Ferrari future proofs its used fleet

Fans of vinyl, valve amps and hand-wound watches, look away now. Analogue radio is going to be switched off. Sometime soon, the airwaves will be full of digital data packets, not sine waves. And that has big implications for car drivers.

Not quite standard outside...
Not quite standard outside...
We still don't know exactly when analogue signals will be switched off. The date keeps getting put back - the last date the government set was September 2015 but that's been postponed again - but it might be as soon as 2016. One thing is for sure: it's definitely going to happen, and suddenly, the vast majority of cars will have completely redundant radios. You're going to need a DAB receiver if you want to carry on listening to Chris Evans on the morning commute.

Which is why Ferrari has been busy crafting just such an item as a retrofit for its cars. Even six years ago, head units were in a completely different time zone. I'm looking at a Ferrari F430 from 2008, and the original Ferrari-branded Becker head looks pretty anachronistic with its tiny LCD text-only screen. Back then, Bluetooth was an optional extra, and only paired up with a handful of (now obsolete) phones. The optional sat-nav system of the time was ultra basic with tiny arrows to guide you, and the audio system consisted of a radio and a CD - no USB slot, no Aux input.

... upgrades here are most interesting though
... upgrades here are most interesting though
In this era of constant technology updates, you'd think that the world would be crying out for a bolt-in system to give you all these things. Well, now owners of 355s, 360s and 430s can buy a genuine Ferrari upgrade to give their cars a '2.1' upgrade: a retrofit head unit that not only offers a DAB radio, but also Bluetooth for mobile phone connections, full sat-nav and even a reversing camera.

"Connection is very important for our customers," says Russell Simpson, Ferrari's UK Head of Aftersales. "This is an elegant solution to the problem of the looming FM switch-off, and provides lots of features in one unit."

Ferrari has partnered up with Clarion to create the new unit, as it has been impressed with Clarion's record for reliability and quality. The unit has been tailor made for the F430 (and because they share the same dashboard hard points, the 360 and F355 too). It integrates with the whole vehicle, linking up seamlessly into its wiring loom.

Clarion unit but OEM feel
Clarion unit but OEM feel
To sample the new unit, we visited Ferrari dealer Dick Lovett in Swindon. It's been slotted into a gleaming Rosso Corsa F430 Spider F1 which, as you can see, has also had a few other aftermarket bits thrown at it. Its 'aggressive sporty' slant may not appeal to everyone but it certainly looks striking. Gold wheels with titanium wheel bolts (Β£5,288) have hollow spokes to lighten them as much as possible, and the look echoes Ferrari's Scuderia design, although they're not quite the same. Also on this car are carbon-fibre sills and kick plates (Β£9,173) and a sports exhaust (Β£4,104).

As you'd expect, the new unit sits perfectly in the existing slot, with a factory-matched surround. Press the 'open' button and the new unit slides out like a horizontal toaster before swivelling up to the vertical, its six-inch display lighting up as it goes. The Ferrari logo on the frame is matched by prancing horse wallpaper, confirming that this is very much an official item. The first (and pretty much only) downside to the unit is immediately apparent: its position partially masks the middle one of three air conditioning outlets in the centre dash, which is a shame but unavoidable. However, you do have the facility to alter the screen angle using a 'Tilt' button.

Reversing camera fairly subtly integrated
Reversing camera fairly subtly integrated
Keeping things easy, there's a simple 'Menu' button underneath the screen, which calls up the main display. This looks and operates like a smartphone, with touchscreen buttons and a swipe action to scroll between windows. On the super-sunny day of our test and with the roof very much open, the display was clearly visible at all times, with no glare or hotspots at all.

Let's start off by pressing the DAB icon and tuning in. On this prototype, there's a remote control unit to change stations, but this will be changed to a touch system as of May. The list of DAB stations available in the Wiltshire countryside is around 40 on my count, compared to 10 or so FM stations. The only slight downside to DAB is that it requires a separate antenna, a rather ugly sticky thing plonked in the top corner of the windscreen.

So to the sat-nav, which is based on Nav & Go software. You can programme in destinations by postcode (full six character), points of interest, latitude and longitude and good old street addresses. You can choose routes by fastest, shortest, avoiding motorways and so on, plus there is TMC live traffic info and rerouting. A full EU map is included, with updating online via a micro SD card (subscription Β£45 a year). On my two hour drive, the system never once had a glitch, and was extremely easy and intuitive to use, as any Nav & Go user will attest to.

Aerial gives away DAB conversion
Aerial gives away DAB conversion
Literally within 10 seconds I had managed to pair my iPhone with the system via Bluetooth, and was scrolling through my list of contacts on the touchscreen. If I had uploaded any music to my phone (really, why haven't I done that yet?) I could also have listened to my choice of phone sounds via Bluetooth. If you've got an iPod, there's also a wired USB connection in the glovebox.

A big plus to the ICE system is a reversing camera. Engaging reverse gear opens the unit automatically and you get a full colour view of what's behind you, plus an overlaid grid pattern to help you manoeuvre. The lens is very cleverly and unobtrusively located in one of the rear number plate light apertures.

Oh, one more thing - the system is capable of playing DVDs, so you can watch your favourite flick (but only when the handbrake is engaged). And you can even tick a box to order an optional DVB-T TV tuner system.

Tested in a 430 but fits 355 and 360 too
Tested in a 430 but fits 355 and 360 too
This significant upgrade comes in an era when servicing costs are going down and improvements in reliability mean customers are spending a lot less at dealerships. Upgrades are a great way to spend that money in an entirely enjoyable way. Ferrari has all sorts of stuff on offer, from luggage sets to carbon ceramic brakes, all to a quality that rigorously matches production line standards.

As for the head unit, any single-DIN system in 355s, 360s and 430s is upgradable. Currently Ferrari is also developing kits for the 575, 599 and 612, which need a slightly different design because of the more acute angle of their dashboards. The cost of the unit for an F430 is a very un-Ferrari-like Β£1,755 including VAT (plus around Β£300 to fit at an official Ferrari dealer). For the integrated feel, superb functionality and fantastic facilities the system boasts - really, why wouldn't you?



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Comments (141) Join the discussion on the forum

  • devnull 15 Apr 2014

    All looks a bit nasty and ripspeed to me..

  • cvega 15 Apr 2014

    £1755 for a head unit that clarion charges £550 for smile (before the installation)

  • ajh38 15 Apr 2014

    That Clarion head unit has the same layout as the Clarion touch screen in 207 Sportium models. It is awful and many are replaced under warranty. I appreciate it's a different unit but clearly running very similar software. I had expected more from such a prestige brand.

  • TommyBuoy 15 Apr 2014

    I HATE flip out screens with a passion, especially when they cover vents - if the heating is on full it must cook the inside of the screen - my iphone goes into warning mode if I put it down infront of my centre console vents when the heating is on...

  • cronk-flakes 15 Apr 2014

    devnull said:
    All looks a bit nasty and ripspeed to me..
    Agreed. Slide-out head units just look awful, IMO.

    And that reverse camera could have been colour matched a bit...

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