Ferrari FF Review
Is it really a case of boldly going in a Ferrari 4×4?
By Shahzad Sheikh
It shouldn’t be called the FF – for four-wheel drive and four-seater – in fact this Ferrari should be called the BC, for Breaking Conventions. It’s probably the Ferrari we’ve most struggled to come to terms with since… well the 2008 California – the Ferrari for would-be Vidal Sassoons, and the softest car from the house of the Prancing Hourse I’d ever driven.
Hmm… seems to be a trend then. Anyway, the FF is meant to be a go-near-everywhere grand-tourer with solid Maranello credentials. Time to put that to the test.
‘No, no, what are you doing? You can’t go that way. You’ll get stuck, it’s dangerous. This won’t go there, you will break it!’
The Toyota Land Cruiser driver’s protestations were totally in earnest. Almost half leaning out of the window with his angst-ridden expression and his perplexed gesticulations, he seemed genuinely concerned and ever so slightly appalled, that we’d ventured off-tarmac in a brand new AED1.2m exoticar.
And seeing as we were standing on a rough gravel track facing a 30 degree incline downwards into a rugged valley surrounded by jagged rocks on every side, potentially his concerns were valid. But what he perhaps didn’t know was that this is Ferrari’s first four-wheel drive production car.
He probably also hadn’t seen all the promotional videos for this car depicting it blasting through the Liwa desert on a sand track, and bouncing across ski slopes in Europe.
Of course, as always, away from the world of glamorous video, the reality was far more humdrum. We were crawling along, one of us walking ahead, spotting the track for obstacles that might tarnish the low lips and ensuring nothing would ground or grind.
And after the said Toyota-owner had driven off in disgust shaking his head and tut-tutting furiously, we only actually went far enough to get the pictures you see on this page, to successfully create the illusion that we were in proper off-road territory. Sorry, did I just blow it or what?
Is it really four-wheel drive?
Well here’s one of those ‘breaking convention’ bits. This is not your regular 4×4 system. It features a new Power Transfer Unit or PTU for the front wheels, connected directly to the engine and located over the front axle. This, says Ferrari, provides a 50% saving in weight over a normal 4WD.
The PTU has two gearbox ratios feeding power through two clutches – uniquely that means there is no connection between the front and rear axles. It also means that since these ratios only simulate upto fourth gear, it’s only four-wheel drive up to 200kph – which, let’s face it, is pretty much all the time, although this car is capable of 335kph.
So it does have four-wheel drive, but it’s as much about superior handling than it is about tackling all-terrain – in fact the reality is that you probably won’t take it off the black-top too often here, because it is just too precious and too precocious to go play in a sandpit or risk stone chips from gravel.
Is it really that handy on the black top?
Fortunately computers, individual traction systems and clutches, plus torque vectoring and lots of other clever voodoo make this a rear-wheel drive car that only throws torque at the front wheels when it’s absolutely necessary.
An E-Diff, F1 Trac traction controls, ESC, ABS and EBD are all managed together, depending on which mode you’ve selected on the Manettino, along with the third generation Magnetorheological suspension, to keep it planted and going where you wish to be heading in relative smoothness.
The payoff of all this brilliance in its ability to handle conditions such as rain, snow, ice, sand, dirt, gravel and tarmac, means that you end up with a slight disconnect from the road. The ride is surprisingly refined and the grip levels extraordinary, but the chassis is not exactly constantly talking to you, preferring to just get on with the job at hand. Which means that you just drive this car on trust.
Thankfully the steering is more typically Ferrari. It feels alive as its writhes in your hands, and there’s a directness, sharpness and eagerness to respond that seems starkly at odds with the car’s grand touring charactor. It’s not quite as sweet as a 458, but it’s closer than you’d expect. In fact bearing in mind the personality of the car and who it’s aimed at, methinks it too alacritous.
Does it really fit the playbook?
Who is it aimed at? Will he or she appreciate the overly sportive steering combined with the practical persona? And is it actually a pretty car to their eyes?
