Ferrari doesn’t tend to do things by halves. When it launched its FF model – the first four-wheel-drive in its history – it did so by having its two F1 racing drivers drive it at the top of Plan De Corones in the Dolomites at 2,350 metres. It’s fair to say, then, that Ferrari is confident about the FF’s four-wheel-drive capabilities.
Which is an important point, given that this is a car that no one outside of Maranello thought the world needed. On paper the FF just didn’t seem to fit with the Ferrari brand. Ferrari was building a car that answered a question no one seems to have asked. “A Ferrari 4x4, oh my God, no!” decried the deriders. Ferrari ignored them and went on and built its four-seater estate anyway.
And I’m very pleased they did. Back in the real world I’ve been driving the V12 shooting brake on the sunny, dry roads of Essex. It becomes immediately clear from the moment the engine barks into life that driving the FF is going to be special. It is monstrously fast and feels fantastically capable. The steering is precise and the FF is very agile. But that’s to understate the experience. It is also luxurious, comfortable and surprisingly easy to drive around town. This is as forgiving a sportscar as any other and you don’t need the skills of Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa to master it.
Subtle, though, it isn’t. It is so loud my three-year-old daughter screamed at me from the back seat to slow down. She disliked the monstrous roar of the engine under acceleration. Yet, at speed on the motorway in top gear, the engine becomes quiet and conversation remains easy.
And, like a crazed supermodel with a kitchen knife, it’s impossible to walk away from with your back turned. It really is quite beautiful. It is shapely yet muscular, like a supermodel on steroids. Is this the best looking four-wheel-drive ever made? I find myself staring at it a lot. I squat down, stretch up on my toes, I walk around, stop, think, walk around again. It is a design that I find as intellectual as it is emotional. It’s clear even from its curves that the FF is a very unusual car.
Ferrari has thrown everything at it to ensure it is a 4x4 worthy of the Ferrari name. The mid-front V12 6.3-litre engine produces 650bhp – it is the most powerful production car Ferrari has ever built – and the engine is coupled with a seven-speed F1 dual-clutch gearbox. It takes just 3.7 seconds to reach 62mph and goes on to a top speed of 208mph. And, as it screams forward in a kaleidoscopic blur of gravity and colour, it feels like it too. Under hard acceleration, the noise is astonishing.
The real story is the unusual 4RM four-wheel drive system, which allows the FF to drive like a conventional rear-wheel drive supercar most of the time. But, if the rear wheels lose grip power is transferred as needed to the front wheels via a separate two-speed gearbox at the front. The system is so clever it can distribute power to each of the four wheels individually, while adding hardly any weight overall.
But setting all of its technology to one side, what’s most surprising is how versatile the FF is. You really can move the family across continents in absolute comfort and with the most extreme efficiency. It’s spacious enough to accommodate four adults, yet it still has 450-litres of boot space. The cockpit is focused and sumptuous – our test car was trimmed in aniline calf leather; a £14,000 option – and there were entertainment screens inset in the headrests. All of the controls are operated from the steering wheel (there are no stalks) which takes some getting used to at first, but makes complete sense when you are moving at high speed.
Blending extreme sports car performance with load-lugging practicality was never going to be easy, yet the resulting design is nothing short of a triumph. All in all, the FF is a truly extraordinary car and, amazingly, genuinely practical (if eye-wateringly expensive). There is nothing else like it.
THE FACTS: FERRARI FF
0-62MPH: 3.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 208mph
CO2 G/KM: 360g/km
MPG COMBINED: 15.4mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****