South Tyrol, also known as Südtirol, isn’t typically Italian. Nestled within the impossibly jagged limestone mountain range that forms the Dolomites in the north-east of the country, the region is home to half a million people and some of the most staggeringly beautiful countryside I have ever had the privilege to see.
It’s an extremely wealthy part of Italy, where an exceptional degree of self-governance has played an important role in its development over the decades. Litter is conspicuous by its complete absence, and the predominant language spoken is German.
No matter where you go or look, breathtaking splendour abounds, with dense forestry clinging to the sides of mountains that look impossible to climb, plunging into huge lakes circled by roadways that cry out to be driven on with vigour in a suitably glamorous GT car. It’s the kind of area petrolheads daydream about exploring – it’s what performance cars are for, after all. It’s little wonder, then, that Ferrari has chosen Südtirol to showcase its latest car.
Aren’t Ferraris the antithesis of a place like this, though? A bit brash. A bit vulgar, perhaps? They’re loud, attention-seeking and bought as much for their badges as for their towering abilities. But one Ferrari has, for the past five years, stood apart as a low-key alternative with a unique position in the marketplace: the FF.
There has never been anything remotely brash or vulgar about the FF. On the contrary, it has always been a class act that quietly got on with the business of being extremely fast, capable and uniquely stylish. But now it’s history – the model with nomenclature signifying that it had four seats and four-wheel drive has had time called on it, replaced by a model that, at first glance, looks little different. But as is the way with Ferrari, that half decade since the FF’s introduction has been spent developing a significantly improved machine.
It’s called the GTC4Lusso, continuing its maker’s annoying recent habit of not putting spaces into the model names, but it sounds sexier when the Italians refer to it as “GTC-Quattro-Lusso”. The Lusso tag is one that plays an important part in Ferrari’s heritage, with the 250 GT Lusso that was built between 1963 and 1964 being one of its most revered and collectible models. As you might have guessed, the word is Italian for “luxury” – and the GTC4 is nothing if not luxurious.
It’s a car designed for covering huge distances in, offering (reasonably) spacious accommodation for four and an overload of glamour and technical sophistication. And as one might reasonably expect, the Lusso is a little bit better, bigger, quicker and more efficient than its forebear.
The FF broke with long-held Ferrari tradition by bringing four-wheel drive into the mix, with a superbly clever system that delivered a rear-wheel drive experience until the point the front wheels need traction, when it dug its heels in and brought confidence inspiring handling to the fore, in total control of its considerable power.
The Lusso has all this and more, introducing even more new tech, but surprisingly, it retains a naturally aspirated V12 when the assumption was that Ferrari would make its entire range turbocharged. That this glorious engine will be around for at least another few years is cause for rejoicing, because it represents the last of a now incredibly rare, dying breed. Nothing comes close to a V12 that breathes for itself when it comes to effortless performance and instant response. In the Lusso, it’s good for 690hp and 697Nm – numbers that might, in any other machine, cause concern regarding drivability.
But drivability is this car’s very raison d’être – it’s supposed to be all things to all people, so four-wheel drive and the practicality afforded by rear seats and a decent amount of luggage space could reasonably be considered prerequisites. That the FF was so equipped has enabled Ferrari to appeal to an entirely new audience. While the company won’t go into specifics until the last one rolls off the line in Maranello, those in the know say that owners are a good deal younger than those for its GT predecessors, that they usually have four people in their car and that they cover 50 per cent more annual distance than any other models.
When I see the Lusso for the first time, it’s easy to spot the visual differences between it and the FF. It’s a tauter design, more sculpted and more interesting. The “shooting brake” rear hatch of the FF has been tweaked to make it more vertical, and there’s more curvature to its haunches, while the return of quad tail lamps is welcome and harks back to some of Ferrari’s most enduring models of yore. The nose is neater, too, and despite some people’s misgivings regarding its overall profile, for me, this is easily the brand’s most attractive car. I love its unique shape and sense of purpose – it makes me desperate to get in and drive, without let-up.
The following morning, that’s exactly what I set out to do, along some visually stunning routes. This region was also used for the launch of the FF in 2011, but that was at an earlier point of the year when snow was thick on the ground – a conspicuous effort to show that this mould-breaking Ferrari could be usable in all weathers. Now, though, the hills and mountains are bursting with colour and the roads are dry, meaning I can get on the power without worrying too much about grip levels in the tight hairpin corners that pepper my route.
As I open the driver’s door, I’m met with another visual feast. The Lusso’s interior is a triumph of design and packaging, with just the right amount of drama (those air vents look incredible) and cushioning luxury. A neater, larger central infotainment screen also helps bring cohesion to the dash design, while the steering wheel remains festooned with buttons and controls.
Ferrari says it has been listening to its FF customers, responding with a number of improvements, one of which is simpler controls on the steering wheel for the indicators. Indeed, they’re easier and more intuitive to use, but now look a bit clunky. The other thing customers wanted to change about the FF was its initial blare of revs on start-up. Apparently, waking up the neighbours in the early hours wasn’t a popular aspect of ownership, so the exhaust system on the Lusso keeps things nice and quiet until you really let rip.
Sure enough, when I start the Lusso, it keeps things nice and civilised and more muted than its stablemates – the tantalising promise of being able to open the throttle once I’m on the right stretches of road making up for the lack of initial audible theatrics. It remains an easy car to trundle around in until I’m clear of the narrow streets of the town of Brunico, but once I’m on the open road, my jaw hits the floor.
There are two reasons for my agog appearance: the awe-inspiring vistas that open up through the Lusso’s generous windscreen; and the way this car delivers its performance. A car this big and heavy really shouldn’t feel so nimble or sprightly, but it seems to shrink around me more the faster I pedal it. The steering is fast (some might say too fast), but it suits the agility of the Lusso, which saves its trump card for when I start hammering along some of the really tight corners on challenging mountain roads.
As well as that intelligent four-wheel-drive transmission, the Lusso has a new acronym in its arsenal: 4RM-S is a management system that controls the way its drivetrain apportions torque and its rear-wheel steering. No that isn’t a typo – the Lusso’s rear wheels do actually turn in the opposite direction to the fronts (although to a lesser degree) to decrease the amount of space it requires to take tight corners.
The resultant grip is extraordinary, meaning the Lusso covers ground quicker than the FF – and with greater reassurance. It feels genuinely sporting, and is always entertaining, which is unusual for any car that sits four adults in comfort. In that area too, the Lusso excels, with exceedingly comfortable rear seats boasting more legroom for passengers than any of its perceived rivals (the Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Rapide etc) could hope to muster. The GTC4Lusso is, then, a car without peer.
It remains a civilised, sophisticated machine, but after a long day of hard charging around the Dolomites, the Lusso finally delivers what every V12 Ferrari should. I reach a series of long tunnels, and as I enter each one, I back off and let the traffic in front of me clear. I lower the windows, drop into third and nail the throttle, taking it to its 8,250rpm redline, while the noise curdles my blood. The low-down rumble becomes a savage scream that reminds me of old Formula One race cars.
The Ferrari FF is dead. Long live the GTC4Lusso – it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
Source: art & life