“Snow at this time of year? You have to be joking. Hasn’t global warming severely dealt with Mother Nature on that front.” “No,” scorned the women from the MET office, as she put the phone down on me. This wasn’t something that I had considered: a foot of snow at our intended destination. This wasn’t the Alps, you see, so the English are hideously unprepared to deal with anything other than an onslaught of damp. We were driving the Ferrari FF though – so how would the Italians fair?
At first glance the FF (four seat and four-wheel-drive) is unconventional. It might be the prancing horsed manufacturer’s most audacious looking vehicle to date. It conjures coupe, then hatchback, then fastback at the same time. The term shooting-brake has been used to describe the FF in many cases; a British term coined in the 19th century for a vehicle used to carry shooting parties with their hounds and guns. There wouldn’t be any of that kind of pomp and ceremony this time though.
Our destination was Rugby. Yes, glamour-filled Rugby, with more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the country. But don’t be fooled: we all know that our fair isle has some of the best driving roads in the world, including the black mountains. It’s as if God himself carved out a winding tarmac pathway out of the Ten Commandments in the middle of Wales. The Scottish can have the referendum, the Welsh can too, provided that the black mountains are classified as some form of motoring nirvana and thus become owned by the people. Or perhaps the heir apparent of the commonwealth realms could advise the duchy to buy the mountains for the people, and we could call it a done deal? A sort of religious, mountain-filled Goodwood.
Anyway, I digress, our car was four deep as we approached the Severn Bridge and changed our money into Welsh cakes. I can only imagine that the FF streaming across the bridge must have been a magnificent sight, with these two pinnacles of engineering atop each other.
The cabin is more than comfortable for four people. Banish the thought of previous incarnations of supercar that offered four seats, one for you and three for a bottle of water, phone and wallet. The FF is a grand tourer of the highest order, designed to replace the 612 Scaglietti grand tourer. Inside the FF is all modern Ferrari – think leather contrasting against technical elements. Of course, you can have it in any colour and any style. The Ferrari marque will always be one of individualism and expression. I get the impression that you can clad almost anything in the FF with leather. It smelt like a combination of Tom Ford and a winning lottery ticket.
The cockpit, as I had taken to calling it, offered up a yellow tachometer and a three stroke steering wheel that was bejewelled with buttons and controls. I can only assume that Massa and Alonso know exactly what each button does. I am deftly familiar with the launch control function; I had attended a launch event in Newbury back when the California was fresh out of the box. I remember the test driver looking at me and casually asking “Are you ready?” “Yes, of course,” I replied. I wasn’t. We shot off at three times light speed. Who says there is no place for that kind of acceleration on UK roads. I said acceleration, not speed.
The FF is a 6.3-litre V12, producing 651 horsepower at 8000 rpm. Top speed is 208 mph. Ferrari are taking things greener these days. The company introduced the HELE (High Emotion Low Emissions) system into the FF. The start/stop system means fuel consumption is rated at 11/17 city/highway mpg and emissions are curbed at 360 g/km. Impressive figures for a Ferrari.
As we cut our way through the black mountains, tearing down our mpg, the FF cut into Wales with the grit and grip of Fred Goodwin appearing against a Parliamentary commission. It was a thrill of ages. The FF applies neutral handling dynamics by apportioning power from side to side. This makes it an extremely easy drive, even with the adage of four-wheel drive.
Despite the FF’s 3946 pound curb weight, she dances like a much lighter marque when pushed. This comfort, space and engineering prowess comes at a pricw: a two-ton weigh in. Fear not, carbon-ceramic brakes will stop the show just as you screech to a halt in the school yard.
Cleaving our way across our fair land, whilst it threw everything it had at us, was an experience of sublime comfort. The Review press team are all tall gents and even with four six footers, we sat in unbridled comfort.
As the FF is at home as a family vehicle, it features DVD players in the rear head-rests. I think it was Jack Dee who complained that if he had to drive the family around watching the road, he would compile a film of the back of his head for them to watch, with commentary. No need to go to the trouble on our account Jack.
Later that night, we arrived at our home-from-home in the heart of Rugby. A stylish country house with much pomp and ceremony but also panache. Let’s be honest, the country house was beautifully appointed, billiards room, hot-tub, grand piano, king size beds, etc. We, however, arrived, looked around, then setup shop in the one room that had a view of the driveway.
The FF managed to captivate the evening’s discussion. No amenities were used, no billiards played, no hot tub to relax the muscles – mainly because there was no stress and no strain. The FF was as comfortable as a recliner for passenger and pilot. Even when pushing the envelope of acceptable speed and inertia, the FF handled like a tamed stallion. It doesn’t feel as insane as a 599 GTB in the lower gears, but in third and onward, it’s righteous. 80 per cent of the engine’s 504lb ft of torque is available from 1750rpm. It feels every bit as effortless as a real GT should.
To ensure the classic Ferrari weight distribution format, the FF features a mid-front engine, but the gearbox is situated at the rear, and the rear transaxle is connected to the engine by a single driveshaft. This enables a weight distribution of 53:47 between the rear and front. The new four-wheel drive system features a power transfer unit just for the front wheels that is connected directly to the engine and is located over the front axle.
We had plenty of snow that weekend, and despite some efforts to push the traction to the edge, the FF was steadfast. It was infallible. We tried – God knows we tried. It’s somewhat of a marvel, a vehicle for all seasons. It does come with a serious price tag though. The base price is £227,077. Obviously you will never see one that cheap. Buying a Ferrari without the bells and whistles is like buying off the rack. Why bother? People will no doubt try to compare the FF to the Panamera or the Rapide, but we think that it’s operating in its own space. There is nothing like the FF. It is the ‘only’ in class.
We can only imagine what our neighbours must have thought when we awoke the beast around the country lanes that weekend. Standard v-12 engines are renowned for soothing tones, but the FF has a flat-plane crankshaft and so calls forth the apocalypse every time your press the accelerator. The morning was crisp and the roads had a light dusting of snow. And there was lunch waiting for us at the country house, so we decided to power back to dine, served in the formal, well, kitchen, with its view of the FF. To its credit, Ferrari has set the engine management electronics to allow you to rev the engine in neutral. You never know when you will see a small child pointing, mouth open, or an old friend that might not realise the enormity of your success. Yes, it is childish, and yes, it is irritating to everyone not in the FF. But they aren’t in the FF for a reason – so they are a distant memory.
As we sat, smearing foie gras on toast and drinking hot cider, I asked what the team thought of the yellow Scuderia Ferrari badges? Was it not obvious it was a Ferrari already? Was the sound not clear enough? They were likened to inviting Beyonce to dinner and then making her wear a name badge. “So you wouldn’t have them?” “Oh no, we want them.” Surprise.
The following morning, having spent two days driving the 50 miles around this grand house, we loaded the FF and began the journey ‘down south’. The four-wheel torque vectoring system just allowed us to keep accelerating onward, faster and faster, as if there was a blackhole just around the next corner. Even then none of us felt we had really got near the Ferrari’s limits.
The FF steps outside the safe confines of supercar orthodoxy with a giant stride that knocks the competition onto two wheels.