May 04 2014
La Ferrari Review
RMA Track Days talk about the La Ferrari.
What is it?
The Ferrari LaFerrari, if we’re being pedantic, but the Italian supercar maker would no doubt prefer us to simply say ‘LaFerrari’. It follows in the footsteps of the most exciting entries from the Prancing Horse hall of fame – 288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo – and mixes a V12 petrol engine with electric power to create a hybrid hypercar to battle the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. Its price tops £1million but that’s almost irrelevant; all 499 have long been sold out.
The 6.3-litre V12 revs to 9250rpm and develops 789bhp at 9000rpm for a specific output of 128bhp-per-litre. Maximum torque is 516lb ft at 6750rpm. This is supplemented by an electric motor that drives directly through the differential (not the gearbox, as in the P1), spins at 16,500rpm and contributes a further 161bhp and 199lb ft. Together with the batteries, the combined weight of the hybrid system is 146kg - roughly half that of the admittedly beefier 918 Spyder’s hybrid system. It more than pulls its weight, improving acceleration by 20 per cent and delivering a 50 per cent reduction in CO2.
The headline performance figures are a 0-60mph time of ‘less than 3sec’ and a 0-124mph time of ‘under 7sec’. At 1m20s, the LaFerrari’s Fiorano track time is also 5sec quicker than an Enzo and 3sec quicker than the F12 Berlinetta, which it displaces as Ferrari’s fastest ever road car. The top speed is quoted as over 217mph. It combines this performance with a claimed 220g/km of CO2 in hybrid mode – lower emissions than a Lotus Exige.
Active aerodynamics see front and rear diffusers, an underbody guide vane and a rear spoiler all react and deploy automatically when driving conditions require. This generates downforce without unnecessarily compromising the car’s drag coefficient. Both the hybrid system and active aero integrate into the rest of the LaFerrari’s dizzying electronic systems, including F1-trac and E-diff. There’s a Brembo carbon-ceramic brake setup, while the 19in front/20in rear alloy wheels are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero rubber.
What’s it like to drive?
The hardware might be thoroughly modern, but LaFerrari’s heart remains a screaming naturally aspirated V12 engine. More like a force of nature than something man-made, it owns your senses, its pulsing beat sending all manner of subtle vibrations into you through the structure of the car.
Where the real magic happens is in the way the electric motor makes its contribution. The ultimate silent partner, it augments the V12’s performance, response and delivery without ever making its presence felt. Ferrari has used the electric motor as a means of sharpening the powertrain’s response and providing torque-fill in the lower and mid range of its torque curve, which then allows the petrol engine’s tune to be optimsed for top-end fireworks. The effect is not that of the P1’s fairground ride whumph, instead delivering a solid wall of thrust, with no fuss or sense of multiple power sources. Rewind the years and ironically you’d find LaFerrari playing the part of the McLaren F1, and the McLaren P1 in the more visceral role of the Ferrari F40.
On warm, dry Italian roads it all conspires to create a totally explosive driving experience. The balance of grip and levels of traction are extremely well-judged, so you always seem to know where you are with both ends of the car. The feelsome measured steering gives you something to lean on, so you always have confidence in the front-end, and the stability control system is so precise and dialled-in to LaFerrari’s dynamics that together they only ever flatter your driving, even allowing you to persuade the tail into a smooth slide and then let the rear wheels spin a little before finally applying an invisible guiding hand.
It’s equally impressive on track. I’ve been to Fiorano on numerous occasions, but never has it felt so small. LaFerrari literally devours the place, romping down the straights and chomping through the corners like nothing I’ve ever driven here. Everything is so immediate, intense and explosive, yet just as on the road LaFerrari feels totally intuitive and approachable. The silky steering response that made the road driving so enjoyable also feels perfect on track - quick, but not jumpy - so you can make one clean steering input from turn-in through apex to exit, rather than feel your way in with a series of nudges. And when the tail begins to slide, your corrective inputs are just as natural and measured, to the point where you can forget the value of the car and drive it purely on feel.
We’ve become so used to synaptic gearshifts it’s easy to overlook just how great LaFerrari’s gearbox is. Up and downshifts are so rapid there’s no interruption, yet somehow the way the latency and impulse phases have been finessed means you feel completely engaged with the process of changing gear.
Likewise the brakes are sensational. All the more so when you consider Ferrari has gone one stage further than Porsche by using the brakes for harvesting regenerative energy even during moments of ABS intervention for absolute efficiency. In terms of outright feel and precision the P1 has the edge over LaFerrari, but only in the final stages of braking. And the McLaren has no brake energy recuperation at all.
Quite how LaFerrari manages to deploy its heroic performance with such control, yet make the driving experience so approachable, exploitable and totally engaging is something of a miracle. As is the seamless way in which the powertrain, chassis and aerodynamics have been integrated.
How does it compare?
Its on-paper stats outstrip the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder, while its driving experience is different to both. It’s also much more expensive than either. The only way to truly weigh them up alongside each other, though, is with a proper comparison test. Needless to say, we will move heaven and earth to try and bring you one of the greatest group tests of all time.
Anything else I need to know?
There’s a 60mm gain in headroom yet a 30mm reduction in roofline height compared with the Ferrari Enzo. This has been achieved by reclining the driving position a little and doing away with a conventional seat frame. Instead the cushions are bonded directly to the tub, with all the adjustment being in the pedals and steering wheel. This has a knock-on effect of enabling engineers to lower LaFerrari’s centre-of-gravity by 35mm; an unprecedented gain over an already extreme starting point and something that allows engineers to run softer springs yet still reduce body roll. According to Ferrari, every 10mm it could drop LaFerrari’s centre of gravity shaves 0.3sec per lap at Fiorano, 0.4sec at Monza and 2.2sec at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
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