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Ferrari F12 Berlinetta is a beast, but surprisingly well behaved

The F12 Berlinetta was introduced in 2012 as the most powerful non-race car Ferrari ever built.

Its naturally aspirated 6.3-liter V-12 engine cranks out 740 horsepower, and 508 pound feet of torque. With a weight of only 3,300 pounds, the F12 goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.1 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 211 mph, and got around Ferrari's Italian test track faster than any other road car in the Prancing Horse stable.

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Fast? Of course it's fast. It's a Ferrari! The surprising thing about the F12 is its drivability.

The suspension is stiff, but not race-car stiff, even though the F12 has no "comfort" or "normal" setting, relying only on "sport," "race" or "wet" modes. The steering is tight, but not track-car tight. And the engine is, of course, shockingly powerful.

But around town the car is well behaved, and on the freeway it turns positively GT — quiet, comfortable and contained.

Inside the cabin, all is understated elegance, from the hand-stitched leather interior to the many carbon fiber parts. Ferrari charges extra for those: $3,500 for a cup holder, twice that for the full dash.

The presentation is spare, relatively uncluttered by clocks, dials and gauges. The turn signal levers and paddle shifters are tucked in close to the steering wheel. The tachometer and speedo are low and directly in the line of sight: You need never take your eyes off the road or your hands off the controls.

The interior elegance amplifies, rather than diminishes, the sensation of speed. The engine red lines at 8,800 rpm (though not with me in it) and it's remarkable how eagerly and effortlessly this car finds a freeway speed of over 100 mph.

Ferrari says the design team for the 2015 F12 Berlinetta lowered the engine, suspension elements and seats, resulting in a lower center of gravity. The wheelbase is shorter, and the body sits farther forward.

A more aerodynamic body, from the house of Pininfarina, looks sleek, athletic and muscular. The car drives that way, too. Downforce has been increased. The cornering is crisp and precise, aided by carbon ceramic brakes and high-performance ABS. The faster it went, the more securely it seemed to hold the road.

In the current Ferrari stable, the F12 stands at nearly the head of the class — in terms of power and price tag — above the eight-cylinder California T, 488 and Spider, in front of the 12-cylinder FF, but below the F12 TDF and the LaFerrari.

Not everything about the f12 is designed for comfort. The optional racing-style driver's seat installed in the model I borrowed has no adjustment for height and sits so low that I had to sit on a cushion to comfortably see over the steering wheel. (Electric and manually adjustable seats are also available.) And the minimalist dashboard includes small buttons with even smaller icons indicating their use. I found the one that adjusted the mirrors, but not the one that turned on the windshield wipers. The radio volume knob is the size of the cap on a tube of Chapstick.

It took me forever to find the horn, but maybe when you drive a Ferrari the other drivers honk at you ….

I also was confused by the impact warning system, which sends alerts about impending bumps from the sides, rear and low front nose — a bewildering array of beeps and buzzes that only increased apprehension at driving this car.

That had nothing to do with its exquisite behavior. I've never driven anything with this kind of horsepower that was easier to handle. But just thinking about the price tag gave me an ache in the wallet. The F12 Berlinetta starts at $319,000. The one I drove, dripping with carbon fiber, costs closer to $440,000.

And it's not even the most powerful Ferrari road car anymore. That honor goes to the LaFerrari, which has 949 horsepower and costs $1.4 million.

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