Road Cars

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New lighter, faster F12
Ferrari prepares to give flagship extra pep | By Andrew FrankeL

There’s good news for those feeling a little short-changed by their 730bhp Ferrari F12. The firm is preparing to unveil a new ‘Speciale’ version of its current production flagship and, in line with the Speciale version of the now-defunct 458, it will have more power and substantially less weight. As with the 458, the F12 Speciale is not expected to be a restricted numbers edition, but will be limited only by how many Ferrari thinks it can sell.

Ferrari is not yet saying anything about the car’s existence, but insiders say the Speciale will have its 6.3-litre V12 motor boosted to 760bhp, making it one of increasingly few normally aspirated road car engines with more than 120bhp per litre. That is roughly where Ferrari’s F1 V12 racing engines were at the time of the introduction of the 3.0-litre capacity limit in 1966.

Weight saving will have the most significant effect on performance. It appears Ferrari has found a way to shed almost 200kg from a car not known for excessive bulk, so perhaps the most relevant figure is an increase in power to weight ratio from less than 450bhp per tonne to more than 530bhp per tonne. Statistically this will make it the clear king of the jungle, at least among production supercars, blitzing even the recently released Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 Superveloce and placing it on a par with the limited-edition Porsche 918 hypercar.

Ferrari will have tried to save weight in almost every area. There will likely be some smoke and mirrors to keep the headline weight down – the usual ploy is to make the air-conditioning and navigation systems no-cost options – but also it will probably use different body panels (possibly carbon fibre), thinner glass, a Perspex rear screen, ultra-light wheels and an interior stripped of sound deadening and carpets.

Elsewhere you can expect suspension tuned to work better on the circuit than the road, track-day tyres, stability systems designed to aid controllable drifting and even faster gearshifts. The only parts of its dynamic equipment that might stay unchanged are massive carbon discs that, given how much less mass they must manage, will already be more than adequate.

The F12 Speciale is likely to be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March and should cost close to £300,000 – so in all probability the performance of a Porsche 918 for a lot less than half the money. A limited-edition cabriolet also looks likely.

Before that, Ferrari will show the convertible version of its new 488 GTB at the Frankfurt show. Powered by the same 660bhp twin-turbo V8 as its sister, the 488 Spider weighs just 50kg more, despite a folding metal hardtop similar to that fitted to the previous 458 Spider. Ferrari claims not only that the new car is 23 per cent torsionally more rigid than its predecessor, but also that it is no less stiff than its GTB stablemate – some achievement without using a carbon tub like that fitted to the rival McLaren 650S.

The performance differential relative to the 488 GTB should be undetectable to most – a mere 0.3sec deficit by the time the car is doing 124mph, while its top speed is 203mph (with roof raised).

These two cars will be among the last seen through to completion by Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa, who is believed to have left the company. Although less visible than former president Luca di Montezemolo, Felisa’s contribution to Ferrari over the last two decades would be hard to overestimate. An engineer through and through, he was brought in by di Montezemolo to overhaul Ferrari’s frankly lamentable product line-up in the early 1990s. The machines he produced, including the F355, LaFerrari, 550 Maranello, 599GTB, F430 Scuderia and 458, can rightly be considered among the best road cars in Ferrari history. It is not known if the departure of Felisa is related to the arrival of Sergio Marchionne at the helm or Ferrari’s forthcoming flotation, but it would be hard to imagine bigger or more important shoes for Ferrari to fill.

BMW unveils M4 concept

BMW has shown a concept version of the new M4 GTS at Pebble Beach. Boasting a tweaked version of the M4’s 3.0-litre twin turbo straight six, its new motor features water injection to cool the inlet charge and power is likely to rise beyond 450bhp.

With a lightweight carbon-fibre bonnet, a large and adjustable rear wing and a completely different suspension set-up, the concept gives an unambiguous steer to a production version that follows a long line of low-volume 3-series-based special M cars, including the previous M3 GTS and M3 CLS of 2003.

Big guns on home soil

Frankfurt will hold its biennial motor show while this issue of Motor Sport is on sale.

Europe’s largest such event has for some time been a power struggle between the big domestic manufacturers, each trying to outdo the others with the size of their stands and the bewildering number of exhibits parked thereon. Some book entire halls, each large enough to accommodate an entire show in most other countries.

For manufacturers from outside Germany, Frankfurt can be fraught. Many are often given stands in the show’s farther-flung reaches (it’s more than a mile from one end to the other) and less than ideal press conference slots. Then again, if you can turn up with something of sufficient beauty or importance to pull the rug out from under the Germans’ feet, as did Jaguar in 2011 with the C-X16 concept that turned into the F-type, you’ll be richly rewarded in column inches. Most, however, keep their powder dry for the smaller, more neutral and friendlier Geneva show in March.

Audi will be putting most of its efforts into promoting the next A4, which is as different under the skin from the current car as it is staggeringly similar in the flesh. I think Audi needs to break out of this glacial evolution in design language if it is not to be left looking staid and unimaginative by its rivals. It will also have an über-quick version of its A8 flagship, the S8 Plus, with power from its 4.0-litre twin turbo motor raised from 513bhp to 597bhp, creating a limousine that’s as fast from rest to 62mph as Aston Martin’s Vanquish flagship.

BMW heads north with an all-new 7-series, to try once more to build a luxury car as capable as the Mercedes S-class, and a second generation of its popular and capable X1 compact SUV.

Mercedes’ big news is the world debut of the new convertible S-class, which joins the extant saloon, Maybach, coupé and Pullman versions. It will also show the coupé version of the C-class and, of perhaps greater interest to MS readers, the AMG version that is said to be more extreme than any previous production car of this type.

Porsche will be showing off the second generation of the current 991/911 series, including a new range of turbocharged engines. Frankfurt might also mark the introduction of the long-awaited flat-four versions of both Boxster and Cayman.

Overseas cars braving Frankfurt include the Maserati Levante SUV, Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon and the production version of the Jaguar F-Pace SUV.

Lagonda pricing clue

The price of the first new Lagonda in almost 40 years has apparently been set at £580,000, plus local taxes. HR Owen briefly published the information on its website. The new Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf (to give the model its full name) will be hand-built in Gaydon and restricted to just 200 examples.

The four-door supersaloon, which comes powered by a version of the same 5.9-litre V12 engine found in the DB9, Rapide saloon and Vanquish, is (with VAT) more than double the price of the most expensive Rolls-Royce Phantom saloon. Aston Martin, which originally intended to sell the car in the Middle East and has only decided to sell the car in the UK and selected EU countries after intense pressure from loyal customers, will be banking on the car’s exclusivity as well as its luxury appointments to justify the price.ºº