Samedan is a sleepy village on the outskirts of St Moritz, Switzerland, where a few houses, a small industrial estate and a goods yard sit in the shadow of beautiful, snow-capped peaks. Today the sky is a deep blue, unbroken by clouds and dotted with paragliders hunting thermals and spiralling slowly down towards the valley floor, where I’m standing on a flat, snowy field staring absentmindedly at the surrounding mountains.
Then, in the corner of my peripheral vision a dark shape appears, followed shortly after by a guttural wail and the sound of tyres scrabbling against ice and snow. The object – a car – is travelling completely sideways at speed, almost disguised behind a cloud of snow, before suddenly finding traction, straightening up and pulling casually up alongside me, huge tyres crunching over snow and steam rising from hot exhausts.
To put what I’ve just witnessed into some kind of context, the car in question is not a rally machine with studded tyres and a stripped-out utilitarian interior, and nor is it a Land Rover, blessed with acres of clearance and a thumping diesel engine; it’s a road-spec Ferrari. The FF is the first prancing horse to feature four-wheel drive, but it’s a bona fide Ferrari nonetheless – under the long, aggressive bonnet is a 651bhp V12 engine capable of hauling the car to 100kph in 3.7secs (roughly the same as the iconic F40), and the interior is trimmed in swathes of exquisite Modenese leather, aluminium and carbon fibre. As with the FF’s smaller siblings – the 458 Italia, the California and the soon-to-be-replaced 599 – the centre of the steering wheel houses some of the switchgear, including the familiar ‘manettino’ dial, which allows the driver to switch between electronic settings to suit varying levels of traction, skill and cojones.
Inside, the big surprise is the rear seats – not that they’re present in the first place, after all, 2+2 Ferraris are nothing new – but that two fully grown adults could sit in them without mangling their spines in the process. More remarkably still, fold them down and there’s room for a full-sized bicycle (quite how many FF owners will risk shoving a dirty, oily Colnago in the boot is another matter, but it’s nice to know the option’s there).
This is all possible thanks to a high, long roof-line that makes the FF one of the more polarising designs to come out of Maranello in recent years. It is, Ferrari’s people are happy to admit, a ‘shooting brake’, which is essentially a high-performance estate car.
In the flesh, to my eyes at least, it’s actually a fantastic looking hunk of metal. It’s not classically, delicately beautiful like a 275GTB or the petite Dino of the early 1970s, but charged with aggression, coursing with testosterone and unmistakably a Ferrari. And whatever you happen to think of its looks, they make a hell of a lot of sense when the FF is sliding, growling and bludgeoning its way across a snow field trailed by the sound of its magnificent V12.
Ferrari has brought several FFs to St Moritz because, frankly, what better way to show clients and the odd journalist the capabilities of its new super-GT than in the most terrifying driving conditions imaginable. If the new four-wheel-drive system can rein in a 651bhp two-tonne projectile on snow and ice, anything else should be a piece of torta.
A challenging track has been set up, with fast and slow corners, chicanes and a couple of impossibly tight hairpins; it would be devilishly tricky on billiard table-smooth tarmac, let alone a surface that transitions between crunchy snow and sheet ice quicker than you can say “insurance claim”. Fortunately, the course is marked out with cones rather than walls or barriers, meaning – in theory at least – you can fling the car wherever you like without bending anything other than your ego.
On my first run I step in, settle into the seat, wait for the robotic extender to present the seatbelt and set the ‘manettino’ to ‘Ice’. “I think you’ll be impressed,” says my co-driver, a former rally driver, as I ease off and approach the first corner, turn in, hit the accelerator and prepare myself for the inevitable slide. Which never happens. Of course it doesn’t: the FF is so clever it probably has a post-doctorate degree in string theory and Euler’s Identity tattooed on its shoulder, and every ounce of its electronic wizardry is concentrated on keeping the car on line. You turn, it turns, and while you’re never in doubt that it’s snow you’re driving on and not super-smooth, grippy tarmac, the FF’s level of composure is astonishing. He’s right: I am impressed. Really.
Work your way up through the ‘manettino’ settings to ‘Race’ and the level of intervention gets incrementally less until it becomes patently clear with every squeeze of the accelerator and turn of the wheel that you’re very much on your own out there.
Although, strictly speaking, you’re not: when you start to oversteer the FF’s clever four-wheel drive system sends more power to the front wheels to rein in the slide, and there’s a smidgen of just-in-case traction control should things go very wrong.
Which isn’t to say it’s difficult to overcook it and swap ends (on snow at least), as anyone watching me could attest, though with practice and confidence you can hustle the FF along at a far faster lick than you would ever imagine possible. Quite what those paragliders make of the sight and sound of these roaring monsters haring, sliding and pirouetting around on the valley floor I’ve no idea.
A few eyebrows may have been raised when Ferrari announced plans to replace the 612 Scaglietti with a four-wheel-drive ‘shooting brake’, but the Ferrari tifosi needn’t have worried. The FF is big, beautiful, very clever and shifts the concept of the all-weather supercar into an entirely different league. For lucky FF owners, next winter surely can’t arrive soon enough.