Having children ruins your life. This is a fact parents are loath to admit to their childless friends, partly because of some innate homo-sapien desire to prevent the human race from disappearing if word gets out, but also because it will make them even more unbearably smug.
Of course, children don’t ruin everything – they actually make Christmas Day more fun, for example – just most things, like sex (you’re too tired, and terrified of another pregnancy), sleep-ins, holidays, your sanity and, quite profoundly, car trips.
But can children ruin a Ferrari? Not just physically trash it (because that’s just child’s play, just give them a thickshake and a few seconds alone) but take the joy out of it?
I’d like to see them try. Which is why I boldly agreed to pack my two children – aged 10 and six – into the new Ferrari GTC4 Lusso for the ultimate family Ferrari test; a 1000km round trip from Melbourne to the snowy hills of Falls Creek and back.
Surely this is exactly the kind of thing the Lusso, with its all-wheel drive and child-coddling back seats, was built for. And yet still, I was worried, particularly when Ferrari wrote to inform me that no food or fluids could be consumed within the car.
Ten hours in a car with two kids and no sustenance? Hello Hell.
Ferrari has effectively been protecting Dads, and a few Mums, from the horrors of packing a screaming snot missile into your car for years by making all of its vehicles two-seat rocket ships. Not only could they not fit your bratty brood, if you did put one in there, their little ears would bleed and their tiny organs would get squashed. In the wise word of Mr Burns: “Excellllent.”
Then, in 2011, came a move of madness, the Ferrari FF, a stretched, four-seat “shooting brake” (and isn’t that a stupid name for a car? Even “shitting penguin” sounds better) that looked like a giant, squashed platypus, and yet sold anyway.
Buyers of this weird machine were, according to the company’s research, 10 years younger than average Ferrari customers, and drove a whopping 50 per cent more kilometres in their cars each year. Incredibly, these buyers also claimed that 60 per cent of all trips taken in their FFs were made with all four seats filled.
If you ever sat in the rear of an FF, you’d know the people in the back can only have been children, so this really was a family-focused supercar, and one the company sought to improve upon, and cash in on, with the new GTC4 Lusso.
Sure enough, it’s a vast leap ahead in the looks department, closely resembling an actual Ferrari from behind, with its classic tail-lights and tough, square tail. It even somehow manages to make its peculiar proportions work, from most angles. Better yet, from some perspectives it’s actually a genuinely attractive machine, with its massive bonnet, sexy side gills and sleek silhouette.
Life for those in the rear has been considered as well, with the whole roof now essentially available as a piece of (optional) glass, which not only looks fantastic but makes the rear pews feel airy and open, with only lightly limited leg room. An adult really could sit back there and not hate you.
For my children, of course, it was more than ample, and they sank into their opulent leather chairs, which really are like super-comfy sport seats, as if they were born to Ferrari riding.
Sadly, I had to drag them out again quite quickly because our first challenge, when we arrived at Melbourne airport to meet the Lusso, was getting our bags in the boot, which involved a tense game of luggage Tetris and four full-grown men sweating and trying not to swear out loud in the kids’ earshot.
It ended with me inside the car, kneeling on the back seat and attempting to squash our two suitcases (yes, just two, and not overly large) down low enough so the automatic rear hatch would shut.
To achieve this we’d had to remove the luggage cover, which was, hilariously, fitted with a plate outlining which options you’ve been fleeced on, just so you won’t ever forget that particular financial pain (in our case they totalled a terrifying $167,490 and included that Panoramic Roof, at $32,000, plus $22,000 worth of not-as-nice-as-red paint, a $1900 Italian flag the size of a Paddle Pop stick on the rear boot-lid, diamond-patterned seats at $9000 and “standard stitching” for $1250).
When I attempted to foist this luggage cover on to the blokes who’d delivered the car, they looked sheepish and said they were heading back to Sydney and couldn’t help, and we’d somehow have to squeeze the tray in there as well.
It really did look, for a few tense, wife-tapping-foot minutes, like our trip was over before it had begun. Fortunately, little kids don’t need much headroom.
