Cars

With Ferrari’s hatchback, forget practical. Try glorious.

 SEXY HATCHBACK: That description is not a contradiction in terms when you are referring to a Ferrari like the FF.
SEXY HATCHBACK: That description is not a contradiction in terms when you are referring to a Ferrari like the FF.Ferrari

Before you ask why anyone would spend $377,000 on a hatchback, let me interrupt your Yankee sensibilities with two facts: 651 horsepower and 208 miles per hour. Chew on those numbers; we’ll get back to them in a minute.

In Europe, hatchbacks are premium cars. For every Citroen with crank windows, there’s a Renault with power seats and navigation. Congested cities and high taxes all but force Europeans into smaller cars, so when they need a new one, they upgrade rather than upsize. Pricey compact cars, most of them hatchbacks, flood their roads.

Here, we’ve tended to see hatchbacks as compromise cars: too small for power, too large for savings. But today’s hatches are too good to poo-poo. We’ve never seen so many expensive hatches on our shores, especially those priced above $30,000, like the Ford Focus ST andVolkswagen Golf R. The big-bucks Audi A3 has been a stateside hit for years. Even the Chevrolet Sonic, with its available leather and big alloys, is handily outselling its cheaper predecessor.

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So why not make the sexiest and fastest hatchback the world has ever seen? Give it an enormous engine up front with the most deafening exhausts out back. Slap on complex chassis sensors, racing aerodynamics, and electronic differentials that can tackle every minute change in the road. Drench the entire cabin in exquisite leather, and while you’re at it, make the rear seats fold flat. Ferrari did.

The 2013 FF is what happens when the most legendary racing team—from which the most terrifying, uncompromising, achingly beautiful road cars have ever been built—decides to get practical.

FF, short for “Ferrari Four,” refers to the car’s four seats and all-wheeldrive, the first of its kind in a Ferrari. Behind the driver, two grown adults have actual breathing room, and behind them, nets can secure grocery bags on a leather-lined cargo floor. Double-paned glass and magnetic shocks keep the ride quiet and smooth. A snow setting gives serious traction in thick powder. There’s ample space for baby seats. Had Subaru built a supercar with 14 times its budget, this is what they’d make.

But Ferrari doesn’t dare call the FF a hatchback, lest it be lumped alongside a Fiat. Among car collectors, the FF is a“shooting brake”like the MGB GT of the 1960s, or more recently, the BMW Z3 Coupe. Call it what you like. When you need to load a couple of 30-pound bags of dog food, the back of the FF cracks open like a Toyota Sienna (it even has a power liftgate button on the key fob). I didn’t have to leave the Ferrari at home while running errands, not even once. Isn’t that nice?

Being an all-in-one dream machine brings some compromise—not my average 7-mpg fuel economy, which is better than I expected—but as a design. The FF can’t match the stunning aesthetics of other Ferraris like the 458, 599, and new F12 Berlinetta. Rather, it’s a stranger kind of beautiful. In the front, bulging fenders and an elongated hood instantly define the FF as a proper GranTurismo—the kind of car built for long-distance cruising with maximum speed and comfort. But then, tracing the extra-large doors to the rear glass, your eyes expect the roof to slope gracefully toward the massive 20-inch tires. Instead, it stays oddly upright. And so, while everyone on the street gawks and knows this is a Ferrari, no one can explain why.

Take a week with it, and trust me, the words spill right out.

The FF is something mystical, if only because Ferrari always had a supernatural pull over my carobsessed childhood. But it’s all real, from the moment I grab its red key to thumbing the red ignition button on the carbon fiber steering wheel. The starter motor winds up, takes a deep breath, then – Brrrrrapppahhhh! Birds scatter into the sky, and if any of my neighbors were still asleep, they’re now catching earfuls of rasps and booms from the 6.3-literV-12. I give it some gas, and the FF barks and spits, growing into a siren that could level parking garages to rubble. I haven’t gathered the courage to move.

Soon I can’t see. On this chilly morning, exhaust fumes are spitting out the four pipes like a coal-fired steam locomotive. I hit the “R”button on the center console—there is no shifter, just this reverse switch and two carbon fiber paddles on the steering column—and my rearward view is totally clouded.Thankfully, my FF has the optional parking sensors—plus front and rear cameras—which all help me berth this long, wide supercar without sweating. Practical, remember.

Past city confines, the FF shrinks and glues itself to the surface. Acceleration is glorious. The 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox fires off rapid shifts at a searing redline, the Formula One-inspired rev counter flashing sharp, red dots on the steering wheel, the exhaust baffles opening and letting out a war cry. It’s a curdling symphony of deep thrums and piercing shrieks, each upshift and downshift more rageful and violent than the last, a beautiful, obnoxious noise that would be banned by the Brookline Board of Selectman, could they ever catch it.

Along with its motor, the steering is snappy and light, though the FF doesn’t dart or drift about like the mid-engine 458 Italia. It’s heavier and piles more mass on the front axle, yet the FF feels nearly as balanced. Unlike most all-wheel-drive cars, Ferrari doesn’t use a heavy center differential to split the torque front and rear. Instead, the FF uses two separate gearboxes—the main 7-speed gearbox out back, and a secondary 2-speed gearbox driving the front—that work in tandem to provide up to a 20/80 split. In most cases (and at high speeds) the system strictly keeps to rear-wheel-drive.

But in hard corners, you can feel the front wheels pull the FF closer to the curve, as Ferrari’s chassis computers decide the precise amount of traction, braking, and torque transfer from front to back, left to right. This is a two-ton supercar that never reveals its true heft.You simply point and plant it. Raw speed rushes in, and before you realize how badly this could end, a hard stomp on the carbon-ceramic brakes checks you back into legal territory. Among the many data readouts on its dual LCD screens, the FF’s trip computer records the driver’s maximum speed. I’ll plead the fifth on that one.

Again: 651 horsepower and 208 miles per hour. Good God.

Lots of supercars can go this fast. But none drowns out the entire universe like a Ferrari, full throttle, ricocheting off an empty tunnel. It’s why Ferrari can afford to pick and choose its customers. It’s why these customers choose to wait months or even years to get one, while their friends bag Lambos and Porsches in no time. It’s why Ferrari can charge extraterrestrial amounts of money without anyone raising a hair. Nothing gets close to it. Not even sex or the vivid turquoise seas of the Caribbean. Nothing is quite like driving a Ferrari.

Especially when you’re driving a Ferrari with a dog sleeping on the folded back seats. I tell you, hatchbacks rule.

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