The four-seat Ferrari FF is the replacement for the 612 Scaglietti and the first production Ferrari to feature four-wheel drive. And if that wasn’t enough to be contending with, the FF is also an estate – or shooting brake.
The FF’s wheelbase is 40mm longer than the 612 it’s replacing, to help increase cabin space. Power is provided by a 651bhp 6.3-litre V12, a development of that used in the Enzo and 599 GTB.
But what is interesting about the FF is how it delivers drive to the road, because unlike a conventional all-wheel drive system, there is no centre differential. Instead, for the majority of the time, the FF is effectively a regular rear-wheel-drive Ferrari, with the power directed to the back wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Only when drive is required at the front axle is power taken directly from the engine into a second gearbox. The fascinating aspect is that neither of the two front ratios are a match for those in the rear gearbox. The wheel speed mismatch is then managed by slipping two clutches in the forward gearbox.
These clutches also provide the role of the front differential, not only to manage traction but also to provide torque vectoring for improved handling. Apparently the slipping clutches don’t overheat, because in practice drive is delivered to the front axle only for short periods.
The system is compact and light (Ferrari claim it adds just 45kg) and, with no front differential, steering feel corruption is minimised.
Like the 612 that went before it, the FF is a car you’d happily drive serious distances in: it rides well (despite excellent agility), it’s quiet when you want it to be and it’s got a large 91-litre fuel tank. But most of all, because it’s powered by an epic engine.
It doesn’t feel as insanely ballistic as a 599 GTB in the lower gears, but in third and above it’s mighty, and since 80 per cent of the engine’s 504lb ft of torque is available from 1750rpm, it feels every bit as effortless as a serious GT should.
The FF accelerates from 0-124mph in 11.0sec, exactly matching Ferrari’s claims for the 599 GTB despite the 599’s superior power-to-weight ratio. In part this can be explained by the FF’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, but also its superior traction.
While from a refinement perspective the four-wheel drive engages imperceptibly (a tell-tale dash graphic displays when the front axle is being called upon), the effect on the cornering behaviour can be felt. Through fast corners the FF retains the sense of being rear driven, but in slow-to-medium speed bends – just at the point where the FF is about to transition into oversteer – the front drive intervenes and there is a sense that the FF is being pulled as well as pushed.
The result is that for a 651bhp car it comes with remarkably little intimidation, just the ability to dispense its performance potential extremely effectively. Which for a GT car makes sense, as does the fact that the four-wheel drive system means the FF needn’t be sidelined during the winter.
But from an emotive point of view the addition of all-wheel drive has eroded a little of the interaction often expected with a Ferrari. Sure the FF looks and sounds sensational, but sometimes it would be nice to be a little more involved in the job of managing and exploiting what fundamentally feels like a nicely sorted rear-drive chassis.
For such a large car, the FF hides its size and weight impressively well. It can take a while to get tuned into the FF’s surprisingly quick steering ratio, but with time the steering becomes almost instinctive.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the FF is the absence of a direct rival. Probably the closest competitor is the Bentley Continental GT, but in truth they are very different cars. The Bentley is heavier, more obviously four-wheel drive, and not as agile or fun to drive.
Given all this, it is impossible not to be impressed with what Ferrari has achieved. The only word of caution though, is that the FF is a different type of Ferrari to a 599 or 458, and for anyone contemplating a purchase that is key to understand.