Friday 25th March 2011


DRIVEN: FERRARI FF

Chris-R samples Ferrari's new hyper-hatch four-seater super-thingy


As first drives go, this is different. There's no pottering carefully out of a hotel car park in the new Ferrari FF, with time for a bit of gentle familiarisation, a tweak here and there to the seating position, a scan of the major controls and a chance to adjust the mirrors, make sure the sat-nav's set up, and remember to drive on the right side of the road (or is it the left..?). Instead, a charming chap from Ferrari wants me to drive as fast as I can around a circuit that's been bulldozed out of the snow at the top of an actual ski slope.


This, with an audience of bemused spectators already skiing in our direction, feels a bit like 'pressure'. It's certainly a chance to make a fool of myself, exactly at the moment I'd prefer to be easing myself into this all-new 660hp, V12 powered 4x4 super GT gently, and with a modicum of what could helpfully be misrepresented as professional discretion (well, at least until we're out of sight and earshot of anyone remotely connected to the company.)

To make matters worse, the charming chap from Ferrari sitting next to me is Raffaele De Simone, official factory development driver of 10 years standing, and thus officially a legend.


It's in at the deep end on this event, because sunshine in the Italian mountains means the snow melts by lunchtime and Ferrari didn't spend more cash on whirring a brace of FFs to high altitude by helicopter than Silvio Berlusconi might splash on weekends of wild whoring, just so PH could splash around in some puddles. (For that we might have stayed in Slough.)

So it's up with the lark (and the ski-lift), in the fullest expectation of some lurid sideways action. If one of the FF's gets trashed, I wonder, will they leave its carcass up here like one those mountaineers whose mortal remains become frozen relics when it all goes pear-shape? What am I talking about, we're not going to crash...


We don't, as it happens. I'd like to claim this is because a weekend spent drifting over frozen Swedish lakes with the AMG Academy last year turned me into an ice driving god, but that's not it at all. The truth is that thanks to its intriguing 'on demand' 4x4 set-up and a manettino with a new 'snow' setting, the FF just doesn't seem susceptible to crashing in these conditions. What it does is grip, turn in, and steer to a degree that seems counter-intuitive on the white stuff.

Going sideways appears almost impossible unless you pile into a corner still shedding too much speed, are a master of the Scandinavian flick, or are prepared to turn the manettino to the 'everything off' position and damn the consequences. And this, remember, is on actual snow, in an actual 660hp Ferrari, and on regular (not studded) winter tyres.


Ferrari keeps telling us about customers who want to take supercars on the family skiing holiday, and other such shenanigans but, if that's the case, why not build a 'super SUV' and mint it like Porsche has with the Cayenne Turbo? Because, as Rafaelle explains later, the Ferrari FF isn't a 'four by four' as we mostly know the breed, but a classic rear-wheel-drive supercar with additional capability to get you out of trouble when the situation demands it.

Not that it's easy to get into trouble in the first place, because the FF is not designed for out-and-out performance driving purists. In fact, even with the manettino set to 'sport', it proves well nigh impossible to get the back end to step out - on snow, or tarmac, and in spite of the utmost provocation.


We piled into corners time and again in pursuit of that puerile objective, but such hooligan antics have been virtually eliminated by a mixture of ESP, E-diff, traction control and the driven front wheels - which effectively pull the FF out of misbehaving in the manner of a naughty child being dragged out of the classroom by its ear. (Or for those of a more technical bent, by lessening the torque at the rear when the tyres are ready to lose grip, and diverting some of the tractive effort to the front instead.) It's a seamless process from the driver's perspective, as you experience the results rather than feeling it happen. It certainly means you can go impressively quickly with immense security, and if life is all about minimising risk then it's probably all good. Still, I'd prefer a little rear end 'wriggle room' in the sport set up. It's a Ferrari after all, and I want it to scare me a bit...


The FF provides plenty of 'classic' thrills in other areas, with a notably well damped chassis that uses the latest version of magnetorheological suspension to ride superbly over the tight, twisty and pock-marked Italian mountain roads we got to play on.

The new suspension features double wishbones at the front with a redesigned rear multilink set up, and it's spectacularly efficient with fast damper response times, absolutely minimal body roll and more direct steering. Which means you can make full use of the latest version of the marque's top-end V12, which is a 6262cc stunner with gasoline direct injection - revving freely to a highly vocal 8000rpm and delivering sackfuls of torque (80% of its 502lb ft maximum) from 1750rpm. It's also a rocket-ship, with a 0-62mph time of 3.7secs and a top speed of 208mph.


The seven speed F1 gearbox is generally marvellous too, although when I mentioned a couple of clunky low-speed changes in full auto mode to Rafaelle, he reckoned the control algorithms were still being finessed in the run-up to production. They're good already, to the extent that I spent much of my drive with the gearbox in full auto mode and the manettino in 'sport' and probably enjoyed the car more that way than in manual shift mode - particularly around the mountain switchbacks where the FF feels a little too big for its surroundings, and doing all the work yourself can lead to snatchy and unsatisfying progress. (For a cack-handed lead-foot, like yours truly at least.)


By contrast, with an enthusiastic set-up that hangs gamely onto ratios under acceleration then changes down eagerly as you brake for the next corner, the full auto/sport set-up smoothes out any driver imperfections and extracts plenty of tuneful musicality from the engine as you hammer over the countryside. It really seems the best way to enjoy this car's enormous performance potential, and is surely how most owners will drive their cars apart from the occasional forays into paddle-shifting when the mood arises.

The steering is a little disappointing perhaps, but only in terms of raw 'feel' through the wheel rim - of which there isn't much to speak of. In terms of accuracy and sharpness it can't be faulted, although the speed of its response takes a little getting used too. Rafaelle describes it as 458 sharp, which might seem a tad over-sensitive for a big GT, but for Rafaelle that's something that helps define the Ferrari character: "The rear pushes you, and the front steers. This is the alchemy of fun to drive," he says.


There's little doubt the FF is fun to drive - it would be that for its monstrous pace alone, and aided by a finely tuned chassis on new suspension that hoovers up the tarmac with unerring poise and superb refinement you can cross mountain ranges at an improbable pace with the noise from that glorious V12 making Julie Andrews on the CD player completely redundant.

I suspect owners will find its array of talents to be far wider, not least because the packaging concept means the FF lends itself beautifully to the role of Grand Touring all-rounder. It may only have two doors and a hatch, but it seats four people in more comfort than an Aston Martin Rapide and offers greater luggage space than a Porsche Panamera (while being noticeably shorter). In fact, with individual folding rear seats, the FF is amazingly practical, as the array of optional Ferrari-badged luggage items, golf bags and pushchairs will attest. Its also feels very rich, with the usual array of extraordinarily expensive Ferrari 'bespoke' trimmings to help customise your car and bump the ticket price up.


So is this car the perfect 'extreme Grand Tourer'? Well only 800 well-endowed customers each year will have to think so, to make the Ferrari FF a sure-fire success. Its £227k price tag may seem steep, but then choice has always been a luxury.

And is it the perfect Ferrari? Well no, because that's always the next one, isn't it?

 







   

 

Author: Chris-R