formula One cars and made by the same team. Never mind its name translates to “The Ferrari.”
It begins to make sense the following day, when we arrive at the 1.9-mile Fiorano test circuit. The LaFerrari looks deceivingly small in the parking lot. Sharing wheelbase and length with the Enzo, it’s longer than the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918. It’s also the widest of the three, but shortest in height. Pull the door up and you find a large part of the roof goes with it; the opening makes for easier ingress. The seat, bolted directly to the tub, offers no adjustment (Ferrari tailors seat padding for each customer). A lever at bottom right slides the pedals to and fro, and the square, 458 Speciale-derived steering wheel has a large range of adjustment. Behind it is an LCD screen with a large digital tachometer indicating a 9000 rpm redline (the engine briefly allows 9250 rpm). The teardrop shaped cabin feels large and offers good forward visibility – all you see ahead are the fenders.
Appreciating the layout will have to come later. The cameras are running, and I’m allowed only a handful of laps. The drive mode selector goes straight to Race. I roll out of the pit box. The first note from my logbook: “Holy hell does this thing make a beautiful shriek!” The 6.3-liter V-12 comes from the F12 Berlinetta, but trades low end power for a higher redline (from 8250 rpm to 9000) and output (from 731 hp to 789). There’s a wonderful fury accessed within the last 1000 rpm that’s matched by the immediacy provided from the 161-horsepower electric motor bolted to the back of the 7-speed twin-clutch transaxle. There is no EV mode, due to the sub-6 mile range Ferrari estimates the system would have, and there won’t be one. This motor is all about adding power.
One of Ferrari’s goals for its hybrid system was to provide acceleration similar to driving around one gear down. The effect is invisible. You don’t hear the telltale high pitched whine, and you don’t feel any change in delivery. Power arrives the moment you nudge the accelerator and doesn’t relent until you lift.
While considering the combined 950 horsepower, the Launch button looks more and more tantalizing. Ferrari claims 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds, but expressively forbade us from any data acquisition. We’ll have to wait to validate performance numbers (to any owners reading: Have VBox, will travel).
But what remains more impressive than the powerband is the LaFerrari’s accessibility. It doesn’t belie its capabilities – you’re wielding a machine of awesome power – but I feel confident enough to turn off traction control after just handful of laps in a 950-horse, $1 million-plus car with Fernando Alonso’s name on a plaque on the steering wheel (customers can choose what the plaque says).
That extraordinarily light steering wheel ramps steeply as you come off center (just under two turns lock-to-lock), and it is surprisingly relaxed on-center for high speed stability. Electromechanical power steering is another Ferrari first, and though there isn’t much road feel, the wheel’s utter precision and the response from the chassis put it among the best out there.
On to the front straight, I see the rear wing moving about. There’s a matched set of flaps at the bottom of the rear bumper and underneath the front, and, combined, the wings can adjust to make between 200 to 800 lbs. of downforce at 125 mph.
Just more than 160 mph appears on the speedo; good thing developing confidence in the brakes comes easily. Under moderate to heavy use, the pedal feels consistent and immensely powerful. In my few laps I can’t sense a difference between regenerative and mechanical braking.
Despite the level of adjustable and active components, the LaFerrari drives with utter linearity. It doesn’t flaunt its various tech to the driver, but makes it all work in the background. It’s focused on satisfying its driver, and it’s a spectacular, utterly engaging experience. As we’re wrapping up our time at Fiorano, I see a large GAS OFF sign followed a little later by one that says GAS ON. They sit next to the place where the track monitors sound and exist to remind drivers not to break the limit. I hadn’t noticed them before.
You expect exhilarating track performance from the kind of hypercar Ferrari makes once roughly every decade, but an interesting thing happened during my time with the LaFerrari on the road: I liked it even more.
That statement seems absurd, that a car of this magnitude could work on the rough, narrow, and switchback-punctuated roads around Maranello, but days later I still can’t shake it. Leave the gearbox in automatic, tap the bumpy road button to put the shocks in their softest setting, and the LaFerrari is compliant and unbelievably adept at cruising. The only issue I notice is slightly inconsistent brake feel during light use.
We’re getting close to wrapping the shoot, and cameraman Anthony Esposito is hanging out of the back of a Fiat Freemont, the Italian badge job of the Dodge Journey. He’s waving me closer so the LaFerrari looks better in the video he’s shooting.
I don’t want to. We’re going maybe 50 mph and I have the windows down. It rained a few hours ago so everything’s lush and pretty. There are these green hills on both sides that are littered with stereotypical Italian villas. The air’s humid, but not too warm. The engine growl changes as the valves in the muffler open and shut while I play with the throttle. The car’s riding smooth and I can point it around those switchbacks with one hand on the wheel; the other’s out the window. It’s here where the thought creeps in: This may be the best road car I’ve ever driven.
A message to those fortunate enough to own a LaFerrari: Drive it. Please.
|2014 Ferrari LaFerrari|
|BASE PRICE||$1,400,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.3L/789-hp/516-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12 plus 161-hp electric motor; 950 hp comb|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3150 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.1 x 78.4 x 43.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.6 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||12/17 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||281/198 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.40 lb/mile (est)|