CAR's features writer thinks back to that time he drove the LaFerrari in Switzerland...

SWITZERLAND, Geneva – My excitement grows as I peek through the tiny airplane window. Some 10 000 metres below me, the pure white, snowy caps of the Swiss Alps look tantalisingly inviting. It is not the spectacular frosted peaks themselves that appeal to me but the seemingly endless array of twisty roads clutched between them. The Alps offer the best driving roads in the world and I’m flying to Switzerland to drive them in one of the greatest cars ever built: a LaFerrari.

Making acquaintance with an F150

Look online and you’ll find a handful of LaFerraris for sale with between 50 and 1 000 km on their odometers. This is not the case with “my” car, which has clocked up about 5 500 kilometres, including 1 000 kilometres from an event that ran parallel to the Mille Miglia in Italy. This lucky collector uses his hypercar – just as he uses his 458 Italia, 430 Scuderia, F50 and F40 – and isn’t bothered by adding mileage to his prized possession. After landing, we head to the Ferrari dealership, where we get a quick tour of the premises. Then the LaFerrari is started up. In such an enclosed space, the burbling, cacophonous metallic rasp from the exhaust pipes bounces off the walls and immediately gives me goosebumps.

We make plans for photography and climb into our rental car. As we trail the LaFerrari through a nearby winding mountain pass, the car’s sheer on-road presence starts to sink in. This Ferrari fills a traffic lane like few other cars and there’s nothing else that looks even remotely like it on the road, even here in wealthy Switzerland.

I take my time and savour all the details. The entire machine is clearly optimised for aerodynamic efficiency. The evocative front wing alone produces close to 130 kg of downforce (from a total of 360 kg) at 200 km/h, and the rear end features a huge venturi system with active aerodynamic flaps.

You can spot parts of the drivetrain through the various vents and grilles and when I peek through the narrow engine cover the thick orange wiring of the KERS system is easily visible to the right of the 6,3-litre V12 engine.

Due to the layout of the powertrain and its ancillaries, the cabin is pushed right to the front of the car. However, even in front of the cabin there are huge vents in the bodywork that allow air to flow over the massive radiators for maximum cooling.

It’s easy to spend quite a while walking around the car before succumbing to the urge to open the door. Slide your hand below the side window, above the huge side intake, exactly where you would think the door button should be, and press. The door, along with the side sill, opens upwards, revealing the edge of the carbon-fibre tub and the interior.

Behind the wheel

Ingress is easier than expected. I put my right leg in first, drop down in the seat and swing my left leg in. I find myself ensconced in a carbon-fibre cocoon; the seats, angular steering wheel, dashboard and doors are all moulded from this lightweight composite.

Closing the door is easy, too. Just raise your left arm, grab the door handle, and pull down. Little effort is required; it feels as if the hydraulics pull the featherweight door shut during the last few inches.

The sense of being cocooned is now even greater. I’ve never been so snug in a car; the LaFerrari feels smaller inside than a Mazda MX-5. It’s so cosy that the armrest is moulded inside the door and I’m practically rubbing shoulders with my passenger. The seat is affixed to the tub, which allows it to be situated very low and two simple levers allow me to slide the pedal box into position. Once I adjust the steering wheel, the driving position is spot on.

Despite being 1,87 metres tall, I have sufficient head-room thanks to the curvature of the roof. With luck, I might even fit inside while wearing a helmet.

There’s a small plaque at the bottom of the steering wheel where owners can have their names embossed. This owner opted instead to have the LaFerrari’s internal code (F150) and year of production (2014) inscribed. There’s more room for personalisation on the dashboard, a place for a country’s flag. In this case, it is filled with the appropriate Swiss white “+” in a red field.

Heart pounding, I twist the key in the ignition. A "zoooiiiiiii" sound of pumps and relays energising emerges from the engine bay. I press the start button on the steering wheel and the V12 barks into life. From inside the car, the engine sounds neither intense nor loud – bystanders will probably be treated to a better song than those on the inside. What does infiltrate the cabin, due to the LaFerrari’s lack of sound-deadening materials, is a hint of the engine’s rawness.

I pull the right shift paddle once to select first gear and a big “1” appears below the horizontal rev counter that fills the central and right-side screens. In this display setting, the tachometer emphasises the range from 5 000 to 9 000 r/min.

As with most exotics, only more so here, the LaFerrari is not a car which you can simply hop into and put your right foot down at the first available opportunity.

Through the first few turns I take it easy and discover the steering is immediate and direct, with a refreshing level of sensitivity into the corners. My view of the road ahead is near-perfect and the fenders clearly indicate the position of the wheels. The left front wheel sits just a few inches to the left of my feet, which makes placing the LaFerrari on the road – and, I would imagine, on the track – feel like second nature.

Even at sedate speeds, I can hear every bit of road debris being tossed up into the wheel arches and against the carbon floor. It reminds me of a proper racing car and is one of several characteristics that hint at the performance simmering just below the surface.

