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June 6, 2012

News & Features

Auto review: Ferrari FF is a spendy, fantastic family car

New York Times News Service

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It will cost you more than $300,000, but the Farrari FF is the most fun family car you can get. (Ferrari)

Imagine you are heading to your ski house in Aspen with a couple of friends and a weekend's worth of luggage. The forecast calls for snow. Do you grab the keys to your practical family vehicle or climb into your Ferrari?

Trick question! You do both — if, that is, you have an all-wheel-drive four-seat Ferrari FF. Which you probably don't, because the FF's base price is $302,450. And you'll never see one that cheap, because buying a Ferrari with no options is like building a Hamptons dream house without the outdoor kitchen.

Come on, man. Don't be a skinflint.

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Don't skimp. Get the matching Ferrari car seat.

Three hundred grand is a lot of money, but look at it this way: thanks to the 2012 FF's beguiling mix of pedigreed performance and down-to-earth practicality, you can sell your fair-weather 458 Italia and your winter-beater Porsche Panamera Turbo S and just drive this.

Honey, according to my numbers, it makes solid financial sense to buy a Ferrari FF.
The FF's mandate is to meld the performance of a Ferrari supercar with the four-season utility of an all-wheel-drive luxury wagon. Thus the hatchback body, which identifies the FF with a once-popular class of sporting wagon known as the shooting brake.

Under the hood lies the most powerful engine ever installed in a road-going Ferrari, a 6.3-liter V-12 that belts out 651 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. There is a passenger-side speedometer that you may dub the nag-ometer depending on who's riding in the passenger seat. With the transmission in automatic mode, the FF is a serene daily driver. One that can, when asked, race from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.

One morning, I employed the FF's heroic power plant on a preschool run, my 2-year-old strapped into a car seat in the back. The FF was very likely the only vehicle in the school parking lot that day with a quoted top speed of 208 mph. Does FF stand for "family fun"?

Actually FF stands for "Ferrari four," a reference to the four seats and four-wheel drive. Which is actually all-wheel drive, under the usual definition, at least up until about 130 mph, when it becomes rear-wheel drive. The power distribution gets quite complicated, but if you like transmissions you'll love the FF, because it has two of them.

Like the 458 Italia, the FF's electronic aggressiveness is controlled via the manettino, a small red switch on the steering wheel. Unlike the 458, the FF's manettino has no race mode. Which is too bad, because on the 458, "race" sets the active exhaust to its most vocal setting, and you want to hear the FF's song as often as possible. Conventional V-12 engines are renowned for soothing, buttery power, but the FF's flat-plane crankshaft imbues the exhaust note with a hard-edge malevolent bark. If the FF's 12 pistons were a jury, they'd never reach a verdict.

To its everlasting credit, Ferrari programs its engine-management electronics to let you rev the engine in neutral. This sounds juvenile and pointless but is something you find yourself doing surprisingly often, possibly in the garage while your children are napping inside the house. Were napping, that is.

To better enjoy the V12's comely song, I drove around with the windows down most of the time. Which meant I couldn't really hear the stereo, and that was all right, because the FF uses the same stereo and navigation system that you find in a Jeep Wrangler (an odd bit of corporate synergy from a fellow Fiat brand).

Of course, nobody buys a Ferrari for the stereo, but maybe someone at Bang & Olufsen or McIntosh needs to make a cold call to Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy. Until then, I'm sure you have the option to just cover the thing with a nice piece of leather.

I get the impression that anything in the FF can be covered in leather, possibly including the inside of the windshield. (Just leave me a small portal, Signore Schedoni.) The car I drove had a leather headliner and smelled like a winning lottery ticket. Which, if you're wondering, smells like the inside of a Ferragamo store.

That leather ceiling was but one option on a dauntingly vast list. This particular FF in Grigio Abu Dhabi paint (what the peons call "silver") was stocked with $74,891 in options, bringing the tab to $377,431. That works out to less than $100,000 per passenger, since the FF can actually seat four adults.

I'd consider many of these items to be must-haves, like the sport exhaust system and the height-adjustable suspension that can raise the front end to negotiate steep driveways. You'll want a healthy budget for fuel, too, because the federal combined city-highway fuel economy rating is 13 mpg.

Other options I could live without, like the yellow Scuderia Ferrari badges on the flanks. Given this car's Formula One soundtrack, its radical proportions, its sneering maw of an egg-crate grille, do you need extra badges to tell the world that this is a Ferrari? What else could it be? Affixing more badges to an FF is like welcoming Sophia Vergara to a dinner party and handing her a nametag.

I never had the good fortune to pilot the FF through a snowstorm, but on dry pavement the all-wheel-drive system and its front-wheel torque vectoring manifest themselves as preternatural poise. You just keep accelerating through a big, sweeping bend and the car simply goes where you aim it, faster and faster, as if there's a black hole just beyond the corner exit.

At some point, of course, the FF must relinquish its stranglehold on the pavement, but that will happen at speeds you probably shouldn't visit outside your private airstrip. You may be moved to issue warnings to your passengers, along the lines of: "You won't think this car is capable of what it's about to do. Just trust me that we're nowhere near the limits."

Before the arrival of the FF, this was the sort of vehicle that the Sultan of Brunei would have commissioned for himself, at great expense. Sure, $300,000 is a lot of money, but it's probably a steal compared with what the Sultan must have paid for his custom Ferrari 456 wagon in the '90s. And you can drive it year-round, with jealous relatives or your purebred Chinese cresteds (or both) along for the ride.

Put it this way: This is the Ferrari for people who aren't buying their first Ferrari. Understand that, and you understand the decision to step outside the safe confines of supercar orthodoxy. Unlike the 458 Italia or the 599 GTB, each descended from decades' worth of predecessors, the FF is a new branch on the family tree. It's a daring car, and I love the confidence it represents.

Ferrari could have just gone with the crowd and built a low-slung four-door like the Aston Martin Rapide. Instead it built a modern version of the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan racecar, and bully on them for doing it. The world has enough Mercedes CLS clones. It doesn't have nearly enough Ferrari shooting brakes.

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