This Isn’t Your Dad’s Ferrari: XOJET Test Drives the 2012 Ferrari FF
By Timothy Ng, XOJET Advisory Board Member
At XOJET, we don’t only fly fast above the clouds. Sometimes, we fly on the ground. That was certainly the case when XOJET advisory board member Timothy Ng recently tested out the new Ferrari FF at XOJET headquarters in Brisbane, Calif. We asked Tim, a Ferrari aficionado, to share a few thoughts about his experience.
There’s a saying among car companies: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” which refers to the notion that racing improves the breed. But no car company has taken the notion of incorporating advanced race engineering and technology into its production vehicles further than Ferrari. And there’s perhaps no better example of the execution of this philosophy than Ferrari’s newest street offering, the FF. In fact, the Ferrari FF doesn’t just incorporate racing technology into a street car: It showcases it.
The FF (which stands for four-seat, four-wheel drive) is unlike any previous four-seater Ferrari family car. There have been three others since the 1980s: the 400i, the 456 and the 612 Scaglietti—each in its own way uglier than its predecessor and predominantly equipped with automatic transmissions. But the FF was designed in many ways to be the flagship of Ferrari’s latest generation, not some tack-on car to round out the product line. It showcases and sets the tone for what to expect from the rest of Ferrari’s product line-up. Its look is stunning—even to this driving purist.
Among the hallmark characteristics of a Ferrari has always been the music of its exhaust note under acceleration—or even more spectacularly, the experience of blipping the throttle while down-shifting at high speed, especially when blasting through a tunnel. Other classic, unique imperfections synonymous with the at-times-challenging-but-rarified experience of Ferrari ownership were the ubiquitous “gated” gear shift, coupled to a heavy and cumbersome clutch, and an awkward driving position.
As an avid driving enthusiast, I’ve owned a few Ferraris, and quite frankly, felt the company had lost its way over the past several years. After the shark-nosed F355 and F575MM ended production in 1999 and 2006, the body styling got radical, the exhaust note got raspier and 90% of the cars produced and sold had semi-automatic “paddle” shifters. (You had to special order a manual gearbox, whereas it was once an $8,000 option.)
Ferrari was the first company to introduce “Formula 1 paddle shifter” technology to street cars—and they’ve come a long way since 1999. We’re not talking about Porsche’s Tiptronic transmission—a glorified automatic transmission with buttons around the steering wheel—but a street version of the semi-automatic gearbox used in F1 race cars that incorporates an automatic clutch (two in the case of the FF), but manual gear selection. Two paddles adorn either side of the steering wheel, the right to upshift, the left to downshift. As you shift, the car hits the clutch and blips the throttle for you. Nobody does this technology better than Ferrari.
Still, I found previous versions of this technology to be cumbersome and slow in execution. I particularly found the semi-automatic paddle shifters gimmicky; it seemed like a ploy to expand the audience for Ferraris cars to people who basically don’t know how to drive. So I shunned it when I went out of my way to purchase one of the only 16 (out of the last 100) manual transmission versions of the F355 about 12 years ago.
But the Ferrari FF’s F1 gearbox is all grown up. It’s no longer a “gimmick.” It’s a true taste of race car engineering in a street car.
The FF changes gears in just under 0.060 seconds, faster than the human brain can perceive, and the engine revs to 8,000 rpm. That’s seriously fast. (For comparison, a modern, 850-horsepower F1 race car shifts gears in 0.050 seconds, but it has to, because the engine revs to 19,000 rpm.)
I started out as a skeptic as I drove the car around XOJET headquarters and Highway 101 with Emmanuel Turin from Ferrari Maserati of San Francisco, lamenting to him that I find it ridiculous you can no longer order any Ferrari with a manual 6-speed transmission, something the “driving purist” would always want. He sympathized, but asked me to drive with an open mind.
I found the experience mind blowing. Ferrari has literally dropped an F1 car into a four-wheel-drive family car. At 660 horsepower, the dual clutch/dual transmission gearbox makes all that power usable—the shifts are lightning quick and barely perceptible except for the change in the engine exhaust note, the jump in RPMs, and the massive torque (503 lbs./ft.) available under the gas pedal.
Taking the Brisbane exit off Highway 101 North at high speed, I clicked the left paddle four times to grab second gear from sixth while under-braking, and the semi-auto gearbox blipped the engine four times (“whum-whum-whum-whummm”) in rapid-fire succession. Oh, how I wished we were in a tunnel with the windows down! The car didn’t jerk or shudder one iota. A mere tap of the massive, Brembo carbon ceramic disc brakes (also F1 technology), to prevent the FF from bottoming out, on the big bump in the middle of the Brisbane exit, sent my passenger lurching forward in the back seat.
Ferrari has made F1 racing technology practical, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Unlike several other marques that have marketed limited-production, barely-street-legal editions of their race car technology (like the Porsche GT3 and the AMG Mercedes CLK Black), you don’t have to be a gymnast nor a contortionist to climb into the Ferrari FF. The ride isn’t so low that you rip off the nose over every manhole cover, nor is it so harsh that the driving experience is compromised, as it would be in a street-legal race car.
The FF has four-wheel drive, and you can actually raise the car to the right height for driving in snow—which you are encouraged to do. (It has GPS navigation in case you get lost between Davos and Zurich.) There’s even a pass-through from the trunk for skis! During the summer months, a pair of golf clubs fits in the back without compromising comfort for the two rear-seat passengers while they enjoy the video screens in the rear-facing headrests.
Yet around the Ferrari factory’s Fiorano race track, the Ferrari FF is as fast as the two-seater F599. It also has a few things that typically only race cars have: carbon ceramic brake discs the size of your head for ridiculous stopping performance; a big red “START” button to fire up the car; and for those who really know how to drive, the ability to turn off traction control.
With the FF, Ferrari has gone back to its roots as an F1 racing team. In doing so, the company has done more than create a massively over-the-top, strangely usable four-seat supercar. It has created an opportunity for mere mortals who don’t have an FIA racing license to taste the experience of true F1 race technology. It’s more than fancy, flashy version of a family car: it’s a practical toy.
This is not your Dad’s Ferrari, nor like any other Ferrari before it. As Ferris Bueller said of Cameron’s Dad’s California Spider: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”