In pushing forward, the state of high-performance automotive art has gone backward: The latest and greatest exotics situate their engines behind the driver. Even the Chevrolet Corvette finally abandoned its classic front-engine format for a mid-engine layout, reaping significant performance improvements. All-wheel drive, forced induction, and electrification also balance on the cutting edge of performance—and none of it is included in the Ferrari 812 Competizione.
Yet, having taken it for a spin around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in Maranello, we can unequivocally declare that it’s anything but retrograde. The 812 Competizione elevates the 812 Superfast, a fairly large, two-door GT car with a front-mounted V-12 engine, from a theatrical and super-fast piece of sculpture to a maximal expression of what a front-engine, rear-drive Ferrari is capable of, using aerodynamics, software, and more power. It’s a triumphant send-off for Ferrari’s V-12, at least in this form; it may be the last naturally aspirated, non-hybrid V-12 the Italian automaker ever sells.
And what a V-12 it is. Ferrari uncorked another 500 rpm from the engine’s maximum speed, raising redline to a goosebump-generating 9,500 rpm and horsepower to 819 from 789, while giving up 20 lb-ft of peak torque, for 510 lb-ft. This V-12 is the most powerful unassisted road engine Ferrari has ever sold, spitting out 126 hp per liter of displacement, and far wilder than the twelves in similar big coupes such as the Aston Martin DBS and Bentley Continental GT Speed.
Lightened internals help. The connecting rods are now fashioned from titanium, the pistons are two percent lighter, and the crankshaft is three percent lighter than the 812’s. The wrist pins are given a diamond-like coating—DLC—for reduced friction and improved wear; the same coating is added to the camshafts. The fancy coating is borrowed from Ferrari’s F1 racing know-how and is even applied to the sliding finger followers acting on the valve stems.
Ferrari runs the Competizione engine on lower-viscosity oil delivered via a variable-displacement oil pump, and a new dedicated central air inlet better distribute air across the engine’s radiators to keep temperatures in check.
A completely new intake manifold with shorter and variable-geometry tracts ensures the revvier engine breathes properly at full chat, while resonators conduct the yowling crescendo like an orchestra. Despite the addition of a gasoline particulate filter to the exhaust side—which lowers the Competizione’s emissions below those of the 812’s—gases are led down a winding path behind the rear bumper before being spat into the atmosphere via square, unadorned metal pipes. This “reinstates the medium-high frequency sound [typically] muffled by the use of [a gasoline particulate filter]. ”
Repeatedly winding the V-12 out until being flashed by the upshift warning lights on the steering wheel left our ears ringing—even through a racing helmet. The engine revs so quickly, it was tough to pay attention to anything but those shift lights when accelerating hard from a stop. Ferrari claims the Competizione reaches 62 mph in 2.8 seconds; consider that conservative, as the 84-pounds-heavier and less powerful regular 812 nailed that time in our testing. The 812’s manually shiftable seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission benefits (usefully) from five percent quicker shift times.
Why Look Backwards?
You might have noticed the 812’s rear window has been replaced by a solid aluminum panel peppered with Nike-swoosh-shaped carbon fiber vortex generators. You literally can’t look behind you, at least not directly. The little winglets direct airflow coming over the Competizone’s roof over the full width of the widened rear spoiler. A rear-facing camera mounted to a shark fin delivers video feed to a digital rearview mirror.
A deeper and newly full-width diffuser helps deliver more rear downforce and necessitates the abandonment of the regular 812’s quadrant of underbody brake-cooling ducts. Instead, brake calipers with built-in air scoops borrowed from the SF90 ensure proper cooling, as do the pair of carbon-fiber snorkels jutting from the front bumper, which direct air straight at the front rotors.
Improved evacuation of front-end airflow over the radiators from the hood and fenders, along with that chevron-shaped carbon-fiber wing just ahead of the windshield balance downforce at the front. A trio of vents lives behind each rear wheel to help air pressure exit the rear wheel wheels. These should be familiar: They’re a nod to the similar louvers on the rear fenders of the Competizione’s direct predecessor, the F12 tdF.
Racy—But Not For Racing
Racy as this all seems, the Competizione is not set up for actual, um, competizione. It is not a race car, nor will it compete in any Ferrari-sanctioned series. But the name sure sounds cool (even more so than the regular model’s “Superfast” title), and the car is unabashedly aimed toward track use, even if its cabin and ride quality remain entirely streetable. Comfortable, even.
Around Fiorano, Ferrari says the Competizione is 1.5 seconds quicker per lap than the Superfast. That tiny gap hardly muddies the spiritual distance between the Competizione and the Superfast, because Fiorano is not a big track. The latter is fleet but genteel, its every move damped and fluid. For the Competizione, immediacy reigns. Breathe on any of the primary controls, and the Ferrari scrambles to translate your movement into action; the V-12 spins up lightning-quick, the brakes react forcefully, and the steering twitches with every degree of lock you put in.
Partly, the Competizione steers with such ferocity because of its available Michelin Cup 2 R tires—the only setup we sampled—and 15-percent firmer front springs and 10-percent stiffer rears. (Identically sized, less aggressive Pirelli P Zero Corsas are standard, and surprisingly, the anti-roll bars are the same as the 812’s.) But mostly the Competizione changes direction like a scared cat thanks to its rear-wheel steering, which is quite literally unhinged from the lesser model’s setup.
Here Ferrari lets the rear-wheel actuators operate independently, rather than in phase like the front wheels, a spooky sounding trick that unlocks numerous advantages. With each rear wheel free to aim as it pleases (maximum toe change in either direction remains 1.5 degrees, as on the Superfast), each side can alter the toe angle for enhanced stability under hard braking. Ferrari can also turn the outside rear tire ever so slightly to preload the contact patch, essentially forcing the tire to take a set sooner, priming the rear axle to respond more immediately to steering inputs at the front.
By getting the outside rear tire into the load position (deflection) it usually would reach after the front axle responds to a steering input, Ferrari shortens wait time for the rear wheels to “follow” the fronts as you turn into a corner. In lower-speed bends, the inside rear wheel can turn against the fronts, too, delivering supernatural turn-in—especially given how large the 812 is. You’d expect to turn the steering wheel, feel the front tires grip, then wait for the back end to swing around and hope you didn’t overcook things. Instead, all four of the Competizione’s tires leap into corners together, while the rear stays uncommonly stable. The computers work out further alterations to each rear wheel’s direction as the corner unfolds and depending on which drive mode or stability control setting you’re in.
The system is so transparent, you won’t know it’s working. You won’t even be working all that hard. Ferrari puts forth the surprising claim that the Competizione was tuned to be “easy to drive” fast, an unexpected boast for such a hardcore vehicle. After some dozen laps of Fiorano, we agree. For all its feral madness, its dizzying capability, the 819-hp, rear-drive, six-figure Competizione is genuinely approachable.
Of course, to drive the Competizione the way it deserves to be, you’ll still need to concentrate. Exploring its cornering limits is one thing. Doing so while trying to keep up with the V-12’s endless zings toward redline using the carbon-fiber shift paddles fixed to the steering column while processing the epic noise and the scenery around you suddenly shifting into fast-forward? Those are quite a few other things.
And here’s another thing: You may be wondering why we bothered to review a Ferrari whose 812-unit production run is sold out, based on a quick drive on a foreign racetrack you might never visit. Because the 812 Competizione is too intoxicating to not share, and because it is a rolling preview of clever advancements from Maranello that in all likelihood will make their way into other Ferraris someday—including those that are electrified, mid-engine, and all-wheel drive. And won’t those be something?
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