Before we get into the whys or hows, let's get straight to exactly what it is that the new Ferrari FF delivers. Because one single mile of road succinctly sums up what it has to offer and, rather conveniently, it's the mile I've just driven.
It starts perfectly calmly, on a straight, nicely surfaced valley road in the Italian Dolomites. Although it's a fast road, progress is pegged by slow-moving traffic ahead. There is no frustration from the FF, though. There's minimal road, wind and engine noise, and with its 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox in Auto and adaptive dampers in Comfort mode, the FF does slow very well. But when the traffic moves aside and the road ahead disappears into a tunnel, the FF shows it does fast and loud even better.
Power is provided by a 651hp 6.3-liter V12 engine. However, it is torque rather than top-end power that defines how the FF responds because, with 504lb ft, it has more torque than even the 599 GTO. And with 80 percent of that maximum figure available from 1750rpm, the FF is not only fast – as quick from zero to 124mph as the 599 GTB despite the extra weight – but also effortless.
But, presented with a tunnel and a V12 Ferrari, low-end response has to give way to top-end noise; the FF is a classic-sounding Ferrari, the noise more derived from the engine than the exhaust.
Emerging into daylight, the road quickly changes character, first becoming twistier and then starting to climb. Through the initial corners – fast third and fourth-gear ones – the FF feels like a classic rear-drive GT, albeit with a faster steering ratio than perhaps I'd expected; at 2.2 turns it is only fractionally slower than that of the 458 Italia. With the manettino switch moved to Sport, firming up the dampers, the FF turns with real agility and little body roll.
And then, with no warning, the road throws up an evil section of bumps – which the FF soaks up fluidly, even in Sport – before slowing to a second-gear hairpin. And it is here that the FF performs a trick no other production Ferrari has previously been able to. Get the FF's nose turned in – it will understeer a little if you're too ambitious with entry speed – and then simply bury the throttle. What happens next is not a demonstration of clever traction control and stability systems – although the FF has those in abundance – but of what happens when you direct the drive from a Ferrari V12 not only to the rear wheels but also the fronts. The FF is the first four-wheel-drive production Ferrari. The result is near-perfect traction, zero interruption in power and simply staggering acceleration.
The mile is almost up, but leading immediately from the hairpin is one final corner and another insight into the FF. A mid-range third-gear corner, it would be easily flat in the dry, but today there's a stream of melting snow running across the road mid-corner. A tell-tale dash graphic indicates that the front axle is again being called upon – information that can be relayed to the front passenger on a display just above the glove box, should you want to scare/reassure them – but there is no apparent loss of grip and no call to the ESP gods. Sure, a rear-drive Ferrari would be equally safe with the electronics on, but I bet it would be more dramatic.
So in just one mile the FF has shown that it can cut it at low speeds, that it is refined and rides well, that it sounds the business, and that it can serve up quite staggering straight-line and cross-country pace. And it has done all that while carrying three full-size adults in comfort and 16 cubic feet of luggage – or all the photographic and video equipment we bring on a job like this. "Impressive" doesn't really do it justice.
So why has Ferrari produced a four-wheel-drive station wagon? Partly because there has been perhaps too much crossover between its two-seat and four-seat V12s, and partly because Ferrari is broadening its product scope, but mainly because its customers asked for a more usable car. You'd also imagine that the addition of four-wheel drive would be a major sales boon in certain markets – the snow belt of North America, for instance.