It’s not just the size of the boot that makes life difficult, it’s the fact it has, for reasons known only to the Italian mind, a huge step in the middle of it, meaning that only soft luggage, and not too much of it, will ever fit in there. Total volume is 450 litres (with seats up, 800 with them lowered), which is only 50 litres less than a Porsche Panamera, but it feels like less thanks to the odd shape.
“Ferrari not very practical!” is hardly a shocking headline, but I had expected slightly more from a family-friendly vehicle.
After several long, and no doubt boring, lectures to my kids about not putting feet on seats or releasing any bodily fluids, and suggesting they treat the Lusso’s interior as if it were as precious as an iPad, we hit the road with joy in our hearts and a grumbling 6.2-litre V12 engine in our ears.
And then we remembered we were in Melbourne, which is to driving what Gogglebox is to television. Stupid, infuriating, in need of nuclear destruction, et cetera.
How anyone lives, or drives, in the place is beyond me, but the answer is generally summed up as “very slowly”. It is the antithesis of driving in Italy, basically, which is what Ferraris were made to do.
To distract myself from murderous thoughts I turned to the usual road-trip task of keeping the kids off the iPads for as long as possible. Our usual rule is they can’t touch them while there are things to look at, but once a road turns Ho Hume Highway boring they can turn their brains off and plug-in. My son was onto this quickly: “But Dad, you always say that ALL of Melbourne is boring”.
So we played our first road-trip game, which was called “Guess how much more this car costs than Daddy’s first house”. The answer was 600 per cent, in case you’re wondering, although that’s the full $745,490 with options. It’s just $578,000 without them.
Then we had a scintillating discussion about options and what the word “scam” means. While the kids voted the embroidered prancing horses on their head rests their favourite, (just an extra $3500), I consider them spectacularly impractical because, as an average-sized supercar buyer, I found the famous horse felt like it was rutting the back of my bonce, which became quite uncomfortable on long journeys.
On the long freeway stretch I had time to appreciate just how expensively lush the Ferrari’s interior is, and how ludicrously like an expensive handbag it all smells. I also attempted to work out the various screens, navigation and infotainment systems, and the big 10.3-inch central screen in particular, all of which seem to have been designed by Alfa Romeo, because they’re as user-friendly as Sudoko. Fortunately Ferrari was one of the first to sign up to Apple CarPlay, which is how I eventually navigated my way.
The really interesting screen, of course, is the Passenger Display, which is basically paying $9500 to face-palm yourself. I don't want to delve too deeply into lazy misogyny, but it strikes me that this screen, which sits in front of the passenger and offers them the ability to see what speed you’re doing, as well as your revs, gear position, the operation of various traction systems and so on, is a bad idea.
Yes, your car-obsessed neighbour will love it, as will your mates, but I’ve met quite a few wives who really don’t like it when their husbands drive fast. And putting this screen in front of her is like coming home and slapping all your strip-club nudie-dollars on the kitchen counter.
Fortunately, my wife is some kind of weird angel, and not just because she married me. She just hated the whole idea of the screen, found the off button, and never turned it back on.
While the ride quality of the Lusso is excellent, which makes cruising a doddle, the sound from the exhaust is disappointingly minimal.
Ferrari explained to us at the car’s launch last year in Italy that this is a vehicle often used for tootling around town and that its customers wanted it to be a bit quieter, and more polite, in most situations. They even mentioned not wanting to “scare children” with its V12 noises.
This means the GTC4 has an exhaust bypass valve that mutes most of your engine’s noises, unless you’re having a go.
The result is your 6.2-litre V12, which makes 507kW and 697Nm, 80 per cent of which is on tap from 1750rpm, sounds a bit dull at times.
Which might go some way to explaining why the kids seemed unimpressed, until we pulled up for the compulsory McDonald’s Happy Plastic Toy Landfill Meal, and every head in the car park turned to stare at them as they got out. This is the kind of attention that makes them realise, at least briefly, what horribly spoilt little brats they are.
There was some considerable delay, compared to usual road trips, because we couldn’t let our little slow-eaters finish their meals in the car, although my son was at pains to point out that I always tell him McDonald’s is not real food, and therefore it should have been exempt from the rules.
I don’t know where his smartarse streak comes from.
