Driving the LaFerrari, the superlative modern supercar

It would be a bald-faced lie to tell you that the promise of driving Ferrari's LaFerrari didn’t make this professional supercar sampler nervous as hell.

I've done deep testing on every Koenigsegg, various Bugatti Veyrons, and each model crafted by Pagani, and yet the bottoms of my feet filled with sweat and my fingers fumbled as I reach to open the swan door of “the” Ferrari, at the hallowed test track of Fiorano not far from Maranello HQ.

It's a hellzapoppin' way to end the most bountiful season for supercars in ages. What began with both the 720-horsepower/738 pound-feet of torque Pagani Huayra and 1,124-hp/885 lb-ft Koenigsegg Agera R led to the triad of the Porsche 918 Spyder (875 hp/974 lb-ft), the McLaren P1 (903 hp/664 lb-ft), and now this ultimate Ferrari at 950 hp and 715 lb-ft — more powerful than the Formula 1 cars built alongside it at the Scuderia. And at $1.4 million, the LaFerrari is nearly as expensive as they get.

Having driven the big three, I can now say I've been witness to a perfectly conducted three-act opera. The plug-in 918 Spider hybrid is wholly impressive in its techno-blitzkrieg, and it can absolutely crush the other two of this trio in green credentials. The P1 hybrid-boosted ground-hugger is exactly what I was hoping McLaren would do: Kick me viciously and make me feel damned close to one of their GT3 drivers.


But In the back of my mind, I was waiting for the LaFerrari to separate me from my senses.

Before launching me out to the 1.9-mile fun park at the Fiorano track, however, I was one of the selected to first head out onto the wild hilly two-lanes south of Maranello. Many drivers who tested the LaFerrari in previous groups had been hit by torrential rain; I can't imagine turning a wheel in this car in such conditions on hairpin-choked and oily Italian roads. These fun roads are notoriously far from perfect and the rigid build of the LaFerrari chassis finds the ideas of potholes and expansion joints a bit gauche.

Nonetheless, Ferrari has created a hypercar that can drive daily without feeling gawky, fragile, or utterly insane. I remember first driving the larger Enzo back in 2002, when what struck me most about it was how domesticated that monster could be in public when properly set up. Such is the case here: The overall feel, responsiveness, and ride over rumpled and sometimes pitted two-lanes are just as accommodating yet decidedly more clear in their feedback.

Undeniably it’s at the track where the LaFerrari full breadth of achievement comes alive. Let’s be honest: is the LaFerrari designed to cruise down the easy highway or even along public two-lanes with gorgeous sweepers? Is it nice and considerate and safe on any public road in the United States to drive any Ferrari like a Ferrari craves to be driven? No; it is designed and engineered for the track, in spaces that permit us to throw traffic laws to the airstream.

The 789-hp 6.2-liter V-12 engine has been boosted slighly from the power it makes when installed in the front of the Ferrari F12Berlinetta, which weighs 200 lbs. more than the 3,131-lb. LaFerrari. Between the engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission lies the “traction e-motor," accounting for 161 further hp and 199 more lb-ft of mechanical twist. It's this booster motor, energized by a 2.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, that fills the lower rev range on the V-12 with so much forward thrust. The V-12 is actually held back at lower revs while the e-motor is used there to fill the roll and result also in a bit better fuel efficiency versus the V-12 doing everything by itself (and Ferrari vows there will never be an all-electric variation.)

The aerodynamics pick up where the recently tested 458 Speciale leaves off, with fully active front air inlets and underbody vents, and a showpiece air-brake system out back. In full Race mode of the Ferrari manettino switch at the steering wheel, the downward forces generated at high speeds are blatant and strong. The Brembo carbon ceramic brakeset is enormous and taken straight from the Speciale. Couple these beefy discs with both the LaFerrari’s lighter weight, low stance, and massive air-braking assistance, and getting in full attack mode at the track feels natural, and no more risky than in any other rear-engined Ferrari.

As I sit in the wrap-around cockpit, the squared carbon-fiber steering wheel is fully adjustable in a normal fashion, while a lever pulled at the lower right of the driver’s seat releases the pedal set toward me so I can adjust it using my legs. None of that is revolutionary, but it works to perfection when you consider the seats are fixed to the chassis and immovable. Buyers can get custom-formed seats in three basic sizes, or can get a fully customized seat molded to their contours.

The groove is so easy to get into with LaFerrari. Within a couple of laps, I have figured out the sensitivities of the throttle pedal and (especially) brake pedal, and those physics of the whole operation I talk about just take over. The manettino in CT OFF mode still produces a good amount of intrusive stability nannying, but, hell, wouldn’t you? This car is freakishly quick and way more sophisticated than its driver, so erring on safety’s side is not a criticism this time. Switching to the full-bore ESC OFF is the only way to get those smokey burnings of Pirelli rubber through and out of the curves. And it’s amazingly easy and fun and repeatable at wil, a $1.4 million drift car. The LaFerrari is a full six seconds faster around the Fiorano track versus the stock Enzo, the acceleration to 60 miles per hour happening in 2.6 seconds or less.

The 499 LaFerraris to be built and delivered were all sold prior to the Geneva motor show in March 2013. Having the cash wasn't nearly enough: Owner had to be approved by Ferrari, which required proof of being a serious Ferrari collector, namely having recently purchased at least five production cars in the last few years. That they sold as quickly as they did demonstrates just how many such fans exist in the world — and how many more may emerge in the future because of cars like the LaFerrari.

But for now, the supercar boom has ended, and all we have to look forward to is some BMW M cars, some Mustang/Corvette variants, the occasional new 911 and a new Nissan GT-R at some point. I beg your forgiveness, but Is it all right to say that after what just happened it might get boring?