Ladies, please note; Father's Day is less than a couple of months away. Now I know it's tricky, buying a gift for the man who has everything. After all, he already has a beautiful wife and wonderful children, but I can help. Fact: most men like cars — the faster, the better. It's a testosterone thing, please just accept this. Fact: the majority of women enjoy more sensible, family-centric possessions. It's a girly thing, which men will never understand. Fact: children need space and bring with them the need for the school run and sports/hobby-related practicality. Men understand this, but frankly, it cramps our style. It's our duty. It shall be done. And the faster, the better.
In pictures: First drive of the Ferrari FF
Fortunately, that most practical of car manufacturers, Ferrari, has created a product which embraces these many quirks of human nature. Tasked with the problem of delivering a fast car with a decent capacity for luggage, security for the family, and peace of mind for the matriarch, Ferrari did what any self-respecting sportscar manufacturer would do. Its engineers reached for their biggest engine, bolted on a unique four-wheel drive system, enrobed it with a Pininfarina body, stuffed an orchestra under the bonnet, and called it the FF. For commercial reasons they'll tell you it stands for Ferrari Four, because it seats four adults and has four-wheel drive. But ladies, the fact is, it means "For Fathers". And may I remind you again; Father's Day is coming up very soon.
If pure driving pleasure is your thing, then the leather-trimmed, body-hugging driver's seat of a V12 Ferrari is a good place to be.
This was to be my first Ferrari test drive and my expectations were high — I was not disappointed. First of all I selected a driving mode (Sport, naturally) on the "Evolved GT Manettino". Now, the designers could have put the switch down on the centre console, but why would they? By definition a Ferrari has a Manettino on the wheel and it puts a smile on your face every time you step into the car. Despite the long bonnet and low-slung seats I found the visibility to be good, which was a blessing when driving on narrow roads with stone walls just inches from the tarmac.
The instrumentation, as you would expect, is dominated by a central tachometer, with a speedometer to the right and a choice of selectable digital readouts to the left. When reverse is engaged, the speedo is replaced with the view from the rear-view camera, and although it's quite a small display, I found using it easier than turning to look at a conventional screen located centrally in the dashboard. The wheel is carbon fibre, trimmed with leather and inset with a line of red LEDs at the top which, when called upon, politely suggest that you might like to change gear somewhere in the region of 8,000rpm. How very considerate.
Less considerate was the warm spell which hit the southern Tyrol region a few days before my arrival, destroying the ice-driving circuit used to demonstrate the FF's loose surface grip. Determined to produce a vehicle with four-wheel drive in order to better tackle slippery and icy conditions, Ferrari's engineers developed a unique system they call 4RM. At the front of the engine, a two-speed gearbox known as the Power Transfer Unit, driven directly from the crankshaft, provides power to the front wheels via two carbon-fibre multi-plate clutches. If the Ferrari's various sensors detect oversteer, understeer or slip at the rear wheels, drive is engaged at the front to maintain control, but only for as long as it's needed. For the majority of the time this Ferrari is exactly what it should be; a perfectly balanced rear-wheel drive car with the power to move mountains. The PTU works at speeds up to around 130kph, and if you're driving on ice and snow in a Ferrari faster than that, good luck to both you and your credit card.
The 6.3-litre V12 engine produces 650bhp at 8,000rpm, but also produces a jaw-aching grin on the face of anyone driving through the many tunnels scattered throughout Tyrolean roads. There's no need for speed through these tunnels, just lower the windows and enjoy exhaust note sensory overload. Bursting out of a tunnel to find open road ahead of you means only one thing; phenomenal acceleration. I could bore you with details of reed valves to reduce pressure under the pistons, low friction coatings and split injection controls, but what's the point? Do you find yourself regularly stuck behind a queue of traffic with barely the length of an Alpine paddock in which to overtake? With 500Nm of torque available from pretty much idle, rising to 683Nm at 6,000rpm, simply drop down a couple of gears and start chuckling. You can't help but laugh, as a dozen cars and trucks are consigned to your rear-view mirror in a heartbeat, each enveloped in that wonderful exhaust howl. Those instantaneous gear changes are as smooth as Milanese lingerie, Ferrari's dual-clutch system honed over years of racing evolution to the point where I simply couldn't find fault.
