DRIVEN 2011 Throwback: Ferrari FF first drive in Italy – News

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Happy birthday to us! Today, April 30, marks the official 10th anniversary of Driven’s launch, so to celebrate, we’ve dug out the first cover story on the Ferrari FF. And for more detail, see our 10th birthday special of Zooming with DRIVEN, with our special guest, founding editor Alastair Sloane. Thanks to all the readers, and also to all the Driven staff and contributors over the years, you’re the reason why we’re still here a decade on.

The region of South Tyrol, nestled among the Alps in northern Italy, has its own breed of horse. The Haflinger is regarded as gorgeous, noble in character yet tough enough to tackle the rugged terrain of the area.

Another breed came to SudTirol this month: the Prancing Horse. Ferrari chose the area to launch its new FF (Ferrari Four), with a fast-as-you-like drive to 2000m above sea level through the famous Dolomite mountains.

Like the Haflinger, the Prancing Horse is famous for its style, ability and timeless appeal. But durability and versatility? Not so much. The FF is one model charged with changing that perception.

Inspired by the steadily increasing average mileages covered by its owners — now around 10,000km for the front-engined V12 models — Ferrari has created a four-wheel-drive estate with four seats and family hatchback luggage capacity. It’s certainly more functional-looking than the 612 it replaces, but it still looks like a Maranello stallion. And I love the slightly perverse visual style of a Ferrari wagon.

The company argues there is no compromise in the FF driving experience. It boasts a new direct-injection 6.3-litre V12 with 486kW/ 683Nm, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and a unique four-wheel drive system incorporating a Power Transfer Unit (PTU). There’s no centre differential: instead, the PTU is attached to the engine up front. The PTU has two gears (equivalent to second and fourth) and deploys on a computer-controlled ‘‘grip prediction’’ basis — not merely when slippage occurs. Fourth gear takes you beyond 200km/h, by which time Ferrari says the PTU is not necessary.

Ferrari’s signature Manettino steering-wheel-mounted selector has two new modes in the FF: in addition to Sport, Comfort and ESC Off, you can optimise the powertrain, suspension and safety software for Wet and Snow. As in the 458 Italia, major controls like the indicators are on the steering wheel boss. Very F1, but it takes some getting used to.

Especially the indicators, which I fumble for in my first overtaking manoeuvre. No matter: those amber lights don’t get much of a chance to flash at full throttle. The FF hits 100km/h in 3.7 seconds and 200km/ h in 11.0 seconds — the latter as fast as the F599 coupe. The steering is very quick, but the engine and chassis aren’t quite as hard-core as the F599. That’s as it should be. Exhilarating performance and virtuoso dynamics are still served up in abundance, but there’s also an astonishingly linear torque delivery and sublime low-speed ride. You never escape the feeling that this is a big car — 4.9m long, nearly 2m wide, 1800kg — but the FF succeeds completely in combining the heightened sensations of a rear-drive V12 supercar with the heightened confidence and all-weather ability that comes with four-wheel drive.

Because the engine is mounted back behind the front axle and the PTU is around half the bulk of a conventional all-wheel drive system, weight distribution remains at a near-ideal 43/57 percent front/rear.

Traction is never an issue, nor is your own fear: the sophistication of the FF allows you to enjoy that power and Ferrari-chassis-finesse without needing the car-control skills of a racing driver.

Disappointments? Well, $670,000 seems absurdly expensive, although it reflects the market positioning of the previous 612 and the exclusivity of all things Ferrari (a 12-18 month wait is still typical for marque’s cars).

The cabin is gorgeous, but also let down in small details like the wobbly switchgear and chunky sat-nav graphics. There’s a disappointingly dull throb to the V12 below 2500rpm — although beyond that the soundtrack is like nothing on earth, especially when you press the Sport button.

The FF is possibly the world’s most glamorous and exciting intercontinental ski express. But is it relevant in New Zealand? At the end of the drive-day, Edward Rowe, Ferrari’s PR man for Australasia, gives me the local pitch: ‘‘This is the first time we’ve had a Ferrari that’s really suited to New Zealand, especially places like Queenstown.’’

Nice try. I pause to marvel at this picture of a typical Kiwi entrepreneur, who not only owns a $700k Ferrari (there are options, you know) but chooses it to charge through rain and ice over the Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne that’s also in the garage. But that cynicism could be just my tiny wallet talking. Such people no doubt exist; as the company keeps telling us, Ferrari owners are a special breed.

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