Well let’s tackle the last bit first. Yes this car has had all of the hatchback jibes thrown at it – well it didn’t do itself any favours by indeed boasting a hatch, with a remarkably generous luggage capacity and even a folding seat arrangement for extra room. Unkindly call it a ‘hearse’ or more kindly a ‘shooting brake’ the fact is there is a Ferrari precedence for the ‘breadvan’ styling.
More to the point, even with all the controversy, this car already started out looking far better than its predecessor, the rather grumpy 612 Scaglieti. And whilst we had the car, and the more I photographed it, the more I started to appreciate its proportions, the flowing lines, the startling road presence, the jewel-like front and rear lights, and I totally fell for the way the light bounced off its curvy flanks at dusk. The softer, more subdued, colour of the test car also helped.
So like most modern Ferraris, once the initial reaction has subsided, I’ve actually grown to like it, and I believe buyers do too. As for who it’s aimed at, well that’s clearly a more mature and responsible owner who likes to share the flash, rather than just buy a selfish two-seater, and yes they probably are likely to appreciate the car’s more real-world appeal.
Is it really comfy for four?
Are we seriously suggesting that this is a proper four-seater and not one of those pretend 2+2 things? Oh yes. As a six-footer plus, I spent some time sitting in the back, and whilst it might feel a little claustrophobic, I didn’t want too much for space.
More tellingly I picked up the kids from school in the FF (instantly becoming recipient of school’s ‘coolest dad of the month’ award, if they actually had one) and of course this struck home the message this is one of the few Fezzas you can do that with – although historically there were others I hasten to add. Unsurprisingly you can specify rear TV screens, so this clearly is a family-friend Ferrari, for very well-to-do neighbourhoods.
Is that really a Jeep sat-nav?
The interior is absolutely gorgeous, beautifully finished, lovingly detailed, put together with passion and is just a very special place to be.
Until your eyes fall on that central screen. These days manufacturers make a big thing of their fascia monitors, boasting the size, the resolution, the touch-screen responsiveness, the fact that it’s totally integrated and can do clever things like offer split-viewing technology. The FF’s central infotainment system can’t do any of that (even though the displays on the actually instrument panel in front of the driver are actually superb).
Jeep owners however will immediately recognise the central sat-nav and entertainment display as the system out of their cars, in fact much of the Chrysler group is already using a system that has superseded this one, all of which is rather disappointing in your million-plus luxury supercar. Particularly as it’s out of synch with the cool displays directly ahead of the driver.
Is it really fast though?
It may not sound it, but this thing is quick. Woah, just a minute there. Surely a Ferrari HAS to sound quick. Specially with that magnificent 6.3-litre V12 putting out a mind-boggling 651bhp and 504lb ft of torque – most of its available from 1000-8000rpm.
I bet it sounds glorious from outside, especially at the high-end, but inside its relatively subdued which is surprising considering that Ferrari channels the intake noise from the filter casings into the cabin.
And yet this thing is quick, surging ahead on a tidal wave of torque to hit 100kph in just 3.7 seconds and 200kph in 11 seconds. Put the steering-wheel mounted Manettino in Sport (dare not go anywhere near ‘ESC Off’) and the ferocity increases, particularly from the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Truth be told though, it’s still relatively civilised performance in accordance with its people-moving duties – it doesn’t want them to be sick all over the pretty upholstery and dashboard. Left in Auto the gearbox does a pretty good job of slurring through ratios, although there is a bit of judder and transmission shunt at traffic-crawl speeds.
So it tries to do its best impersonation of a high-speed grand tourer but every now and then let’s drop the facade and reveals its fiery side beneath. This is part of the inevitable dichotomy of this car, which is trying to harness traditional Ferrari sexiness and combine it with grand-touring maturity.
Is it really a Ferrari though?
And that brings us to the crux of the issue with the FF – one that might have more happily worn a Maserati badge rather than a Cavallino Rampante logo, although perhaps such a statement would have rung-truer in the pre-California days.
