Thursday, August 18, 2011

Putting the Ferrari FF Through Its Paces, High in the Italian Alps

Ferrari FF: Ferrari's First All-Wheel-Drive Car Lawrence Ulrich
Brunico, Italy - A snowy K-Mart parking lot would have worked fine. But this being Ferrari, and the star its tradition-shredding FF – a $300,000 all-wheel-drive station wagon -- a little high-altitude showboating seemed in order. So with a boost from the Italian army’s Chinook helicopters, Ferrari flew a pair of FF’s to the windswept peak of Plan de Corones, a popular ski resort in its wondrous Dolomites, and told us to have at it. Ridiculous? Why, yes. But no more so than a 208-mph, 651-horsepower Italian pony that can carry four tall adults and cargo while galloping safely over snow, ice, dirt or puddles on the Pomona freeway.

Take a closer look at the Ferrari FF At the 7,464-foot peak, with goggled skiers watching agog, I began acclimating to Ferrari’s first all-wheel-drive car.
A press of the red “start” button on the racing-style steering wheel and the FF’s 6.3-liter V-12 dramatically fills its lungs. With Raffaela de Simone -- just 30 years old, but already a 10-year veteran Ferrari test driver -- riding shotgun, I tiptoe around the carved-out snow course, leaving the steering wheel’s tiny manettino lever in its Snow/Ice setting. It’s the most vigilant of five performance envelopes, including Wet, Comfort, Sport and ESC Off, the latter disabling all traction and stability systems. I leave that setting for Raffaela’s expert hands, as he rips around this fantasy half-pipe with Olympian daring, casually explaining the car’s systems in Italian-spiced English.
“If we see that electronic systems may help the car, we develop them; if not, we don’t,” he says, demonstrating by hurtling sideways and blasting roostertails of snow from the 20-inch Pirelli Sottozero tires.
On this slippery surface, any help is appreciated: You’d expect this beast to be all white knuckles, but I quickly realize that an anxious grandmother could guide the FF, and quickly, through a howling snowstorm. Any clumsy throttle stab or steering-wheel jerk is instantly smoothed over, at nearly Lexus levels of protectiveness; spins and slides are electronically denied. The critical role of those optional winter tires can’t be overstated. For tearing it up in the dry, the peerless new Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard.
Within two laps, I’m confident enough to venture up to Sport mode, using the throttle to rotate the FF around corners like a Camaro-lovin’ teenager. Yet the trusty stability control still reels me in when it senses the teenager might lose it into a snowdrift.
Like much of the car’s technology, the manettino descends from Ferrari’s Formula 1 racers. Consider it the nerve center of a human-machine interface in which every driver input and road surface condition – good, middling, potentially disastrous -- is sensed, analyzed and reacted to.
The manettino also controls the third generation of Ferrari’s magnetorheological suspension system, a technology first seen on the Corvette. An electronically controlled magnetic field adjusts the viscosity of metal-filled fluid within the shock absorbers. The system monitors the road surface and handling forces, and can vary shock stiffness every millisecond.
And now, a single CPU melds and masterminds Ferrari’s patented 4RM four-wheel-drive system; its ever-improving dual-clutch, seven-speed F1 gearbox; and the F1 Trac traction control and E-Diff electronic rear differential that estimate grip in real time to deliver maximum, crushing power to the pavement. Or, in my case, to several feet of packed alpine snow.

Ferrari FF: Round the Bend:

Practically Exotic

The FF stands for “Ferrari Four” both for its four-wheel-drive and its four beautifully wrought (yet somewhat unyielding) seats. What Ferrari bills as the world’s most powerful four-seater is the successor to the largely unloved 612 Scaglietti. And the front-engined FF is the largest, heaviest Ferrari. This two-ton, V-12 gran turismo stretches past 193 inches, barely shy of the similarly hatchbacked Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide.
Like its less-costly German and British rivals, the Ferrari’s arrival advances the trend toward roomier, more-practical performance cars, regardless of price. Yet a skeptic might still question the world’s crying need for a do-it-all Ferrari: If this kind of kingmaker needs the space that day, why not grab the Range Rover, BMW 7-Series, or another of the half-dozen cars in his travertine-floored garage? But only about 800 FFs will be produced in Maranello this year, with 200 U.S.-bound and spoken for, so that question is moot for now. And far more than traditional, two-plus-two GTs, the Ferrari does allow four full-length adults to share the high-speed adventure and valet-line glory. That back seat is roomier and more reachable than the Aston’s, but tighter than the Porsche’s. Behind those seats, gift-wrapped in sensuous semi-aniline leather, there’s nearly 16 cubic feet of cargo space – on par with a VW GTI or other compact hatch – and about 30 cubes with rear seats folded.
Yet where the Porsche and Aston are sort-of-sedans, the Ferrari is a bona fide shooting brake. That’s a somewhat faded British term for bird-hunting, estate-roaming cars, including older Astons and Bentleys, which are essentially two-door station wagons.
The FF’s Pininfarina design takes several days and a few deep breaths to get used to, but this is ultimately a dominant, defiantly handsome machine, especially its knockout rear three-quarter view. Sure, the basic layout recalls the old BMW Z3 coupe – along with shooting brakes of yore -- but all similarities end there.
Like all recent Ferraris, the FF’s wind-cheating body wraps around a rigid aluminum spaceframe, here using 23 types of alloys in its lightweight nodes, extrusions and castings.
The FF is no featherweight, but still weighs nearly 1,000 fewer pounds than Bentley’s rival Continental GT Supersports. Power-to-weight ratio actually tops Ferrari’s formidable 599 GTB. Nestled behind the FF’s grinning lothario face, the new direct-injection V-12 allows a lofty 12.3:1 compression ratio, 504 pound-feet of torque, and 8,000 wailing rpm. Call upon the computerized launch control, and the FF hooks up all four tires and churns to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, its


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