Driving The Ferrari Hatchback On Snow

Saalfelden, 20 February 2019. Five hours on a train cutting through the Alps from Switzerland to Austria is an impressive experience in its own merit, but there was a reason I was headed to Austria in the middle of February, and it wasn’t to ski. After a comfortable night‘s sleep, hearty breakfast and double-shot of coffee at the superbly appointed Hotel Gut Brandlhof, I was ready for a day in the very fresh air as the driver of the astonishing Ferrari hatchback… on ice.

A 4-seater Ferrari Hatchback?

Ferrari is known for its two seater sports cars, but its 4 seater history goes back further than one might imagine. The 250GT/E was the first large-scale production Ferrari to sport the 2+2 configuration, back in the early 1960s. Though there has been a steady succession of 2+2 cars from Maranello to date, it is only recently that these cars adopted a four wheel drive drivetrain.

Ferrari FF vs GTC4lusso

We’ve covered the GTC4Lusso before, but it’s worth going over some of the finer points. This Ferrari Hatchback is the successor to the somewhat polarising FF; the „4 seater Ferrari“ occasionally termed „The Breadvan“ for its uncharacteristic shape, given its branding. The FF is often thought of as the first four wheel drive Ferrari, and it is, really. Though there was the 408 4RM in the late 80s, the FF is arguably the first real AWD model to hit the mainstream. The FF is a car with real road presence, but really looks like a prototype for the GTC4Lusso, which as is to be expected, is a much more refined-looking vehicle.

What does the term GTC4Lusso mean?

The name GTC4Lusso has meaning— ‘GTC’ for ‘Gran Turismo Coupé’, and I am told the „4“ relates to the 4 seats. This luxurious Italian sportscar (Lusso means luxury)  is a ‘Shooting Brake’, i.e. a coupé with a hatchback, though it really has more of a „fastback“ with something of a 60‘s vibe.

The design differences

The new Ferrari hatchback looks different from every quarter, but has presence no matter from where you’re gazing at this magnificent chassis. The exterior is beautifully crafted, and the interior is on another level. The rear lights look very similar to those on the 456 and actually reminded me of the 355 poster child.

The GTC4Lusso is 15mm longer than the FF and there’s ample legroom and headroom for my 1.9m frame. There’s actually enough room in the back for me to sit there for a short ride; the legroom suffers but it’s pretty comfy back there. Perfect for children. Oh, and the panoramic glass roof is theatrical in its presentation of the surrounding landscape. The suppleness of the leather has to be seen, no, felt, to be believed. The interior is superbly appointed, and the infotainment screen is a touchscreen affair (I am not a fan of touchscreens in cars) but it‘s responsive and puts most other efforts to shame. It even displays speed and RMP for the passenger’s benefit.

Our driving experience

Getting behind the wheel, the car shrinks around you. Clichéd phrase it may be, but it’s really true. This is a 4-seater, but this Ferrari hatchback feels more like a gokart once properly set up. The centre console is nice and high, covering the somewhat unique transaxle system; the seats and steering wheel alike can be perfectly positioned. The steering wheel was a touch smaller than I expected at first, but it‘s the perfect size. The dials and knobs take a second to work out, but everything simply works in harmony when you‘re on the road. The indicators are buttons on the wheel, but again, they just work. Perhaps all wheels should be like this? The gear paddles are huge and metal, and mounted on the column, so you always know where they are. A quick gear-pull is always in the same place. The “Manettino” on the steering wheel allows the driver to select from “ice; wet; comfort; sport; ESP off”. These are not just “suspension settings” or “throttle response” settings. The car really does transform around you with each setting, and it’s something very difficult to put into words.

The car has four-wheel drive (4RM EVO) and four wheel steering (4WS). There’s also Magnaride adaptive suspension, and adaptive cruise control—Ferrari has made this car the type of machine you could drive across Europe, perhaps to Monaco, and then take part in a race… on an icy track. Then drop the kids off at school.

