PUTTING a 4WD system into a grand tourer isn’t new - Jensen did it 50 years ago with its FF.  Porsche and Bentley use it in their saloons and it all became a bit academic until Ferrari unveiled its interpretation, the FF.

It was unexpected but, in hindsight, makes sense as the bespoke car maker broadens its market and listens to its customers.  The Ferrari FF, the replacement to the 612 Scaglietti, ups the ante in more ways than just a 4WD system.

The car, here early next year with an estimated price of $625,000, has a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission mounted in the rear; a direct-injection V12 with 486kW/683Nm and a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds; comes standard with carbon-ceramic disc brakes; sats four adults and their luggage; and has a multitude of drivetrain and suspension adjustments to hone the car to each driver’s whim.

VALUE

It will cost about $625,000 when it gets here in February. If you can afford it, you’d probably say it has good value.  But that’s only half he story - the option list is huge and even now, Australian importers Ateco Automotive haven’t nailed down the final specifications. You’ll have to save the pennies and wait.

DESIGN

It looks a lot better in the flesh and I bet you’ve also heard that about the Porsche Panamera.  But in this case it’s true. The rear end initially looks awkward - almost like a stunted panel van - but is the reason the car is so versatile with its accommodation.

The cabin is beautiful in design with the best textiles and plastics - as you’d expect for the price - and even though the steering wheel controls are complex, they are styled to convince you they’re very workable.

TECHNOLOGY

The FF gets a very overhauled version of the outgoing 612‘s 6-litre V12, now up to 6.3 litres and with direct petrol injection.  The big news is the extended crankshaft to which is bolted the front power transfer unit (PTU) that sends torque to the front wheels.

The PTU works completely independent of the rear wheels and work on demand. The simplicity is the two gears to cope with the different speeds of the front and rear wheels.

True, two gears can’t do what seven gears are doing to the rear wheels. There’s a simple answer - viscous clutches. These take up any speed differences between the front and rear wheels.

The PTU is controlled by electronics that also looks after the engine and the gearbox and the rear E-Diff. So they’re all talking the same language and that allows the computer to use ABS and ESC and other sensors to allocate torque precisely to the wheel(s) with the most traction.

The seven-speed - a first for Ferrari and the first model also with an overdrive gear - box is a dual-clutch unit that’s mounted with the diff at the rear of the car.

There are three modes for the transmission and engine - automatic, sport and race. Each changes the response of the drivetrain and, in race, keeps the exhaust free for that glorious sound.  Road conditions can also be dialed up, for wet, ice and snow and even to turn the ESC off.

The front suspension retains Ferrari’s normal double-wishbone system but the rear is an all-new multi-link arrangement that is claimed to improve ride comfort.

On top of all this, the steering wheel now caries all the switches previously handled by column stalks. Gear changes are via long carbon-fibre paddles.

SAFETY

The FF has four airbags because Ferrari says that’s sufficient and has done all the crash tests - including an 80km/h rollover - and come away with the maximum star rating.

On top of that, there’s a brilliant traction system that introduces all-wheel drive and the ability to cope with snow and ice, and carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes with discs the size of a family pizza plate. Without fade and with virtually an unlimited disc life, the brakes will pull the FF down from 100km/h in an incredible 35m - or exactly 2.7 seconds.

DRIVING

Died and gone to heaven. The FF is almost what the perfect car should be - versatile, comfortable, quiet, breathtakingly quick and capable of arousing its driver with a sound track of soaring cresendos, resonate basses and sharp, urgent barks.  It’s tactile, aural and visual experience is its magic.

The massive, time-worn faces of the Dolomites on Italy’s northern border are etched with tightly-wound and narrow ribbons of road that rise and fall, twist and turn. Perhaps too tight for the 5m long car but the complexity of the route didn’t daunt the FF.

Not only was it nimble enough to wind its way up to 2200m above sea level, but so comfortable that occupants were never compromised - and that was a huge surprise in a car from Ferrari.

Flick the lever from “auto’’ - which is actually a very smooth and city-friendly gear mode - to “sport’‘ and the car changes, hunkers down, gets a bit noisier and feels more poised for battle.  Go to “race” and the baffles in the exhaust system are relieved so making the car bark and spit and passers-by gasp.

Yes, as expected, it’s fast. Unexpected is how easy it is to drive. The engine is immensely torquey - 500Nm from 1000rpm - so it softens the feeling of urgency. It’s only the G-force on your face and the powerful swing of the tacho needle on its yellow facia that tells the real story.

The engine delivers its maximum 486kW at 8000rpm and the engine has a cut out at 8200rpm, so it’s an engine that will run hard and effortlessly from idle right through to the red line and never slow its delivery.

Impressive - and yes I know that goes hand-in-hand with the price tag - is the ultra-fast gear shifts, the comfort of the suspension and seats, and the tremendous power of that engine.  Against this is the initial confusion caused by the steering wheel’s switchgear - especially at speed or when fanging through the mountains - and he sheer width of the car.

The rear seats will seat two adults in comfort and Ferrari claims they can both be 1.8m tall - but it also depends on the height of the front occupants.

I could rant about the improved fuel economy over the previous model, but I feel that may be time wasted.

VERDICT

Brilliant! This car returns Ferrari to the podium of automotive technology and shows that, money aside, you can have an eminently capable high-speed grand tourer that is city-friendly.

FERRARI FF ****

Price: est. $625,000
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km, roadside assist
Resale: n/a
Service Interval: 10,000km or 12 months
Economy: 15.4 l/100km; 360g/km CO2

SAFETY

Equipment: four airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC.
Crash rating: 5 star

TECHNICAL

Engine: 486kW/683Nm 6.3-litre V12 petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto 0-100km/h: 3.7sec
Body: 2-door, 4 seats
Dimensions: 4907 (L); 1953mm (W); 1379mm (H); 2990mm (WB)
Weight: 1790kg
Tyre size: 245/35ZR20; 295/35ZR20
Spare tyre: Aerosol kit