May 28, 2014 10:15 AM | By Chris Chilton for MSN Autos

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari first drive



2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)
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  • 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)
  • 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)
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2014 Ferrari LaFerrari

The LaFerrari is the most technologically advanced car that Ferrari has ever built. Is it also its best?

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

Maranello, Italy – Even by supercar standards, the Ferrari LaFerrari feels like it’s from another planet. It's so extreme that it makes something like Ferrari’s 320-km/h, US$300,000 458 Speciale seem sane, and then there's the price: US$1,350,000. All 499 cars that will be built have been sold.

Effectively it’s a successor to the 2002 Enzo, and latest in a line of limited-production Ferrari specials stretching back to the 288 GTO of 1984. But there’s one key difference: this is Ferrari’s first hybrid. The drivetrain consists of the 6.3-litre V12 from the front-engined F12, plus two electric motors: one to drive the rear axle directly, the other to recharge the battery pack. Together, they’re good for an outrageous 950 hp – more than 350 hp more than a 458 Italia, in a car that weighs about the same.

It’s light because its chassis is made from F1-grade carbon-fibre. Ferrari maintains that aluminium is still the best choice of materials for its volume cars. It says an aluminium chassis is as light as the cheaper resin-transfer carbon structures other manufacturers use, and much easier to repair in the event of a crash. F1-style carbon fibre is a different story. It’s immensely strong and low in weight, but time consuming and expensive to produce - no good for a 458, but perfect for a low-volume special like LaFerrari.

Nothing short of otherworldly

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

The LaFerrari’s performance perfectly illustrates the inadequacies of the traditional performance benchmarks of top speed and 0-100 km/h. For a start, despite its near-Veyron power output, Ferrari makes no record-breaking maximum speed claims, saying only that LaFerrari will do more than 350 km/h. And when it comes to the traffic light GP, we’re told that it will dip below 3.0 seconds to 100 km/h, suggesting it’s only the odd tenth quicker than a 458.

Don’t be fooled. In reality, the performance, like the price, is on another level altogether. Look past 100 km/h to the time it takes to get to 200 km/h, for instance, and you start to understand how outrageously quick this car is. A fast car, something like a Porsche 911 Carrera S, will get there in 14-15 sec, about the time it takes a basic subcompact car to reach half that speed. LaFerrari can do it less than seven, making it as fast as its rival from McLaren (the P1, at 6.8 seconds), and fractionally faster than the 918 (7.2s).

But what does that feel like from behind the wheel? Shot from a canon, rear-ended by a Peterbilt, blasted into space: none of those clichés comes close to articulating how brutal this Ferrari feels when you finally summon the courage to push the throttle wide open for the first time. It is stomach-churningly rapid, all the way up to its absurd 9,250 rpm redline.

It also makes a delicious noise, a much sweeter noise than the 458’s V8 delivers, and with the electric motor helping fill the imaginary delay between cracking open the throttle and the V12 waking up, the pedal response is staggering. In fact the whole interplay between the two power sources is so cleverly done, you often forget the magic that is at work. That was Ferrari’s aim, and the reason why there is no gimmicky push-to-pass boost button.

Related link: McLaren P1 first drive

The real surprise: it’s easy to drive

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this whole car is how accessible that performance is. Somehow, the genius engineers in Ferrari’s chassis department have delivered a near-1000-hp missile that’s as easy to drive as a Porsche Cayman that musters barely one quarter of the power.

You’d think that four-wheel drive would be essential with that kind of muscle, but the Ferrari is rear-drive-only, and the traction is excellent. Obviously the rear tires are ludicrously wide, but the pronounced rear weight bias and astonishingly supple ride help to keep the wheels engaged with the tarmac, while the clever traction control system (adjustable using the steering wheel manettino dial) and electronic rear differential work subtly in the background.

With the ESP’s super-safe wet mode engaged, the slightest hint of slide is halted by the electronics, but flick the toggle further upwards through its modes and there’s sufficient scope to let you explore the chassis balance. Switch all the systems off (deep breath, quick genuflection) and, against the odds, it’s as friendly to throw around as a 458. It even trumps its baby brother with the most communicative steering of any modern Ferrari we’ve yet driven.

Familiar surroundings

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

Much of the LaFerrari’s cabin will feel familiar to anyone with experience of more humble Maranello products. There are no column stalks; instead the steering wheel houses buttons for the headlights lights, wipers, turn signals, the engine-start button and manettino toggle switch. At first glance the gauge cluster looks the same too; it’s not analogue, but a fully configurable TFT display. A graphic shows whether the electric motor is boosting, charging or filling in the throttle response for the V12 engine (not that you’ll have time to look), and you can choose to have engine speed displayed in a the style of a traditional circular rev counter, or an awesome 1980s-style graph.

Getting into LaFerrari is surprisingly easy, because the door sill is both low and narrow. To save height and weight, the driver’s seat is fixed to the floor, while a lever allows the pedal box to slide fore and after to suit your leg length. But that race car bubble canopy makes it a tight fit inside and, as for luggage, forget it. There’s a cargo cubby under the front trunk, but it’s so small that even a 458 feels as useful as a minivan in comparison.

Related link: Porsche 918 Spyder first drive

Forget about fuel economy

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

Unlike other hybrids, from the Toyota Prius right up to McLaren’s P1, LaFerrari has no pure EV mode. As such, the V12 is running constantly, so it's no surprise that LaFerrari averages just 14 L/100 km on the Combined fuel cycle, compared with 8.3 L/100 km for the McLaren P1 and 3 L/100 km for the Porsche 918 plug-in hybrid (which Porsche’s engineers privately admit does nearer 10 L/100 km in reality).

In the context of the performance, 14 L/100 km is actually pretty reasonable. Not that it matters. No one who can afford to spend $1.35 million on a car is going to care two hoots about the fuel consumption.

The battery charges up through a combination of regenerative braking, and by redirecting excess power from the V12 at part throttle situations to a second motor, which acts as a giant charger. Ferrari says the battery will never run out of charge in normal driving.

As for safety, the carbon brakes are hugely powerful and the chassis is built from the same stuff that allows F1 drivers to walk away from accidents unscathed. But those striking insect antennae that pass for doors mirrors create an enormous blind spot at roundabouts, and rear visibility isn’t great.

The great one

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari (© Photo: Ferrari)

For all of these niggles and faults, this without a doubt a five-star car. But how can we award five stars to a car that costs more than many streets, has nowhere to put luggage, and, on paper at least, is nowhere near as environmentally friendly as its rivals? Because producing a car that offers this much performance, yet is also this easy to drive, is a staggering achievement.

As is integrating the two power plants so seamlessly. Where the Ferrari differs from its rivals is that the hybrid tech is so subtly integrated. Is this the most exciting hybrid car ever? Quite possibly, yes.

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari
Base price: US$1.35M (estimated)
Type of vehicle: RWD hybrid supercar
Engines: 6.3-litre, 48-valve, DOHC V12 + electric motor
Engine power/Combined horsepower/Engine torque: 789 hp/950 hp/516 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual
0-100 km/h (est.): 2.8 seconds
Fuel consumption (city/hwy): TBA
Competition: McLaren P1, Pagani Huayra, Porsche 918 Spyder

PREVIEW SUMMARY

PROS

Performance
Incredibly easy to drive
Powertrain integration

CONS
Price
Visibility
We’ll never own one

(Continued)
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