2012 Ferrari FF
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Power660 hp / 504 lb-ft
MPG11 City / 17 Hwy
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OMG! The winningest team in Formula 1 and the company that best translates that racing technology to its road cars has gone off the reservation and built an all-wheel-drive wagon with a suspension that goes up and down like a Range Rover’s. Not even Nostradamus saw this coming. The Mayans were right — the world is ending in 2012!
Have it your way: Ferrari offers 16 standard colors, 10 colors inspired
by the 1960′s, 12 non-standard colors, and 3 three-layer colors. Pair
them with polished, matte, or black rims, six caliper colors, and myriad
combinations of interior monotone or multi-tone leathers and stitching. An online configurator makes them all available for internet dreamers.
Such was the hysterical reaction of many following the Geneva unveiling of Ferrari’s latest V-12 grand tourer, the FF. That’s because the company decided to go for a revolutionary redesign of the 612 Scaglietti with the aim of luring more rich golfers and skiers. Basically the design brief was this: Make the car fit four full-sized 95th-percentile adults, plus a couple of tournament golf bags or four people’s roller bags for a weekend getaway within the 612′s footprint, while ensuring that it could A) reach the slopes safely in winter, and B) perform like any other Ferrari on dry pavement.
Those packaging requirements pretty much forced Pininfarina into the controversial square-back design (call it a “shooting-brake” if you’re fancy), but at least this shape contributed to the 20-percent improvement in overall aerodynamic efficiency. By raising the roof just 1.4 inches, the car can snugly carry four 6-footers while providing Porsche Panamera-topping luggage space in back.
The performance targets sent the engineering department to their drawing boards. The first goal requires all-wheel-drive (plus proper winter tires and that optional hydraulic lift that boosts ground clearance by 1.6 inches up to 20 mph), while the second demands a rear weight and drive-torque bias. Those divergent requirements basically ruled out every known AWD system since the Jensen FF’s, including Nissan’s tangle of driveshafts and transaxle solution. (It adds too much weight and wrecks the underbody packaging.)
Ferrari’s solution? Drive the front wheels using a small gearbox bolted to the front of the crankshaft. To minimize weight, it uses just two forward gears plus reverse, and instead of a differential it uses a wet multi-plate clutch to engage each front wheel as needed. Of course you’re thinking, Wait! That’s bad math; how can this two-speed front transaxle get along with a rear transaxle that’s been upgraded to seven speeds (a twin-clutch unit based on the 458 Italia’s)?
Easy. First, you decide that all-wheel traction is not required above 133 mph and you blow off the top three gears. Then you gear the two ratios just a skosh taller than second and fourth gears in the rear (6 percent to be exact; reverse gearing is identical). Slippage in the clutch packs keeps everything turning at the right speeds whenever front traction is deemed necessary.
That ratio difference enables a bonus feature — torque vectoring — because there’s always enough extra speed on hand to allow the system to over-drive the outside wheel and assist with turn-in. It also helps combat the feeling of understeer that plagues many AWD systems. In the worst case of rear-wheel slippage, a maximum of 20 percent of available engine torque goes to the front wheels.
Ferrari’s 4RM (ruote motrici — 4WD in Italian) system monitors myriad engine, body, and chassis sensors to compare instantaneous grip levels at all four tires with the driver’s demand for torque in order to predictively apply front-axle torque before the rears slip. Ferrari engineers swear on a stack of Formula 1 race-results books that 4RM is only useful in inclement conditions, and that it never intervenes during a hot lap of a sticky, dry track like Fiorano (and hence contributes nothing to lap times). But get a few proseccos in some of them and they’ll grudgingly allow that maybe it’s good for a tenth or two in launch times in a straight line.
These protestations strike me as BS intended for the consumption of rival Lamborghini, which leans pretty hard on AWD for performance. I’d swear on my career’s worth of hastily scribbled road tests that those front tires are pulling as hard as they know how when exiting the hairpin after the bridge at Fiorano, and that in doing so they’re shrinking lap times, but that’s just me.
The 4RM system is said to weigh less than 90 pounds, including the dedicated cooling circuit that keeps its ever-slipping carbon-fiber-lined clutch packs cool. That’s half the mass of competing systems, and it’s mostly offset by weight savings in the new twin-clutch transaxle (which incorporates an electronic rear differential lock), and new aluminum space frame technology that cuts weight by 5 percent while boosting rigidity by 6 percent. Ferrari claims the FF weighs the same as its similarly sized 612 predecessor and maintains its critical 47/53-percent front/rear weight distribution.
A new V-12 engine based on the 599/Enzo architecture gets direct fuel injection (enabling a compression bump to 12.3:1) and a 2-mm bore increase. Displacement jumps to 6262 cc, friction reductions, a reed-valve system in the dry-sump oiling system that cuts windage losses, and improved combustion control due to ion-sensing of in-cylinder exhaust after each ignition cycle combine to boost output to 651 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 504 pound-feet at 6000 rpm. And with an optional HELE system — that stands for high emotion/low emissions and includes auto start/stop, low-consumption fuel pump, radiator-fan motors, A/C compressor, etc. — the FF also gets 25 percent better fuel economy than the 612 on the European cycle. (The EPA hasn’t completed its testing yet and if HELE bumps the FF into the next gas-guzzler-tax bracket it will become standard equipment.)
