We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to recently spent several days first with a Ferrari 812 Superfast and then with a Ferrari 296 GTB. Other than a few short test drives, this was the first time I had spent any extensive time behind the wheel of a post 2010 Ferrari. The last two Ferraris we have owned were a 599 GTB HGTE and a 16M. A lot has certainly changed since those two left the gates of Maranello and their descendants arrived on the scene. Of Ferrari’s latest generation V12 GT and mid engine supercar, after six days together, there was one I loved and the other I highly respected.
The Ferrari 812 Superfast
When we arrived to collect the 812 Superfast, it was sitting majestically in the sun, ready to go. The Nero Daytona (metallic black) paintwork was sparkling under the blazing mid day sun. As colors go, this has to be one of the best on the 812. Elegant, sophisticated, and intimidating were my initial impressions. The 812 is both large and muscular in its stance. While the 812 might have been ready to go, the driver to be was not. Before taking the keys, I insisted on a detailed briefing on where all the controls were located and how they all worked as so much has changed in the last decade. While some of the cockpit layout logic had carried over from earlier models, the vast majority was new. Turn signals, high beam/low beams, windscreen wipers, suspension settings, are all now on the steering wheel. After 15 minutes of going through everything, and even getting my phone to connect to the infotainment system via Bluetooth, we were ready to go.
A few initial takeaways: the seating position in the 812 is excellent and the Daytona style seats were quite comfortable. The electric seat controls are both intuitive and easy to use and getting the steering wheel positioned to my liking only took a couple of seconds. The infotainment system and climate controls where also intuitive and quickly mastered. Build quality was outstanding and a showcase for the improvements Ferrari has made in this area over the last couple of decades. This 812 was a 2020 model year but did not come with Apple Play which was not a major issue. My F40 doesn’t have Apple Play either and I have never missed it in that Ferrari. The large carbon fiber gear shift paddles are mounted on the steering column which takes a bit of getting used to after years of driving McLaren’s with steering wheel mounted paddles (the difference is column mounted paddles stay in a fixed position where as wheel mounted paddles move as the steering wheel is turned). Luggage space is adequate on the 812 but surprisingly limited for a car its size. Overall, the small hatch/trunk holds two carry-on bags and then you can drop a couple of knapsacks on the rear shelf behind the seats. A golf bag would fit nicely in the passenger seat. The Cuoio (tan) interior was a nice offset to the Nero exterior. It gave the 812 cockpit a much larger and lighter feeling to it.
Foot firmly on the brake, followed by a jab of the starter button brought the big 6.5 liter V12 to life. Needless to say, even at idle it sounds phenomenal. Nothing else sounds like a Ferrari V12. It’s pure petrolhead joy. Next step was to get the front nose up. As this was a borrowed car, I tried to be especially careful with it. The fact that the replacement cost on the front lip spoiler would feed a small third world village for many months also was in the back of my mind. With the nose up, we now slowly pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. The first 15 minutes were spent navigating through the town and out to the highway. It was an opportunity to start to get comfortable with the new Ferrari control layout and learn the sight lines. At low speeds, the 812’s long nose constantly reminds you of its size.
Once out onto the highway and at speed, the 812 started to come alive. With the manettino set to Sport, the gear shifts were both quick and seamless. The big V12 has a huge amount of torque so at legal speeds, shifts need not be frequent. In just about any gear, the 812 pulls strongly from 2000 rpm and up. On the open highway it cruises effortlessly at 70 mph. Passing is as simple as a tug on the left hand paddle, a bit of right foot, and slight turn of the steering wheel. With the long nose though, it’s not a car that shrinks around you as you begin to push it a bit. The steering is on the light side and quite quick. The 812 eats miles effortlessly and is an incredibly comfortable place to be doing it in. While the 812 does have a 7 speed gearbox, I found both 6th and 7th gears too lazy to use at highway cruising speeds.
After about half an hour cruising down the interstate, we exited and headed up into the mountains. This was a very twisty route with two fairly narrow lanes in each direction. A lot of elevation changes coupled with a seemingly never ending set of tight curves made for a perfect place to put the 812 Superfast through its paces. This was now all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gear territory. While the 812’s brakes are outstanding, the engine braking is almost all you need to manage your progress through the mountains. A simple downshift will scrub off plenty of speed when approaching a corner, balance the car on the throttle through the corner, then give it a bit of gas and shift up as you exit. All you then need to do is repeat the process for the next 40 miles. While I got more comfortable with the 812’s placement on the road as we made progress, it did take quite a bit of time to adapt to the long nose and rear wheel steering. The latter is quite a unique sensation and not something I had experienced before.
Once we dropped out of the mountains, we found ourselves now skirting the coast. On the more open flowing road, the 812 Superfast really shined. The road had narrowed down to one lane in each direction and traffic had started to build. Fortunately passing zones were frequent and in the 812 it was almost comically easy to slide passed a few cars when gaps opened up. The road itself was very overdue for resurfacing but the 812’s suspension soaked up the constant bumps nicely. Not once did it feel unsettled. The outside thermostat was now reading close to triple digits, but we remained quite comfortable as Ferrari air-conditioning has come a very long way in the last decade.
