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2012 Ferrari FF (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Ferrari FF (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

First Drive Ferrari FF

The Ferrari supernova of hot hatches Add to ...

Ferrari launched its first all-wheel-drive hatchback at Brunico, near the top of Italy’s snowy Dolomite mountains, to emphasize that its all-new FF is perhaps the first Ferrari surprisingly ready for winter conditions.

The fact that Ferrari managed to convince the Italian army to transport the cars up 2,350 metres by military CH-47 Chinook helicopter speaks to the influence of this iconic Formula One and sports car firm.

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But even a half-day’s drive around Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters in mid-summer sunshine – conditions much closer to what customers of FFs will see most often – also points out a bevy of other surprises.

Its shape itself is the most immediately obvious bombshell. The three-door hatchback body style is basically extinct in North America, Ferrari’s largest market, so the exotic auto maker is taking a considerable risk with its replacement for the four-seat, two-door 612 Scaglietti.

The more sinuously shaped FF – with its long nose, discreetly muscular fender flares and short rear hatch that ends soon after its stretched-out rear wheels – certainly makes a more pronounced styling statement. It may be a statement that some don’t agree with, but compared to a Porsche Panamera Turbo S – perhaps the next quickest and most exotic hatchback on the planet, though with four doors – the FF is a relative stylistic home run.

The FF needs that long hood to encase a beast of a direct-injected V-12 engine, which is set far back behind the car’s front axle to help handling. This results in a worthy 53 per cent of the FF’s 1,880-kg curb weight resting on its hind wheels when stopped, the slight rear weight bias coming in handy if you’re planning to use the car’s standard Launch Control for blistering acceleration runs from a standing start.

The engine itself is almost lovelier than the exterior, its artfully designed cam covers – red as usual with Ferrari – graced by two huge air intakes that run the marathon-length of that under-hood area.

The output numbers from this massive 6.3-litre 12-cylinder engine are not only surprising, but startling: 660 hp, or 120 more than its predecessor, with torque at a lofty 504 lb-ft of torque. These figures make it by far the most powerful Ferrari on sale, when it arrives in North America around November.

This, truly, is the supernova of hot hatches.

Ferrari gives the FF an official 3.7-second, 0-100 km/h time, although one company rep said it was less than this using the tempting Launch Control button, located prominently next to the Reverse and Automatic buttons that are used in place of a traditional gearshift console between the front seats.

Surprised there’s no manual available? Don’t be: neither the California or 458 Italia offer one, Ferrari arguing simply that the F1 box is faster, period.

As with the 458, Ferrari has gone to considerable lengths to free up the seven-speed, dual-clutch, F1 gearbox’s shift paddles as the only protuberances from the shift column. That puts it up there with the 458 as one of the busiest steering wheels in the business, with the turn signals, wiper controls, headlight flash, engine start button, damper control button and the traditional manettino dial all battling for space on there, as does the airbag hidden beneath.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about the FF was climbing into the snug but adult-friendly back seat and seeing a rear DVD screen on each seatback. What? A staple of thoroughly domesticated minivan and SUV life – in a Ferrari? Yes, as well as folding rear seats, a flip-down pass-through between those two seats, and 450 litres of cargo room with the seats up, and 800 with them down.

The front passenger may also be entertained by the FF’s optional “emotion display screen,” which gives them a separate screen showing the car’s speed, rpm and top speed achieved, among other revealing info.

All this and all-wheel-drive, too, a performance-oriented system that proudly sends every pony to the rear wheels via a single driveshaft, continually “estimating” grip electronically many times per second. If impending slip is detected, and the rear-only E-Diff can’t balance it by sending more power to the opposite rear wheel, then a new pair of electronic clutches that Ferrari calls the Power Transfer Unit directs torque directly from the engine to the front wheels, torque vectoring power right to left as required.

This system is therefore lower and lighter than the centre and front differentials used on typical AWD setups, Ferrari says, and, from the driver’s seat on dry public roads, it’s impossible to tell that this is not a rear-wheel-drive car. Pull the shifter into first and mash the gas, and the engine that previously loafed about in automatic mode now zings all into hyperspace mode, interrupting all conversation, or thought processes, at least the first few times.

You’ll have to surpass 5,000 rpm to truly hear this car’s addictive F1-worthy wail, but with all 660 ponies storming out of their V-12 stable at 8,000 rpm, it’s a joy unlike any other on this earth.

And at a starting price of about $300,000 (U.S.), or about $340,000 in Canada, it’s not inexpensive by any means. But that price will include all scheduled maintenance for seven years. Adding yet another in a long line of surprises with the FF.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 Ferrari FF

Type: Exotic three-door, four-seat hatchback

Base price: $284,900

Engine: 6.3-litre, direct injection, V-12

Horsepower/torque: 651 hp/504 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.4 overall average; premium gas

Alternatives: Aston Martin Rapide, Bentley Continental GT Speed, Porsche Panamera Turbo S

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