Icing on the cake: Thanks to the build-complexity simplification of its shared engine and transaxle architectures, Ferrari expects to sell the more powerful, more capable FF for the same price as the 612 Scaglietti ($300K, give or take, if you have to ask).
The square-backed FF’s aerodynamic efficiency — lift coefficient divided by drag coefficient (0.200/0.329=0.608) — is the segment’s highest. Credit goes to lift-reducing elements like functional air-extractors in the front fenders and a rear diffuser that incorporates a small wing; and drag-reducing features like the roof profile and the base-bleed air outlets that exhaust high-pressure air from the rear wheel housings through vents outboard of the tail lamps, which help detach the airflow cleanly.
To help drive home the point that this is the ne-plus-ultra ski-weekend machine, Ferrari choppered a pair of FFs up to the top of a mountain in the Dolomites in northern Italy for us to drive on a tight, twisting and hilly snow course. They were shod in the factory optional Pirelli Sottozero winter tires (the rears are a size narrower than the Pilot Super Sport K1 summer tires, 285 versus 295/30R20).
Sure enough, the car clawed its way around the intimidatingly icy-bermed course with aplomb. Advancing through the steering wheel manettino switch’s five chassis-dynamics settings (ice, wet, comfort, sport, and ESC off) permitted ever-increasing degrees of yee-haw drifting, and the car easily launched from dead stop on a particularly slick incline in any mode. Mission A accomplished.
The next day we sampled a different FF, wearing summer tires, by terrorizing the spectacular hairpins and sweepers that connect the Dolomites’ many small ski resorts in order to assess Ferrari’s progress on goal B. First impressions: Acceleration feels about as ballistic as a 599′s (the factory claims 0-62 mph takes 3.7 seconds en route to a top speed of 208 mph); the twin-clutch F1 gearbox performs flawlessly when driven in anger, banging off instantaneous shifts via the paddles and doing an astonishing job of predicting which gear is appropriate when driven in sport/auto mode. It resists kicking down from cruising speeds to the gear that will produce max acceleration for passing in automatic mode, but Ferrari may yet fix this annoying quirk between now and October’s start of volume production.
A digital display indicating instantaneous torque delivery to the road, which turns blue when the front wheels kick in, confirmed my suspicions about 4RM’s usefulness on dry pavement. I’d be surprised if a 458 Italia could shoot out of the tightest hairpins as quickly as this FF — especially if the corners were peppered with a bit of sand or grit. Sadly, Ferrari says this display was for development purposes only and won’t be fitted to customer cars. We implored the engineers to reconsider.
Quicker reacting third-generation (SCM3) magnetorheological shocks virtually eliminate any trace of body roll in high-g turns while cushioning dips and bumps like a true cruiser. The cartoonishly enormous (15.7 x 1.5-inch front, 14.2 x 1.3-inch rear) third-gen CCM brakes feel smoother than ever on initial application and as indefatigable as always in terms of fade (Ferrari claims 62-0 braking requires 114 feet — impressive for a 4250-pound car). In one long, hard downhill braking zone, however, the pedal pushed back against my foot toward the end. The engineers surmised that this might have signaled the intervention of the Electronic Brake Differential system (ABS was not yet active). It felt strange, but not disconcerting.
So after blowing quickly through most of 24 gallons of pricy premium Euro fuel, did the FF make me yearn to sell my house and my surplus internal organs to own one? No. This car is bound to disappoint any serious enthusiast who has sampled a 458. It’s just a bit too Ferrari for Dummies in some ways — automated and idiot-proofed (which is probably just what the insanely wealthy novice drivers in Ferrari’s Asian growth markets need). The roar of its V-12 engine stirs the soul above 6000 rpm, but at lower revs it sounds a bit utilitarian, like a UPS truck or a Viper. Its steering feels too light and doesn’t communicate half the road-surface detail you get from a 458 or Porsche 911 helm.
And the name FF (for Ferrari Four) utterly fails to conjure the Italian bravura that every other recent Ferrari name does (say “seicento dodici Scaglietti” and “eff-eff” and see which one causes you to spontaneously gesticulate and adopt Raul Julia’s “Gumball Rally” accent). It instead calls to mind a fragile and flawed British AWD pioneer that utterly flopped in the marketplace. And even this enthusiastic owner of five station wagons has yet to warm up to Pininfarina’s two-box design on a supercar.
Still, IMHO, Ferrari has wrought an engineering miracle, and I sincerely hope this patented design finds many more sporting applications.
|2012 Ferrari FF|
|Base price||$300,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|Engine||6.3L/651-hp/504-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12|
|Transmission||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|Weight||4250 lb (mfr est)|
|L x W x H||193.2 x 76.9 x 54.3 in|
|0-62 mph||3.7 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA fuel econ||Not yet rated|
|On sale||October, 2011|
By Frank Markus