Finally, we turned off the Ho Hume towards Milawa and Bright and Mt Beauty, a section of truly lovely Victorian roads, and perhaps finally a chance to explore what this Ferrari, with its 3.4-second dash to 100km/h (some 0.3 quicker than the FF), or its even more impressive 0 to 200km/h time of 10.5s, can do.
I didn’t think we’d trouble its 335km/h top speed, but it was certainly a number that made the kids go all puppy-like with excitement.
Pointed at these wide open winding roads, the Lusso comes alive. Its speed-sensitive electronic power steering is magnificent, particularly when you switch to Sport mode, so much so that it feels like the “real” thing (old, hydraulic systems) rather than a software copy of what a Ferrari tiller should feel like.
The lack of body roll is impressive, as is the complete absence of understeer, despite the heft and length of the vehicle. The Ferrari’s innumerable systems for sending the maximum yet appropriate torque to the wheel best placed to handle it work brilliantly, and can even send up to 90 per cent of its grunt to the front wheels if the grip situation demands it.
It is the engine, though, that is the highlight, pouring forth a firehose-like gush of power whenever you want it, and singing operatically as it does so. The noise, naturally aspirated as the Roman gods intended, is simply glorious, and you’ll want to turn it up again and again.
Fortunately, my children don’t seem to get car sick, although we did have to turn off their infernal screens and encourage them to watch the road, and the cool lights that come up on the epic carbon-fibre and leather steering wheel when the revs get screamy.
Unfortunately, my wife was the one applying the brakes, suggesting that I slow down slightly, so as not to upset, or kill, our children. For some reason she also wanted to have a chat about our will at this stage.
The piece of road I was really looking forward to was the savagely switchback-filled final climb up to Falls Creek, which is – in summer, when you can take it all the way through to Omeo – one of the best and most exhaustive pieces of road in the country.
I’ve previously enjoyed it in Porsches and other sports cars and knew the Ferrari would tear it up, but as soon as we poured into the first few bends I realised this would not work with family.
There was some screaming from the back, and some shrieking from the front seat. There were threats, mainly from my wife, of vomiting. And then she went very quiet, except for some occasional and very troubling burps, which was even more scary.
I pondered whether bringing food into the car inside your body would also be a problem, under Ferrari’s rules, if the food found its way out again, at speed.
So I had to slow down, quite a bit more than I’d have liked to, but I did still enjoy every single bend, and the slick shifts from the giant carbon paddles and the DCT F1 seven-speed gearbox.
The GTC4 Lusso really is a hugely impressive car in the way it can defy its bulk to deliver a driving experience that is so high-end, and highly invigorating.
This slowed-down, family friendly test brought sweet memories of the launch drive, at far higher pace, through the Dolomites. I was impressed then, and remain so now.
When we finally arrived at Falls, to check in at the QT Hotel, the only place on the mountain hugely flash enough, and valet-parking equipped, that a Ferrari family would even consider staying, my wife was whiter than the mountains around us.
Fortunately she was so taken with our vast room, the stunning snowy vistas and the hot tub on every balcony that she forgot to berate me about my driving.
The sunset tub sounds romantic and lovely, but as we’ve discussed, kids ruin everything. Nothing kills romance faster than two tiny, naked children jumping into a hot tub with you, spilling your champagne and waving their buttocks in your faces. Nothing.
The kids, hopeless ingrates that they are, were far more impressed with the epic, five-star all-you-can-eat food in the QT’s restaurant, and the donuts, and the skiing of course, than the Ferrari.
The morning we left for the downhill drive, all three occupants of the Lusso were blissed out from their six-star holiday, and seemed far less whingy about me attacking the throttle, and the corners.
A slippery, slightly icy surface proved no challenge for the AWD, mountain-loving family Ferrari, and it fairly poured down the mountain, with not another car in sight, as the sun turned the icy trees and glowing waterfalls around us into a perfect backdrop for a wondrous drive.
In the end, not even children could ruin the joy a properly put together Ferrari like this can give you, and if you could afford to park one of these beside your dearly beloved 488 (or more classic 458), so you could use it when family duty called, I can genuinely see why you would.
Unfortunately, having kids seems to have made me a little too poor for that.