A large, two-plus-two GT styled by an Italian design house, powered by a huge engine up front with a distinctive rear hatchback...
2011 Ferrari FF, V12-cylinder, petrol, seven-speed F1 dual-clutch sequential manual transmission: The 'FF' will arrive in Australia in early 2012 and price will be in the region of $625,000
Haven’t we been here before? A large, two-plus-two GT styled by an Italian design house, powered by a huge engine up front with a distinctive rear hatchback? With four-wheel drive and called the Ferrari FF? It was back in 1966 that the British car company Jensen turned the motoring world on its head with its FF, only that tie the nomenclature stood for ‘Ferguson Formula’ in deference to Ferguson Research, the geniuses that invented the stunning Jensen’s all-wheel drive transmission. It was, and still is, an undisputed classic. Everyone seems to credit Audi with bringing four-wheel drive to production cars but little old Jensen was there way before the Germans.
It’s a pity, then, that Ferrari chooses to ignore the blindingly obvious similarities to its new model’s namesake. At the very least, perhaps, they should have given it a different name. No matter, because while the Jensen FF changed the way car designers viewed traction and safety (it was also the first production car with ABS), the new Ferrari could be said to be a trailblazer in different ways because it marks a sea change in the Prancing Horse’s technical arsenal. The FF could very well be the most important Ferrari for decades.
FF stands for Ferrari Four. But four what, exactly? Four seats? Four-wheel drive? Actually, both. But that should, by default, be a problem for the new car because Ferraris with rear seats have always been the least desirable of the breed. The unfortunate looking 612 Scaglietti it replaces, like the 456, Mondial, 412, 400 and practically any other four-seat Ferrari you could care to mention, suffered horrific depreciation because the party faithful has always believed that a ‘proper’ Ferrari has two seats. Which is to do the big Ferraris a massive disservice, because some of them have been blindingly good cars.
According to Ferrari, the FF is the answer to the demands and wishes of many of its customers. Apparently this car is what they've been wanting for decades, so here it is. Ford in Europe said something similar back in 1990 when the Mk5 Escort was launched. They’d commissioned research consultants to question tens of thousands of motorists to find out what they wanted from a car. Ford then put all the suggestions into a food processor and the result was a shambles.
By listening to Joe Public, Ford had sullied its name with a car that was so dull, so utterly devoid of merit that it forced the speedy development of the Focus, which rewrote the rule book when it came to the way small, cheap cars drove. Every cloud and all that...
Could Ferrari have made a similar mistake with the FF by giving its customers what they think they want? Thankfully not. It turned out that what Ferrari's clientele wanted was a stylish, powerful supercar with enough room for the kids/colleagues/golf buddies/labradors, that was safe to drive in all weather conditions and felt like a Ferrari should feel. Unlike the aforementioned Ford Escort, the result is a truly spectacular car.
The looks, it has to be said, are controversial, with a front end that’s reminiscent of the recent Ferrari 458 Italia and a backside that cannot help but remind onlookers of BMW's crazy Z3 M Coupe. In its defence, it’s not a car that photographs particularly well and it does look much better when you see it for real. Just like the Jensen FF, in fact. And, at almost five metres long and two metres wide, the Ferrari is nothing if not physically imposing.
If you’re not convinced by the looks, you'll struggle to find anything negative to say about the interior. It's a study in Italian flair with rich, supple hides covering practically every surface. Overall the design is pure and simple, only the carbonfibre steering wheel and its F1-style buttons threatening to upset the Learjet vibe. An (optional) passenger display screen relays information about speed, gear selections, rpm etc. is bound to cause some domestic disharmony. What were they thinking?
There genuinely is room in the rear for two grown ups and the boot offers 450 litres of space, almost doubling to 800 if you fold the back seats. So it’s practical and this is one of the reasons the FF has been treated to four-wheel drive. Ferrari's customers were evidently getting fed up because they couldn't use their cars for the annual skiing holiday. And now they can, thanks to a revolutionary transmission system that makes the FF feel like a Ferrari should, only safer.
It's perhaps worth considering what 485kW would be like on the road without the aid of traction control. Utterly undriveable. And even cars that are stuffed with tech struggle to put down that sort of power if only the rear boots are pressed into service. Ferrari calls it 4RM and it's an entirely new set-up that sends torque to all four wheels of the car. However, unlike conventional systems, 4RM allows a mid-front engine position and the rear transaxle is connected to the engine by a single driveshaft. Supplementing this is a new power transfer unit (PTU) for the front wheels, connected directly to the engine.
4RM brings with it a 50 percent weight saving compared to traditional four-wheel drive systems and it allows Ferrari’s traditional weight distribution with more than half the car's weight over the rear axle, despite it being front-engined.
4RM’s main mechanical component is the PTU and it manages the difference between the engine and wheel speeds, as well as controlling the amount of torque sent to the front wheels, which it distributes between left and right as required. The PTU gets its power and torque directly from the crankshaft through a system of gearbox ratios and two independent clutch packs then 'vector' the torque to a half-shaft connected to the front wheels. Sounds complex (it is) but it essentially means there’s no mechanical connection between rear and front axles because they’re linked to two completely independent traction systems. All of which means the FF can be rear-wheel drive only except in extremis, which in turn means it should drive just like a Ferrari.
It’s an utter joy to drive hard. The engine is an absolute masterpiece and any fears about the FF being a softie are banished as soon as the key is turned and the starter button pressed. Ferrari has chosen to launch the FF in the Dolomite mountain region in northern Italy and mountain roads mean lots of tunnels, which is what’s known as ‘a very good thing’. The process is simple: reduce speed, drop into second gear and stamp on the throttle. The result? Savage acceleration and a noise unlike anything else as the racket bounces back off the walls and into the appreciative eardrums of anyone within a 2km radius. Seriously, it’s absolutely epic.
It goes without saying that performance levels are extremely high but, thanks to that clever tech, there’s a newfound confidence in the way the FF handles. It does feel like the shove is coming from the back but hit a corner with too much speed (very easy in this Ferrari) and you feel the front instantly grip, turning the car in with razor-sharp precision. Car and occupants live to see another day.
Despite the FF’s size and power reserves, it feels smaller and more focussed than any car this big has a right to. The brakes (carbon, naturally) are brilliant and the magnetic dampers ensure the FF remains utterly composed in all conditions. And the F1 gearbox shifts ratios so quickly now, that anyone hankering for a manual shifter needs their head examining. It really is instantaneous.
It’s a great car, the FF, but then it should be - it’s a Ferrari after all. What it’s done, though, is take the brand on all fours into uncharted territory with mind-blowing technology and an all-new style. Its most impressive accomplishment, though, is that it’s the first genuinely desirable four-seat Ferrari. Mission accomplished - the FF is a proper Ferrari; a genuine four-seat supercar.