Nor could I fault the 4RM system, which combined with Ferrari's third-generation magnetorheological suspension and electronic rear differential, gives the Average Joe (or Tim) the confidence to drive like there's no tomorrow. The 4RM inspired me to fling Dh1,180,000 worth of car through endlessly winding alpine passes, the steering giving me firm feedback and precise control, and as every kilometre passed, my speed increased. Melted water from the surrounding snow would, often as not, be running across these roads, sometimes bringing mud and small stones with it, yet try as I might with a heavy right foot and exaggerated steering inputs, I couldn't make the FF lose its composure. After four hours of intense driving I reached the lunch stop exhausted but revelling in one of the most rewarding drives of my life. I was tired simply through concentrated effort, not discomfort. The seats are excellent, and during the lunch break I checked that yes, a six-foot tall passenger could sit in the back with a six-foot driver up front. I just wouldn't recommend spending four hours back there. Creature comforts extend to an optional rear-seat infotainment system with wireless headphones, DVD player and TV.
Open the boot and you realise that this is probably the most family-friendly Ferrari ever built. In four-seat configuration there's 450 litres of space available, but fold the seat forwards and there's an impressive 800 litres. There's room in this car for a family of four with two child strollers, but considerate Dads will probably want to switch to Comfort mode on the Manettino for earlier, less raucous gear changes and a marginally softer ride. I tried the Comfort settings and automatic gear changes; they add an air of refinement to this pan-European GT cruiser, but my time with this impressive car was limited and I wasn't about to spend it driving in auto.
There are Manettino settings for Ice/Snow, Wet, Comfort, Sport and ESC, with the latter switching off all traction and stability controls — I tried that just once, but very soon remembered my mortgage commitments and moved back to Sport. If you have the nerve to drive a borrowed 650bhp Ferrari on wet mountain passes with no traction control, congratulations on your racing career. Me? I'll rely on the skills of Maranello's engineers to manufacture a car which delivers pure driving pleasure, yet keeps a watchful eye over my shoulder. Should you occasionally feel the need to slow down the FF, perhaps from its 335kph maximum speed, the Brembo carbon ceramic brakes are 398mm vented discs on the front, and 360mm on the rear. Wheels are 20in in diameter, shod with 245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sports on the front, 295/35 on the rear. I have no idea what the brakes and tyres cost, but I do know they're worth every penny.
It's not easy to build an ‘extreme GT' which seats four adults yet looks both good and original, but in my view Pininfarina has done so. It's a car which is perhaps better described as handsome rather than curvaceous, but guys, ladies like handsome.
Despite my enthusiasm, the FF is not without faults. The dashboard top is reflected heavily in the windscreen, and in my car, the contrasting white stitching became quite a distraction to the view ahead. You learn to adapt and look beyond it, but I'd recommend having matching stitches on the dash top.
Finally there's the GPS. Within 30 seconds of leaving the departure point it gave me contradictory instructions, causing me to perform an unnecessary U-turn in a busy high street, drawing a great deal of attention. It also failed to direct me to the hotel for lunch, forcing me to negotiate another two klicks of glorious mountain roads at very high speed. I then had to drive slowly through a large town, where many exquisitely dressed, beautiful young women stopped, pointed and smiled at me, children crossing the road waved, men in expensive cars gave me priority at junctions and… oh hang on a minute. Actually the GPS has its benefits.
The Ferrari FF: it's fantastically fast, it's fabulous fun, it fits four. And ladies, it'll soon be Father's Day.
Enzo always considered his cars' engines his babies, but this four-seater isn't all about the marvellous 6.3-litre V12. The FF uses a seven-speed ‘box that virtually eliminates acceleration and shift lag. The E-Diff lives in the gearbox casing itself, reducing overall weight (it's still portly at 1,880kg wet).
The innovative four-wheel drive saves on complexity by using the same computer as the electronic diff and Ferrari's F1-Trac. This also means instantaneous response between the front and rear axles during torque distribution.
The 4RM system is the car's signature magic trick though, featuring the compact Power Transfer Unit for the front wheels. Ferrari's patented layout saves 50 per cent weight over traditional systems. PTU also controls the torque, running directly off the crank. There is no centre diff, just completely independent drive of the rear and front wheels.
Engine 6.3-litre V12
Transmission Seven-speed, AWD
Max power 650bhp @ 8,000rpm
Max torque 683Nm @ 6,000rpm
Top speed 335kph
Price Dh1.18 million
Plus Four-wheel drive, four seats, exhaust note
Minus Looks won't appeal to everyone