Most initial assessment of the FF was at least partially concerned with the question of identity; could this generously proportioned four-wheel-drive estate car really be considered worthy of the emblem plastered on its flanks?
Let’s tidy that one up first: yes, it most certainly can. It is not perfect or peerless like the 458, but its strengths are mighty, its demerits negligible and, crucially, it practically croons with character.
First, the strengths. There are many initial impressions to be left with on encountering the FF – its distinctive, almost strained appearance; its parking space-busting size; the utter perfection of its driving position – but all of these will be swept away by the chattering cough and percussive throb of its ignition.
The noise is liable to leave a mark on you every bit as real as the thumbprint you will have just deposited on its steering wheel-mounted starter button. Tickle the throttle and a sinful guttural giggle accompanies the first whoosh of a power delivery apparently oblivious to the FF’s accompanying 1880kg millstone.
As speed rises, the steering, light at slow speeds, inherits weight and clarity without telegraphing the technical endeavour required to get it there. It has obviously been made quick to disguise the FF’s mass and encourage deft changes of direction, but this has been achieved without the artificiality perceptible in the Mercedes SLS’s sometimes-hyperactive nose.
Together with a chassis built to chew through the quarreling computations of body control, grip limitation and suspension loading, and return nonchalant agility, the FF feels not just compliant in a user-friendly GT way, but malleable and accommodating.
All this makes car stupefyingly easy to drive up to seven tenths of its limit – as much you can sanely expect to achieve on the road – and, as such, keeps all the power firmly hot-wired to the rear axle, where it should be. In the dry, serious exuberance is required on roundabout-sized bends to press the front wheels into obvious service. Even then, this will only register as a cursory but perceptible tug from the nose as it sources sufficient traction to help trim the angle being created at the back.
Super-fast but non-threatening, svelte but seats four (it really does, and in some comfort) – where are the faults among the fanfare? Predictably, they languish much further back in the model’s practically minded repertoire. Chief among them is the ride quality, which, away from the continent, downshifts from praiseworthy into merely respectable territory.
Even with the car’s adaptive Manettino dial turned to its comfort setting, the FF is certainly not a sponge for soaking up the inconsistencies of English tarmac. More often than not it feels like a sponge being dragged hard and fast across a boxer’s mid-fight features; there’s a slim, pliable buffer beneath your hands for sure, but equally there’s no mistaking every significant cut and bruise.
Nevertheless, the result is not jarring or brittle, nor is there any hint of dislocation from the road surface. For many if not most the FF will feel coiled like a Ferrari should be, but it’s possible that for some of its money-no-object clientele the prospect of steering the family towards a distant country retreat would be better accomplished in something with a less-aggressive backbone.
The same buyers might also frown with quiet frustration at the normally exemplary gearbox’s occasional hesitancy at high street speeds. Left to deal with very light throttle loads in its auto mode, the F1-DCT occasionally misjudges the shift between first and second (and back again) as it juggles the engine’s colossal latent energy with your requirement to trickle between traffic lights.