Originally Posted by Andrew English, Popular Mechanics - 3/29/11
On Sale Date: September 2011
Price: $300,000 (est.)
Competitors: Aston Martin Rapide, Porsche Panamera 4
Powertrain: 6.3-liter V12, 651-hp, 504 lb-ft; seven-speed, twin-clutch transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 11/18 (est.)
What's New: With a two-door, space-frame aluminum architecture and a 651-hp, 6.3-liter V12, on paper, Ferrari's new FF looks like any other big GT from Maranello. But this car marks a big departure for the Italians.
The first departure is the three-door hatchback body (known as a shooting brake in Europe), which acknowledges similar unofficial specials that have been built for super-wealthy customers over the years; if you wave a big enough check, Ferrari will build you a wagon. In fact the rogue nature of this sleek body shape goes back to the 1962 Drogo/Bizzarrini Ferrari 250 SWB Bread Van Le Mans racer and continues through the style of the Harold Radford Aston Martin DB5 shooting brakes, Lancia's HPE and the Reliant Scimitar GTE. Compared to its 612 Scaglietti predecessor, the new FF is lighter, faster and more economical, but it also has more interior room, which is one of the advantages of the shooting-brake—sorry, hatchback—body.
The FF is also Ferrari's first four-wheel-drive car. While Ferrari might balk at a description of “crossover,” the FF will get you up a snow-covered hill as effectively as most SUVs, but most likely a lot faster. Yet under the skin, the system is about so much more than just traction.
“We started with a system that would get owners up to their skiing chalets, but then we discovered what tricks you could play with it,” says Ferrari test driver Raffaele de Simone.
Tech Tidbit: Unlike most AWD cars, which use some sort of power takeoff from the transmission to power the secondary axle, the FF features two transmissions, one on either end of the engine. The main seven-speed transmission hooks to the rear of the engine and powers the rear wheels. The second two-speed gearbox connects to the front of the engine and links to the front wheels via a pair of computer-controlled wet clutches, one on each halfshaft. This secondary gearbox operates only when the main transmission is in the first four gears and vehicle speeds are below 124 mph. There's no differential; electronics monitor the wheel slip, speeds, yaw, steering angles and inclination, and predict when wheelspin will occur. The system then deploys the transmission, selects a gear and slips the axle clutches to deliver precise amounts of torque based on the computer's input. In addition to aiding traction—with 651 hp, yes, traction is a problem—the front axle is also employed to minimize and enhance the handling. Ferrari has developed the system over 10 years and the company claims it's about 100 pounds lighter than other AWD hardware.
Driving Character: The FF's tall rear section wasn't an easy shape for the Italians to come to terms with, and despite some reworking of the original Pininfarina design, it's clear that the FF is a love-it or hate-it sort of car. There's no doubting its presence, however—wherever you park it, the new FF draws a crowd. Part of that drama is the size. At 16 feet, 1.1 inches in length, and 6 feet 5 inches wide, the FF is a slightly bigger car than its 612 predecessor. It feels big as you climb behind the wheel, with the hood stretching to infinity. The cabin is gorgeous, trimmed in soft aniline leather, with a fascia that wraps around the passengers. There's room in back for two 6-foot adults for medium-length journeys and, under the hatch, the trunk will swallow (just) four overhead airline suitcases.
Start her up and the big V12 booms. The car's introduction took place on a snowy track at the top of a mountain in the Italian Dolomites. Technical director Franco Cimatti said, “Snow is new for us.” Indeed. A short run on the white stuff proved that the FF is truly a Ferrari fit for a ski town. On powered, crushed snow, this 4144-pound car will pull away with no wheelspin, clanking clutch or clattering brakes. It works.
Back on paved roads, the FF is dominated by the engine, which whirrs and barks in the mountains and gives superlative acceleration (62 mph arrives in 3.7 seconds, and the car tops out at 208 mph). The effect of the four-wheel drive together with the twin-clutch seven-speed transaxle is that you can get on the power harder and earlier out of the turns, and it's simpler to be in the correct gear when you do. You simply don't notice the front-wheel drive unless you really hammer the car, whereupon it really does pull the car straight out of a slide like an invisible hand.
Front control arms and rear multilink suspension give a compliant ride, and adjustable damping means you can harden things up. There's a fair bit of noise from the rear suspension, however, and the exhaust can be noisy on part-throttle settings. The carbon-ceramic rotors are stunningly effective, with almost no tendency to fade. The steering feels inert around the straight-ahead position and you need to learn to trust that the FF will bite when you turn in; it always does.
Favorite Detail: Ahh, what to say? The passenger display showing the speed, traction distribution and trip distances? Or what about the beautifully soft leather upholstery and well-placed driving position? Perhaps the best detail is your first view of the nose when the garage door swings open. This is a grand tourer in the finest sense of the word.
Driver's Grievance: Do rich people have tiny feet? Mine are U.S. size 13 and they simply don't fit in the pedal box, so swapping brake for accelerator means scuffing toe caps across dashboard innards, leaving shoe polish streaks on tan leather. There were also some iffy details such as wonky door kickplates and bare hexagon-head bolts in the door handles.
The Bottom Line: With Bentley and maybe Jaguar looking to build an SUV, Ferrari needed a response, but one that didn't diminish the prancing horse. What's new here are the sophisticated electronics to make the system work so well and, perhaps, the bit of courage from current Ferrari chief executive Amedeo Felisa to actually greenlight such a dramatic shape.
Ferrari sold about 3000 of the 612 model in its six years of production; if it can't do that with this wonderful-looking modern classic, then heaven help them. We understand that while the rest of the world has given its blessing to the FF, U.S. Ferrari dealers were initially skeptical, though since then they're received a sackful of advanced orders. As a stylish way of getting up to the slopes, the FF has no peers. That it succeeds so well as a driver's car is icing on the cake.