After an hour’s costal cruise, we arrived at our friend’s house with whom we would be spending the next several days. As their driveway was nearly vertical, I decided not to risk the front nose and parked it on the quiet dead end street outside their house. Once we had unloaded all the bags and finished with the greetings, I went back down and took a few quiet moments to just walk around and admire the 812 Superfast. After several hours together in a wide variety of different driving environments, I was both impressed and still a bit intimidated. The 812 is a car you learn slowly over time, it’s not one that you are instantly comfortable driving hard. Some of that maybe down to my recent very light experience with front engine GTs, and some of it is just the huge capabilities of the 789 bhp Ferrari flagship GT.
The rest of our time with the 812 Superfast was spent driving around town. Parking it is actually easier than I initially thought. You have good visibility all around and the sensors and rear camera work well. However, I always had the nagging feeling that using an 812 Superfast to drive around town was complete overkill. It’s not a car that does 25 mph or 30 mph happily. While it will sit in and crawl thought traffic far more competently than its predecessors, it just feels like this isn’t something you should be doing in it.
The Ferrari 296 GTB
After two days together, it was time to return the 812 Superfast and pick up the 296 GTB. If the 812’s spec was subtle and elegant, the bright yellow 296 GTB could be spotted from miles away. The light grey interior with yellow stripes on the seats and stitching suited the exterior spec well. If the handover on the 812 was an exercise on learning the controls, the 296 was closer to learning how to navigate an entirely new computer operating system. The saving grace in this case was both the nose lift was easy to use and it had Apple CarPlay. The downside, the steering wheel mounted track pad that you need to use to access all the different display options and I never did get along. In fact, I would call the relationship one of mutual hatred.
Once the handover was completed, we were back off and into the thick of rush hour traffic. If my first impressions of the 812 swirled around “intimidation”, the 296 GTB felt comfortable from the moment we pulled away. To be fair to the 812, it was the first time I had spent any significant time driving a Ferrari V12 GT in almost 5 years. On the other hand, I put thousands of miles a year on mid-engine supercars. While the 296 GTB is a bit different from the other mid-engine supercars in our current stable, it still felt very familiar.
Unlike the 812 Superfast, which I left in Sport mode for the entirety of our time together, there was lots of shifting between the different power modes in the 296 GTB. For crawling in traffic, fully electric “eDrive” mode was perfect. In eDrive, you are able to crawl along in silence and easily carry on a conversation. Once out of traffic, it was back into “Hybrid”. When the road opened up and we could push a bit, I switched up to “Performance”. The final power mode change was into “Qualify” when the battery charge level dropped below 30% to recharge the battery. Of the different modes, I felt the car performed best and was happiest in “Performance”. Changing between the various modes is down via a display on the steering wheel and is completely seamless.
The first real test for the 296 GTB came the following morning. We were up early, and I was able to drop Mrs. SSO off in town to do some shopping so I had a few hours to kill. With time in my hand, I headed out into rolling hills and countryside. The straight bits on this road are few and far between, and with little traffic, this was a great place to begin to really explore the 296 GTB’s capabilities. With the constant changes of direction, the 296 GTB remained both flat and composed. Steering is a bit on the light side but handling was excellent and it instilled a huge amount of comfort & confidence in the car quickly. The ceramic brakes work extremely well, and the brake pedal feel was outstanding. A quick brush of the brake pedal was more than enough to scrub off speed before turning into the next corner. With the hybrid system, turbo lag is non-existent. With a total of 830 bhp from the combination of the twin turbo V6 and electric motor, it’s both frightenedly quick and just does not seem to ever stop accelerating hard. It’s a car that wants to be pushed and rewards when you lean into it. The sightlines are excellent, and I did not notice any awkward blind spots. The seats are both quite comfortable and very supportive. The biggest issue I found in driving the 296 GTB on great road was completely losing track of time. When I finally remembered to check my watch and the odometer, we had done at least 30 miles more than planned. The good news, I had a very good excuse to hustle the 296 GTB coming back as I was going to be quite late picking up Mrs. SSO.
The final drive of note in the 296 GTB was through the same very twisty route in the mountains that we took the 812 Superfast through a few days prior. The 296 GTB dispatched the elevation changes and tight corners effortlessly. Traffic was much heavier this time, but we were still able to make rapid progress. Like in the 812, this was all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gear territory. The 296 GTB is wonderfully balanced and remained completely neutral through the curves which gives you a huge amount of confidence in the car and its placement on the road. That confidence translates directly into your pace and ability to take advantage of opportunities to pass other slower moving cars when the gaps in the traffic flow open up. I was very comfortable pushing hard and driving right around other cars through the corners. The package makes for quite a rewarding and engaging experience. Just to top it off, the 296 GTB sounds great when you push it a bit and the engine’s song bounces off the canyon rock walls.
Sadly, that great mountain drive took us directly to the end of our time with the 296 GTB. When I handed back the keys, I commented that I thought this was the best and most enjoyable mid engine Ferrari I had driven since the 430 Scuderia.
A Few Final Thoughts
Having the opportunity to spend time with the two Ferraris back to back was both fantastic and eye opening. They are both spectacular cars in their own right but could not have been more different. The 812 Superfast is a car that intimidates and takes time and commitment to learn. The 296 GTB is a car I was able to bond quickly with, yet you always need to be aware of just how potent a weapon it is even when the 296 GTB is acting quite docile. While I could see myself daily driving a 296 GTB, the 812 Superfast is definitely a weekend and road trip supercar. If I had to choose one to take up into the Swiss alps or mountains of Montana, it’s an easy choice and that’s the one I loved driving. If I needed to drive from Paris to Rome in a day, the 812 Superfast would be a great, very respectable, choice. Many thanks to the wonderful gentleman and friend for the loans.
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