Even Ferrari's audio system didn't sport a button with the term printed on it, lest it be misunderstood. There are simply two seek buttons, one to go forward and one for reverse.

But last year, when a brand new Ferrari, the FF was launched, it was quite a revelation. It had many firsts, many of which may not have been liked by ‘Purists' of the brand. Yet, in many respects the new model was going to ‘fast-forward' the Ferrari brand.

Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show last year, it is the first production car from Maranello that featured four-wheel drive. Supposedly an acronym to also represent its new, added, prowess, the FF is a four-seater Grand tourer that is a replacement for the 612 Scaglietti.

It is not hard to imagine why hard core fans would have been unhappy with Ferrari choosing to go ‘four-wheel'. You see older Ferraris were notoriously hard to drive. You had to earn your rights to drive one by training hard to learn to handle the monstrous amount of power that gets fed to the rear wheels. You would have been admonished for seeking the help of electronics to correct your mistakes.

However, it is also not hard to imagine why Ferrari would have chosen to go ‘four-wheel'. There have been continental shifts in the market for its cars, and with new drivers, new driving conditions and the positioning for a four-seater, the FF actually seems to make sense with four-wheel drive than without it. Many of us, newbies to Ferrari, have to also thank the engineers at Maranello for having allowed us the luxury of enjoying the car with a bit lower blood pressure in our arteries.

FFlial

Despite all the newness, in terms of design and prowess the FF is no less a Ferrari.

The Sporting Grand Tourer's new V12 engine unleashes a massive 660PS of power that can propel the car to a top speed of 335 kmph. The 0 to 100 kmph run takes a mere 3.7 seconds. And there is no dilution of the spectacular handling capabilities and sporting performance that we come to expect from a Ferrari.

The design of the FF is the first thing new that you'd observe. The hatchback-style, shooting brake design of the FF is a departure from the conventional wedge shape of Ferrari's two-seaters. The shooting brake design is not entirely new to Ferrari and there have been one-offs that have sported the Prancing Horse, but for a production car this is a first.

Designed by Pininfarina, the FF still has all the classic lines of a contemporary Ferrari and attempts to carry forward a number of design cues from the 458 Italia. Features like the large peeled back headlamps, the round LED tail-lamps, the strong haunches, some of the triangle elements around the car and the roof line connect the FF and the 458 Italia.

The gaping grille with the straight-line grid (egg-crate grille) at front of the FF serves as a large air intake. It may be considered a bit unusual for Ferrari, but it sure does give the FF its aggressive front looks. At the rear, the twin dual tailpipes and the chrome Prancing Horse serve to remind onlookers that despite its overall design it is a Ferrari like no other.

I had driven the FF briefly on the race track, but to experience the car on regular roads would be the real deal, after all it is targeted at the buyer who wants to take his family too every time he takes his Ferrari out or at buyers who want a Ferrari even when they take their family out.

FFull-bodied

So, I travel to Delhi and borrow the FF and head out before the city wakes up. Stepping into the FF's cabin, I am reminded of the luxurious and sporty feel of the car's interiors. Double stitched leather seats that are perfectly shaped and padded, plush leather, carbon fibre, wood and aluminium trim on the dash and drilled aluminium pedals boost the familiar feel of a contemporary Ferrari.

Flip a lever on the shoulder of the front seats and they fall forward and slide electrically to allow passengers to sit in the rear two seats. And if the exterior dimensions make it seem like it might be squeeze for the passengers at the rear, let me remind you that even six-footers would be able to sit with some headroom to spare.

Also with the rear seats up, the boot (yes, this one gets a mid-front engine) offers a luggage capacity of 450 litres, which can be boosted to about 800 litres with collapsed rear seats. I step in and push the engine start button on the wheel and am welcomed by the seat-belt being handed to me by an arm that automatically shoves it within reach and then discreetly retracts into the side panel.

If there were any lingering doubts when you step into the FF for the first time, they will be dispersed once you sit behind the wheel. Perfect driver orientation, which is the hallmark of every Ferrari is what you will also get in the FF.

The familiar layout, the Manettino dial and the controls set perfectly within reach brings back memories of the 458 Spider in Maranello. However, The Manettino, which lets you choose driver settings now features a snow mode, in addition to the ESC off, comfort, sport and wet modes. It is also reassuring to see the horn control set exactly where your thumbs will fall on either side of the steering wheel when you are holding it in the 9-3 position.

After the engine growled to life and woke up the neighbourhood, I drove the FF around the wide avenues of Lutyens' Delhi, before heading off to Gurgaon and further away to some of the expressways in nearby to truly experience the prowess of the FF. There is something about Ferrari's V12 engines and the addictive exhaust note that I hear while idling is just a precursor to the impressive performance to come. This new engine is another thoroughbred Ferrari engine. The mid-front mounted 6,262cc GDI V12 engine produces 660PS of peak power at 8,000 rpm and a huge 500 Nm of torque right from 1,000 rpm (that is the idling engine rpm level of many engines). The entire amount of torque stays available across the rev-range upto 8,000 rom.

FFierce

On the road the FF V12 engine's performance is quickly satisfying. Want becomes quickly obvious is that the car is so quick to accelerate there is a natural tendency to worry about reaction time if I attempt to get a glimpse of the two small LCD screens behind the wheel and which display the speedo and other key data. The tuned exhaust note is unique and awesome to hear. Ferrari engineers have also carefully channelled the intake sound into the cabin to provide aural entertainment to the passengers.

The V12 engine has been coupled with the Ferrari F1 seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Combining the comforts of a sporty automatic and the pleasure of a sequential gearbox, this transmission's superb agility has to be felt. Every input, with every finger flick to the long-stalked carbon fibre paddles behind the steering wheel is instantaneously converted into a blip in the gearbox that you can only hear. The FF just keeps sprinting forward with unrelenting force all the way to the redline.

In the midst of all the flurry of activity under the bonnet of the FF is Ferrari's new four-wheel drive system – 4RM. It is a unique system that transmits torque to all the wheels of the car without the need for a centre differential. To ensure the classic Ferrari weight distribution format, the FF features a mid-front engine, but the gearbox is situated at the rear and the rear transaxle is connected to the engine by a single driveshaft. This enables a weight distribution of 53:47 between the rear and the front.

The new four-wheel drive system features a power transfer unit just for the front wheels that is connected directly to the engine and is located over the front axle.

The PTU is the key mechanical component of the 4RM and manages the difference between the engine and wheel speeds. The PTU gets its power and torque directly from the crankshaft through a system of gearbox ratios. Two independent carbon-fibre oil-bath wet multi-plate clutch packs then vector the torque to a half-shaft connected to each front wheel. the front clutches are completely independent and have torque vectoring functions to allow different amounts of torque to be sent to the left and right wheels. Thus, there is no mechanical connection between rear and front axles as they are linked to two completely independent traction systems. This means the FF can be rear-wheel drive-only so that none of the driving pleasure associated with this kind of car is lost.

Lastly, the multi-disc clutches also deal with the different speeds of rotation between the front and rear axles, and between the individual front wheels, fulfilling the function of the centre and front differentials in a traditional 4WD system.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in