After a few kilometres of feeling out the car, I turn the manettino from Sport to Race. The exhaust’s volume immediately becomes louder and more purposeful. A moment later I come across one of the hundreds of tunnels scattered around the country and cannot contain my enthusiasm.

Traffic prevents me from dropping down a couple of gears and really going for it, so I have to content myself with dropping the windows, leaving the transmission in fourth, and leaning on the loud pedal. My ears, and likely those of my fellow motorists, are instantly bombarded with the loud, intense roar.

Soon the traffic clears. The dual-clutch transmission changes gears as instantly and effortlessly as you’d expect in response to a tug on one of the long carbon-fibre shift paddles, automatically blipping the engine on downshifts. I steel myself and, with the engine turning at 4 000 r/min and the transmission in second, I press the throttle pedal with extra intent.

The LaFerrari leaps forward, my head bumps back against the headrest and the screaming intensity of the engine fills the cabin. I shift to third gear – the transmission violently slams home – and put my foot flat for the first time. The rear tyres break traction for a moment but I keep the throttle pinned and the Ferrari continues to surge ahead like nothing I’ve driven before.

The strength of the powertrain, in conjunction with the sensory overload, requires my full attention. A few times I shift thinking I’m close to the 9 250 r/min redline, only to realise I’ve shifted a full 1 000 or 2 000 r/min early – such is the V12’s vehemence.

Every time I approach the redline, I marvel at the LaFerrari’s punch and potency. Yet almost as impressive is the car’s flexibility. A light brush of the throttle while cruising along in fifth gear sends the revs rushing eagerly upward as the KERS system instantly (and invisibly) inflates the torque curve.

The carbon-ceramic brakes are suitably, immensely powerful, although they feel best when you’re out on the open road and can stomp on the pedal with conviction (during such situations, I occasionally spot in the rear-view mirror the car’s air brake deploying then lowering; it’s a thrilling sight).

Around town, the stoppers are very sensitive, probably due to the actions of the KERS system as it regenerates energy. I have to teach myself to brush, not lean, against them.

Back home

All too soon, it’s time to return to the dealership. I park on the showroom’s tiled floor and kill the engine; I feel like I’ve just run a 100-metre sprint. Stepping back to take one more look at the car, I reflect on the LaFerrari driving experience. One of the most impressive characteristics, without a doubt, is how Ferrari has integrated the KERS system and its electric motors into the drivetrain.

At first I was apprehensive, thinking it might detract from the enjoyment that naturally aspirated engine enthusiasts like me crave. This is not the case; the torque fill of the electric motor seamlessly complements the V12 engine’s performance.

And what performance it is – never before have I felt so overwhelmed by a car’s power and speed. Unless you are an extraordinarily capable driver, you will need a number of days to familiarise yourself with the LaFerrari, learning the little driving behaviours and minuscule nuances needed to drive this machine even close to its limit.

Ownership experience

Spending a week and 1 000 km with the car in Italy was the best decision its owner could have made. So what does the he think of the LaFerrari? “This is special,” he tells me. “If I may use the cliché, it’s probably the ultimate car to have. It is worlds apart from an F40 or F50 and even an Enzo. You really have to compare it with Ferrari’s current supercars in terms of how easy it is to drive and live with."

“Some planning is required ahead of a trip, however. When I want to drive it, I inform the dealership [where it is stored]. This can only be done between May and September, when the chances of good weather are better. I’ve driven the car once on the road when it was not totally dry and had a big moment.”

This owner is not the only one who stores his LaFerrari at a dealer. Since the car has absolutely no storage space – not even for your wallet – careful planning is needed for longer excursions. Happily, Ferrari is known to organise trips for LaFerrari owners, complete with pre-booked accommodation and delivery of their luggage.

That practical concern aside, the LaFerrari is impressively comfortable given its staggering abilities. The seats, for example, hold me tight in the corners but are rather soft to sit in. I’m told you can drive for hundreds of kilometres and arrive relatively refreshed, which definitely wouldn’t be the case in the aforementioned F40 or F50.

In summary

I haven’t driven an Enzo, but I can report the similarly road-legal-but-racing-inspired F40 and F50 have almost nothing in common with the LaFerrari. They are simply from another era entirely. What these supercars do share is their philosophy: they are the fastest, best-performing, no-compromises cars Ferrari knew how to build at the time.

The LaFerrari Aperta will amplify that sonorous V12 engine to a thrilling crescendo and there’s no doubt future creations will surpass the LaFerrari’s capabilities. Nonetheless, far into the future, the LaFerrari will still be respected for what it is: Maranello’s first hypercar.



FAST FACTS

Model: Ferrari LaFerrari
Value: > R50 million
Engine: 6,3-litre, V12 petrol + electric motor
Power: 588 kW at 9 000 r/min + 120 kW
Torque: 700 N.m at 6 750 r/min + 270 N.m
0-100 km/h: < 3,0 seconds
0-200 km/h: 6,9 seconds
Top Speed: 350 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 14 L/100 km
CO2: 330 g/km
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch