The Ferrari FF marks the return of the shooting brake, a configuration largely forgotten.

What is most interesting about the FF, however, is how it delivers drive to the road. Unlike any other production Ferrari, it's four-wheel drive. Ferrari had previously dabbled with four driven wheels in the 1987 408 Integrale concept, but the V12-engined FF is the first to make series production with such a system.

Road test editor
The FF is a full-size Grand Tourer with a 651bhp V12 and four-wheel drive

Unlike a conventional all-wheel drive transmission, there is no centre differential in the FF. 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 automatic 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 also compact and light (Ferrari claims it adds just 45kg) and, with no front differential, steering feel corruption is reputedly minimised.

Like the 612 Scaglietti that went before it, the FF is a car in which you’d happily drive serious distances: it rides well for the most part (despite excellent agility), it’s quiet when you want it to be, it has a large, 91-litre fuel tank and is claimed to average 18.3mpg. But you'd choose to drive it most of all because it’s powered by an epic engine – a 651bhp 6.3-litre V12, a development of that found in the Enzo and 599GTB. The addition of direct injection and stop-start helps bring a 25 per cent improvement in emissions over the 612, too, resulting in a CO2 figure of 360g/km.

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. Consequently the 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in just 3.7sec, and the FF can power on to a top speed of 208mph

More impressively, against the clock the FF accelerates from 0-124mph in 11.0sec, exactly matching Ferrari’s claims for the 599 GTB – despite that car’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. And in real-world use, on anything but completely dry roads, the FF is likely to be the significantly quicker car. The engine delivers 80 per cent of its torque from as low as 1750rpm, making it remarkably tractable.

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. For a GT car that makes sense, as does the fact that the 4WD system means the FF needn’t be sidelined during the winter. We tested it briefly on snow (with winter tyres) and it coped well enough, so if you've a snowy chalet that you need to get to, post-haste, this would be a commendable choice.

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 tune in to the FF’s surprisingly quick steering ratio, but with time the steering becomes almost instinctive – at which point the FF changes direction with very little body roll, beyond the first initial weight transfer (particularly with the adjustable dampers in their firmer setting, achieved by moving the Manettino to Sport).

There are only a few minor issues with the FF. Its normally superb dual-clutch gearbox can occasionally be hesitant at low speed, for one thing. In auto more, under light throttle openings in traffic, the F1-DCT transmission can intermittently shuffle back and forth between first and second as it tries to balance the engine's output with the necessity to trundle along among slow-moving cars.

Some potential buyers may also frown at its ride quality which, away from the smooth roads of the continent, is merely respectable. 
Even with the FF’s adaptive Manettino dial pointed towards 'Comfort', the FF doesn't quite deal with the roughness of some British roads as well as you might hope. It's smooth enough, but there's no mistaking the potholes or divots underneath the FF's wheels.

Regardless, the finished product isn't uncomfortable or jarring. Many will expect the FF to feel firmly sprung and reactive, which it does, but those looking for a luxury GT may be better off in something softer and more pliant.

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.

Then there's the fact that the Ferrari is remarkably well packaged, with plenty of interior space (yes, it really seats four), a decent load bay, and a refined and comfortable cabin. While you could conclude that a 4.9m-long car should be able to offer decent space, the Maserati GranTurismo is only 20mm shorter and yet provides significantly less space.

Given all this, it is impossible not to be impressed by 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.