The inside scoop on Ferrari’s new FF
Paul Horrell reports back from Maranello on Ferrari’s 4WD supercar
The first thing we were told - this was the marketing man speaking - is that the FF was designed around customers' wish-lists. This made us scared.
Customers have no idea what's possible, or which characteristics are incompatible. It's like asking diners in a restaurant to detail the ingredients instead of letting the infinitely more knowledgeable chef do it for them.
Anyway, apparently people wanted a Ferrari with room for four. And a big boot. And they wanted it to be a whole lot more driveable in the wet (fair enough - a 599 is sphincter-puckeringly skittish in the wet).
This could have resulted in a bulky, ill-proportioned car, an ugly looker designed to fit around the people and the golf bags, as well as the huge engine. It could have been heavy and cumbersome, with a complicated and heavy 4WD transmission.
Which would have met the brief but it wouldn't have looked like a Ferrari should, or driven like one. And the customers, despite having got what they asked for, would have run a mile.
But then we started to speak with Amedeo Felisa, Ferrari's CEO who happens to have come up through the engineering ranks there and is an absolute supercar genius. He explained what's been done to make it agile and fast, as well as manageable in the wet even with - get this - 660bhp on tap.
Can a car have 4WD for security, but still drive like a Ferrari? Can even Ferrari manage that?
Well, the FF doesn't actually have a normal heavy 4WD system with a centre diff and an extra prop shaft. It has a normal Ferrari configuration, with the drive going from the V12 back to a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox driving the rear wheels. This is good for weight distribution, and in the dry the FF is as fast around a track as a 599 (it's only a little heavier, yet usefully more powerful). Felisa swears it feels like a proper front-engined RWD V12 Ferrari, too. And he has spoken the truth to me in these matters all the 16 years I've been interviewing him.
So what about the four-wheel drive, then? Uniquely, power is also taken off the front of the engine, which is behind the front wheel centres. It's fed to a compact lightweight unit containing a set of clutches that can progressively feed in torque to a tiny integrated gearbox and front diff. It has only two gears, roughly the equivalent of third and seventh in the main box. How can this be? Because the clutches are always slipping under electronic control, and the front tyres would never be able to make use of all the V12's torque in first or second.
What this means is the car's electronics can smoothly dial up a portion of drive to the fronts if they predict a loss of traction at the back. Yes, they're predictive as well as reactive. And they only do this in the road and slippery-road settings of the steering-wheel manettino. In the more hardcore modes, you can still run it as pretty well entirely rear-drive.
Finally, we took a proper look around it and inside, with design chief Flavio Manzoni. Honestly, they've pulled one out of the hat here. Provided you like long-roofed sports cars - and I do, having had the hots for a Lancia HPE in my young days, and owned a BMW Z3 M Coupe - it's a well-proportioned athletic, fuss-free and, yes, rather beautiful design.
Inside, it's as sumptuous and well equipped and roomy as those choosy buyers could have wanted. The hatchback opens to a decent boot, and the two back seats fold so it can swallow pushbike-sized objects. There are even entertainment screens in the back of the front headrests. How can travelling in a 660bhp Ferrari be so boring it needs the additional stimulation of an in-flight movie?
Of course we haven't driven it yet, but on this first examination I've got to hand it to them. Clever Ferrari for making a car that seems to meet so many incompatible objectives.
Clever too the customers for drawing up such a laundry list, and having faith that Ferrari would indeed come back whiter than white.
We've got more details on Ferrari’s new 4WD supercar in the new issue of Top Gear magazine - on sale now.