Grand Touring Family Style
Behind the Wheel: Ferrari FF
It’s a well-known fact that the mellifluous sound of a Ferrari V12 is ultimate bellow of the vehicular gods. The engine’s aurals are like a cross between the guttural roar of a big cat, a few doses of well-placed thunder and a chorus of heavenly angels. Since the now-famous Ferrari V12 first showed up in the Italian automaker’s first roadgoing car, the 1947 125 S, some form of 12-cylinder Ferrari engine (V12 or Flat-12) has been under the hood in no fewer than forty cars over the past seventy years. One of Ferrari’s most recent offerings, the Ferrari FF ($300,000+), makes use of the V12 staple, albeit in its most powerful form ever in a roadgoing car — but the FF also makes a noticeable departure from Ferrari Grand Tourers of the past through polarizing style, all-wheel-drive, practical (yes, practical) seating for four and enough cargo room to hit the road for more than a day. What they’ve done with the FF is everything a driver could want and more than one would ever imagine. The FF takes longstanding and illustrious convention, stands it on its head and kicks it through the uprights.
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Grand touring is never something to be taken lightly in the auto industry, and that much less so with Ferrari. For Maranello to depart from decades of tradition to opt for a two-door, all-wheel-drive station wagon is risky, to say the least. All of Ferrari’s GT cars have been long-bonnet two-door beasts with a 2+2 configuration. The FF, however, resembles a longer and wider version of the cult-beloved first generation BMW M Coupe; it looks like a squatting angry frog with big rear haunches. It could be argued that it’s more like the world’s most powerful two-door station wagon than it is a grand tourer. For some context, take a look at its predecessor, the easy-to-forget 612 Scaglietti. That car was hugely capable both in comfort and performance, but it didn’t quite demand attention the way the FF does — and yet the FF has serious presence without the prominent style of the Ferrari redheads so popular in videos and movies.
It’s less the professional athlete’s sports car and more the sleek powerhouse for the affluent family man. It’s the vehicular equivalent of Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter, if you will.
Not only is it unlike a traditional grand touring car, it’s also unlike any Ferrari, ever. Despite its still-significant presence, the FF is far more under the radar than the 458, the F12 or the LaFerrari, especially in stealthy Canna di Fucile (charcoal gray). It’s less the professional athlete’s high-profile sports car and more like the sleek powerhouse for the affluent family man. It’s the vehicular equivalent of Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, if you will. The FF’s fascia is prominent but sleek, with an elegant egg crate grille and large tapering LED headlights. A head-on view provides the familiar Ferrari design aesthetic, but change your angle just a bit and the long body becomes apparent, showcasing a capacious greenhouse that doesn’t taper but rather ends abruptly in hatchback form. The family-friendly setup of the FF cannot be understated. Two adults can fit comfortably in the cosseting rear seats for long periods of time, and mounting booster or baby seats is as easy as any family sedan we’ve come across. The Scaglietti did the same thing but didn’t boast the fold-down rear seats or the space afforded by the hatchback.
Nicholas Cage drove (and actually owned) the Ferrari 550 Maranello in the 2000 movie. Of course, he never actually transports any family members in it. Don Cheadle gets to drive it more than poor Mr. Cage. At least for us, the real star of the movie was this gorgeous silver grand tourer. Oh, and there’s that beautiful V12 sound.
The interior is a beautiful blend of sport and luxury — the caramel-colored leather is diamond-quilt stitched for an opulent look, and the well-placed array of carbon fiber bits are wonderful to both touch and behold. The traditional Ferrari round HVAC vents are especially easy to use and carry over the theme from the old double round brake lights only found in single-side form on current Ferraris. The F1-based steering wheel is clearly the center of attention, and for good reason. The 5-position manettino (little manager) and the top-mounted shift light are racer-friendly and send an inescapable invitation to the driver: maximize this car’s potential. Hub-mounted turn signals take some getting used to but work surprisingly well in spirited, high-speed lane changes. One of our favorite features is the grippy perforated floor-mounted foot plate for the front passenger. Rather than being merely decorative (it is a sight, for certain), it helps ensure that your envious friend to your right stays planted in the seat when you nail those apexes. It’s a brilliant idea that simultaneously dresses up the carpet in a way a true car fiend can appreciate.
The all-wheel-drive system is fascinating and also quite unconventional. Two transmissions are present. The first is a 7-speed dual clutch set up for the rear wheels. The second is a smaller gearbox for the front wheels, used to send power when the car’s system senses diminished grip. What this accomplishes is a separation of tasks, reducing the car’s weight and helping it operate smoothly — without the need for a center diff or an extra driveshaft.
Aside from all of the design and technical explanation, it’s the drive that we truly care about, and the FF is a car that must be experienced. Easy to drive around town in automatic mode, the FF could qualify as a pricey daily driver due to its smooth shifting and high level of comfort and practicality; the ride is firm but not jarring over bumps. But always present at low speeds is the hefty burble of the 6.3-liter, 651 horsepower V12, begging you to drive it hard. The largest displacement engine in Ferrari’s lineup, the car’s soul means business, from the beautiful red crackle paint on the manifold to the roar that envelops your world once you depress the steering-wheel-mounted red start button. The car pulls hard and with shocking power, the V12 snorting and growling as the speeds climb effortlessly but oh so noticeably.
What’s a family Ferrari without an appropriately bespoke child booster seat? Ferrari helped our daughter make out like a mini-Schuey in the back seat, even including some nice armrests to grip when daddy nails the apexes. The Ferrari booster makes lesser seats pee themselves as the FF’s V12 revs angrily at the stoplight. Disclaimer: the model is cute, right?. Don’t forget: your tiny passenger must be 4 years old to ride in a car seat like this, even if it is a Ferrari.
A Ferrari representative informed us that the FF’s track performance is not much different from the 458s, something we agreed with due to the combination of power to weight ratio, balance and output. Though we didn’t get to explore anywhere near its astounding top speed of 208 MPH, 120 came and went with nary a thought. The car begged for more as we flicked the CF paddle shifters, ratcheted the 7-speed and watched the dotted white lines whip by furiously. It’s planted, quick shifting and seamless in just about every way. Even with the wife riding shotgun and the baby in the back, it’s easily forgotten that you are in a four-passenger car and not within a childhood racing daydream. When coming to a stoplight, the V12 downshifts and lets out a healthy “brap” that’s enough to make a driver’s spine tingle with pleasure.
Most prominent of all, beyond the driving experience, is the magnitude of the FF’s departure from tradition. The idea of an all-wheel-drive family hyper exotic is the kind that makes you wonder what constituted the conversation in the boardroom in Maranello. Though there might have been, at least early on, some mild head-scratching, in the end there were surely smiles all around in anticipation of what they had created. The execution of the FF is near perfect, and what’s delivered in the way of practicality, scintillating driving, arresting physical presence and raw Italian power cannot be underestimated. It’s not just the Ferrari name that has translated to a sold out model. It’s a Ferrari that changes the grand touring game.