Ferrari breaks tradition with its first all-wheel-drive hatchback

  • 25-Mar-2011 03:16 EDT
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The new FF is Ferrari's first hatchback, designed to optimize back-seat and luggage space. The body is constructed of a mix of steel and aluminum alloys. 


At the 2004 media launch of the 612 Scaglietti in Maranello, Mother Nature frowned on Ferrari’s plan for journalists to strafe roads in the nearby Appennine mountains with the luxurious V12 grand tourer by slicking the roads with light snowfall.

A hasty change of plans meant we exercised the cars and ourselves on the Fiorano test track where the company develops its Formula One racers. We scribes didn’t mind, but the Ferrari engineers’ faces were as red as their famous cars. Their embarrassment ends with the launch of the 612’s replacement, the FF. It features the company’s first-ever all-wheel-drive system that's meant to handle such tricky conditions with aplomb.

The AWD system isn’t the only unorthodox aspect of the new FF; its hatchback design is also a first for the company. Both required Ferrari's development team to innovate in order to satisfy customers while remaining true to the expectations of the Ferrari marque.

Grand touring cars are used differently than Ferrari’s sports cars, which typically accumulate a few thousand miles of use per year in brief drives from and returning to a base of operation, explained Roberto Febeli, Technical Director for the FF.

As such, sports cars are like fighter planes with their narrow requirements and brief usage. Grand tourers are more like private aircraft—they travel from one destination to another and potentially onward from there, before returning home after several days. In the process they accumulate many hours of use.

“This means you need more space inside the car to carry with you the things you need,” Febeli noted. Because of this, the FF demanded an abundance of cabin volume, even if the resulting horizontal roofline is reminiscent of a "shooting brake"-style sports wagon.

The Ferrari 4RM all-wheel-drive system is audacious in its design. Engineers decided that the front wheels will only transmit power in the lower four gears; in fifth through seventh gears, the FF is purely rear-wheel drive.

The front-drive module (Ferrari calls it the Power Transfer Unit) draws power from the front of the FF’s direct-injected 660-hp (492-kW) 6.3-L V12 engine. The drive module has only two gears; its first gear works with first and second gear in the dual-clutch main transmission, and its second gear is used with third and fourth gears in the main transmission, which is integrated with the rear drive axle.

Controlled slip of the oil-bathed carbon fiber clutches matches front wheel speed to that of the rear. The front wheels are geared 6% higher in their first and second gears than the rear wheels in their second and fourth gear, so the car can turn the front wheels faster than the rears in slippery conditions, Febeli explained.

The front transmission can handle up to 20% of the engine’s 504-lb·ft (683 N·m) when helping the FF churn through wintry weather. Directing some of that torque through the front wheels is also beneficial for dry weather performance, he added. The car’s claimed 3.7-s 0-100 kph acceleration time is 0.3 s faster than it would be with rear drive alone, he said.

All-wheel-drive systems frequently sap vehicle performance because of their weight, but the 4RM system supplied by Carraro SpA adds only 35-40 kg (77-88 lb), according to Febeli. He said this is half the mass of a traditional AWD system.

To balance mass and strength, the FF's body engineering team used a combination of high-strength steel and aluminum for the body-in-white. Some 30 different alloys are employed, they claim. Combined with the lightweight front-drive system, the materials strategy enabled engineers to whittle 50 kg (110 lb) from the car’s 1880 kg (4145 lb) curb weight compared to a 612 Scaglietti, had that model been equipped with the FF's AWD, structural enhancements to meet the latest safety regulations, and its infotainment system, Febeli said.

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