So it’s simple really. If you’re young or young at heart and want a screaming Ferrari to let your hair down on the weekends and pull birds with in the evenings buy a 458 Italia. If on the other hand you’re a huge Ferrari fan, that has had, or still has, the racier red cars in your stable, but need something for daily use or to just to be ‘the coolest dad in school’ then get this.
If you need a big comfy luxury grand tourer capable of phenomenal speeds, with a pedigree badge, provides seating for four, and could actually cope with moderate excursions off-road, then buy a Bentley GT.
Price: AED1.2m ($325,000)
Engine: 6.2-litre, V12, 651bhp @ 8000rpm, 504lb ft @ 6000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 3.7 seconds, 335kph, 15.4L/100km
Transmission: seven-speed auto, four wheel drive
COUNTERPOINT – by Fraser Martin
I’m afraid my BlackBerry pictures of the Ferrari FF pale against the shots Shahzad took of the car in the mountains near Hatta, but I broadly agree with the content of his report above.
Having said that, there are a couple of things I’d like to throw into the ring of debate over this car. Whilst agreeing that it is not the ‘traditional’ Ferrari that perhaps the cognoscenti would have wanted, I think it’s the best looking car to come out of the Stable of the Prancing Horse since the 250 GTO. It is distinctive and a departure from the usual ‘pointy red stuff’ we have become almost inured to. And it does rather represent a statement of some sort: it says, “Yes, we can if we like!”
And it is a proper Grand Tourer in many ways – the space is great, the luggage capacity (without the dozy GCC specification spare wheel!) is cavernous, and it is a big car. See a picture of someone standing next to one, and the proportions take on a completely different scale from those beauty shots of a car and a background. You really do have to concentrate where you place it especially in car parks and the dreadful traffic jam I endured yesterday.
But there is some things about the FF that bother me. A Grand Tourer in the traditional sense should be something that will waft you across continents with, as Jaguar used to say, Grace, Pace and Space. Pace and space are givens in the FF, but I’m not so sure about grace – it’s just a bit too frenetic to be truly comfortable: there’s a lot going on around the steering wheel where most of the major controls are sited, and accepting that the FF is a natural progression from a California, no doubt the aforementioned cognoscenti will be quite familiar with things, but it’s a complicated way of getting the work done and it does not produce a feeling of relaxed progress. You have to think carefully about what you are doing pretty much all the time.
And it’s a bit too noisy. The a/c fans make a racket (hardly surprising though, given our current Scorchio temperatures) and the engine, sweet though it sounds, is sometimes just a little bit too intrusive. I found myself looking for a ‘quiet’ button on roads that were over-camera’d just to get a bit of peace, and I suppose, to truly appreciate the bark and yowl from a downshift in a tunnel.
The automatic mode does the job fine but manual is more rewarding, even on a commute – at least you can hang onto a gear rather than allowing it to shuffle up and down the box, when in traffic. The changes are super-swift for sure and you’d be hard pressed to find much else swifter, but the throttle does not really want to know about sensitivity: I felt that my passengers might have been thinking I’d taken Taxi Driver lessons just before collecting it. If you are not above 2000rpm, you can forget about being smooth – the FF is an all-or-nothing car.
As I write this piece, the car is sitting outside my front door. I should be out, blatting about the Hatta Triangle, revelling in the over-run crackle of the exhausts and the reverberation of the mad dog soundtrack as it screams through the rev band. But I’m not. It’s just too much like hard work.
And that for me, is where the FF disappoints. It is so Ferrari in every other respect – a technological marvel and consummately brilliant in every other way – but a Grand Tourer it is not, I’m afraid. Maybe age is creeping up on me, but like Shahzad says, if you need to conquer continents, you’ll arrive more relaxed in a Bentley Continental GT.
The Ferrari FF is great fun though, and I really do appreciate the opportunity to drive something few others will have the chance to drive. My thanks to Sony at Al Tayer Motors and the team from Ferrari – once in a lifetime experiences don’t come much better than this.