AWD, but not as you know it

Pressing the big red „Engine Start“ button is something you’ll never get tired of. The engine roars and you know that something special is about to happen. Cars with such engines are becoming few and far between, so enjoy it while you can.

And the engine that powers the Ferrari GTC4Lusso is a 6 litre V12 naturally aspirated engine, which generates 690 hp and 697 Nm of torque (80% available at 1750 RPM). In the dry, 0-100 km/h is achieved in just 3.4 seconds. What more amazing, is that you can drive this incredible vehicle on an ice sheet that’s too slippery to walk.

How it feels driving the Ferrari hatchback 

Before we got to the ice arena proving ground, we took to the streets to get a feel for the car. 1m snow walls either side, the width of the GTC4Lusso is something you notice very early on. This is not a slim car. Auto gear changes are superbly smooth, and I completely forgot this is a dual clutch system. We have a chance to play with each setting up to “sport” and see how the car feels. I had switched into manual gear changes very early on (as I like being in control) and the paddle shifts are excellent. Oh yes, and the car sounds absolutely phenomenal with wide open throttle.

I will add that it‘s relatively easy to make a near-700BHP car go quickly, but difficult to make it usable in 30 zones. This car is a complete pussycat when you want it to be, and is very easily drivable. It is somehow not at all intimidating when you want it to be.

The car feels amazingly light, but planted. It‘s odd that a car of this side can be driven in such a manner, which is testament to what Ferrari have achieved here.

It’s just WOW!

Once we make it to the ice track, we put the cars into “snow” mode. This is where my jaw dropped. The Ferrari hatchback is impressive on the road; a real beast. But my goodness. How can an ~1800kg Ferrari hatchback drive around on a sheet of ice without sliding around? Ferrari have performed a miracle with this drivetrain. We performed a few laps of the circuit, for orientation and to feel how planted the car is on the ice. We performed successive laps around the drift circle under different modes: “Wet” allows the tiniest bit of slip from the rear, so just enough to feel like there’s an animal here. Switching into “Comfort” really changes things, now the rear can spin just a little more. It’s possible to drift and slide around. “Sport” is where things really get silly. Now you feel like a rally driver. Still with complete faith that the front wheels will go where you point them, and they do. When we put the car into “ESP off”, it really shows who can drive. Let’s put it this way: everyone, instructors included, spun at some point!

The fully manual system really makes you appreciate how the other modes really offer a completely different driving experience. In “ice” the car behaves like a Range Rover, AUDI or similar SUV… but with a lot more character. I would choose this every single time against any other car, in these conditions. I cannot imagine more fun than sliding a V12 around an ice track.

The end of our journey…

After a superb lunch, we were back out. The afternoon activity was the handling circuit, which was simply outstanding. I felt like a driving god. By now, I was very familiar with the car and its handling, and the car familiar with my abilities. Switching gears, throwing the car around like it was a gokart, snow spraying out behind me with the force of 690 horses… all with a V12 screaming towards 8000 rpms.

After all was said and done, we had one final lap at the hands of a DTM and GT3 racing driver, with a GTC4Lusso with spiked tyres. 200 spikes per tyre, 3mm long. And my word. Speechless. He drove the car faster and with more skill and precision that I would manage after a day of practicing… in the dry. How the laws of physics can be bent like this is astonishing. Words cannot express the marvel of the „snow mode“ in this car. A GT car should not handle like this in the dry, let alone on ice.

Drifting corner after corner, on ice, was an experience I will never forget. Ferrari have built something truly exceptional with the GTC4Lusso.

Photos: Lennen Descamps #LNNN

Martin Irwin, Feb 2019

_______________________________________________________

FERRARI Hatchback (GTC4LUSSO)
Engine: 6,262cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],750rpm
0-62mph: 3.4sec
Top speed: 208mph
Weight: 1,920kg (kerbweight with ‘lightweight options’)
MPG: 18.5 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 350g/km
Prices: GTC4Lusso: 309,209 CHF (inc.)
GTC4Lusso + ADAS : 312,360 CHF (inc.)

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