Posted on: Oct 04, 2012
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Performance AWD: Ferrari FF


With the FF, Ferrari sailed into unfamiliar waters: it's an all-wheel-drive, four-seat V12 hatchback that aims to deliver a new level of versatility to Ferrari customers.
Let's be honest, the Ferrari FF is an odd car. That's not to say it's bad, whether you like the car or not, one does have to say that it is well executed. The car is not what you would expect from Ferrari, yet the prancing horses on the fenders don't look out of place. The company's first car with AWD, the FF is also the first Ferrari that's really practical (as measured in cargo space) for a longer road trip. The possibilities are intriguing.

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Perhaps the most important thing to say about the FF is that if you only know it from pictures and have decided that you don't like it, there is a good chance you are wrong. The FF is one of those cars that somehow looks different when you see it up close. The proportions of it just make more sense, and the long nose does a better job of balancing out the protruding hatchback. That nose is long for a reason, and this relates to the FF's most interesting and unique technical feature, the AWD system.
In an effort to keep the system as compact and lightweight as possible, Ferrari designed it so that power to the rear wheel comes from the back of the engine in the conventional way, but power to the front wheels is delivered from the front of the engine. This means that the engine has to be mounted entirely behind the front axle and, just like the Mercedes SLR, this results in a long nose. Ferrari says that the system is 50 percent lighter than a conventional AWD system, but then it also doesn't work in the quite the same way either.
Power goes to the front wheels by way of a power take off, similar to the way the hydraulic pump in a garbage truck or on farm machinery gets power from the engine. The difference here is that the power take off is also a gearbox which attaches to each front wheel via a haldex-type clutch pack. By regulating how much these clutches slip, the system can regulate how much power goes to each of the front wheels. But there are limits, a maximum of just 20 percent of the engine's power can be sent to the front at any given time. The system is also only active in first through fourth gears, and then only when the car is in "comfort" or "snow" modes.
The result is an AWD system that you almost don't realize is there. The car drives like it's RWD most of the time, until you push in too hard into a corner, and then the back end doesn't step out like you'd expect it to. But at the same time, there's none of the understeer normally associated with AWD cars. It's not a system which will handle dirt or snow quite as well as others do, but it is a very good method for a more controllable application of power. The engine is similar in many ways to the one found in the Enzo and the 599, but it has been largely redesigned and now displaces 6.3 liters.
This displacement, along with very high compression ratio of 12.3:1, means that the FF produces 651 horsepower. Ferrari claims that this makes it the fastest four-seat car in the world. This power goes through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, similar to the one found in the 458. This allows for the launch control which allows the FF to his 60mph in 3.5 seconds. Despite the slightly odd proportions, the FF has a 47/53 weight distribution. This might be just average for a pure sports car, but it's one of the better splits you'll find on a GT car. With the FF, cargo capacity became something which people talked seriously about for the first time with a Ferrari.
The car which the FF replaced, 612, was really pretty big, and its 9 cubic feet of trunk space was pretty normal in the world of GT cars. But the 16cu ft in the back of the FF is more than even what the Bentley Continental GT (the previous GT trunk space leader) has to offer. Fold the back seats down and you have 28cu ft of space. The question of cargo space highlights what is important when considering the FF. If you're sitting here thinking that a GT-R can get to 60 faster than an FF, then you have already missed the point. The FF serves its function as a GT car extremely well.
It is quick but also comfortable, and is suited for long stints of high-speed cruising. Even its unique AWD system is tailored to serve this purpose, and it does an excellent job of this too. Perhaps you don't like the way it looks, and that's fine, it's a controversial design. But for those who like it, it is a very rewarding car.

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by Jacob Joseph
Performance AWD: Ferrari FF
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