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Ferrari F12berlinetta is a sports car that sings

Close your eyes and imagine it’s your lucky day: Before you is an impossibly sexy two-seat sports car. You grasp the slim door handle and slide into the driver’s seat, a slender shell of carbon fiber wrapped with a grippy technical fabric straight from Formula 1. Before you is a work of art: a leather-covered, flat bottomed steering wheel featuring paddle shifters, a bright red START button, and a manettino—a diminutive switch that allows you to choose from WET, SPORT and RACE modes, and also allows you to shut off electronic stability and traction controls. Looming just behind is an imposingly large tachometer, showing an 8,500 rpm rev limit. (Tucked down to the left on the instrument panel is a small digital speed readout, which you immediately and wisely decide to ignore.) You turn the key, and push the starter. Instantaneously, a 730-horsepower 12 cylinder screams to life with a startling, ripping growl. Life as you have known it just changed. Welcome to the Ferrari F12berinetta.

I was fortunate enough to have that day recently. I wanted to determine whether the F12, which sits in pole position of Ferrari’s current production-car lineup with its front-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, has the chops to become a future classic. In 50 years hence, will it grace the lawns of important concours across the land?

Ferrari. The name alone conjures visceral images—operatic engines, fragrant leathers, sensual bodies—and powerful emotions. Italy’s iconic sports car manufacturer has long made bank on distilling pure adrenaline and desire into one superlative ride after the next. But the bar is ridiculously high: The designers and engineers in Maranello, where Ferrari is based, carry the extra burden of making sure each and every new model outperforms its predecessor.

In the case of the F12, there are some pretty important ancestors. Arguably some of the most important Ferraris of all time are front-engine V12s. Pinnacle cars like the 1957 250 Testa Rossa, the 1962 250 GTO, the 1967 275 GTB/4 cam (my favorite—see here); the 1974 Daytona, the 1996 550 Maranello, and the 2006 599 Fiorano, which the F12 replaces.

“The factory itself has the greatest control over the future value of a car,” said Ian Kelleher, managing director at RM Auctions, which has sold six of the ten highest-priced vintage Ferraris ever auctioned. “It’s important that they limit production—something Ferrari is very good at. The second factor is more difficult: Not coming out too quickly with a newer, better-performing replacement.”

Ferrari doesn’t release production numbers for a specific model, but one insider’s estimate is for the F12 is 1,000. There is another, less easily captured, factor: the overall design and appeal of a car. For my money (and oh, how I wish I had the money!), the F12 is more stunning, more memorable, more visually cohesive, more evocative of some of its famous vintage predecessors than the model it replaced, the 599 Fiorano. Some key elements include its “aero bridges,” two openings in the hood that allow air to flow closer to the cabin and not just on the car’s fenders, making the whole machine slip through the air better. The lines those bridges create in the front fenders carry all the way through to the rear lines, making the F12’s profile cohesive and arresting.

Vents in front fascia electronically open when the third-generation carbon ceramic brakes reach a certain temperature to cool them. At 124 miles per hour, 271 pounds of downforce are created; it’s like an NFL linebacker throwing himself down on the roof as you accelerate. The rear end, which carries the traditional round taillights and quad exhaust, also has a Formula 1-inspired tail/wing shape—incredibly sexy.

It is the driving experience, of course, though, that sets the F12 apart. Never before has a Ferrari felt so ridiculously capable. Its electronic controls are unparalleled, making the car’s personality not only consistent but almost robotic in its precision and ability to make the driver look good. The thing is, there’s so much power stuffed into the diminutive body that even good drivers best beware: One strong thrust of the gas pedal can shake that pretty tail free if the car isn’t pointed straight—even with stability and traction controls on. It might sound scary, and it is. In the best possible way.

Whether it makes it to the Pebble Beach Concours in decades remains to be seen, although already one one-off, a convertible version called the TRS, is well on its way between its looks and its rarity. Whether the F12 makes my list of all-time favorite drives is a done deal.

By the numbers

  • Base price: from $320,000
  • Price as tested: $446,514
  • Horsepower: 730 @ 8,250 rpm
  • Torque: 509 lb. ft. @ 6,000 rpm
  • 0 to 60: 3.1 sec
  • Top speed: 211 mph
  • Weight: 3,362 lbs
  • MPG: 12 city/16 highway (but if you have to ask, this isn’t the car for you)