As I’ve observed several times in these pages, some of the most unlikely names in the motor industry are climbing aboard the SUV bandwagon. Lamborghini has the Urus, which we’ve been expecting ever since its unveiling as a concept in 2012 and is finally set to arrive early next year. Bentley has its Bentayga, and Porsche the Cayenne and the Macan. Even patrician Rolls-Royce is jumping onto the juggernaut, with a massive machine that the guys in Goodwood refer to as “an all-terrain, high-sided vehicle” and, by the time it appears in 2018, may or may not be known as Cullinan.
There is, however, one high-profile holdout against the industry-wide rush to embrace the urban tractor. We were reminded of this recently at the Geneva motor show when, while fielding questions from the media, Ferrari Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne repeated a mantra first mouthed several years ago by his predecessor Luca di Montezemolo. Ferrari, he told us emphatically, doesn’t do SUVs, so we’ll likely never see an off-roader with a cavallino rampante adorning its flanks.
The Italian manufacturer draws the line at four doors too (though a concept by Pininfarina did make it as far as the 1980 Turin show), but what it does do is four seats, a concession to practicality that isn’t regarded as completely inimical to its competition-bred DNA. And though its four-passenger grand tourers are generally less beautiful than their two-seat counterparts, there’s no denying the appeal of a Fezza that’s able to carry both family and friends.
Step up, then, the new GTC4Lusso T, the company’s first four-seat GT that isn’t powered by a V12 engine – though its near relative, the all-wheel-drive GTC4Lusso that was launched last year, does retain the classic 12-pot motor. Closely resembling the Ferrari FF that it replaced, the Lusso retains the former’s long nose and truncated-shooting-brake tail, though judicious work with a scalpel here and there makes the newer car appear sleeker, more resolved and more purposeful than its predecessor.
The 6.3-litre V12 GTC4’s continent-crunching credentials are even more formidable than the FF’s, thanks to a modest power boost that raises maximum output to an entirely immodest 680bhp, and to the improved driveability offered by a rear-wheel-steering system. But as Ferrari is also convinced of the Lusso’s daily-use potential, and as the thirsty and high-revving 12-cylinder engine is hardly suited to the urban schlep, this is where the new T (for turbo) model comes in.
Out goes the 6.3-litre motor, and in comes the twin-charged, 3,855cc V8 that we’re broadly familiar with from the 488 and California T – only as the company doesn’t drop the engine from one model straight into another without major modifications (here they include new alloy pistons and con rods, and revised exhaust and turbo intercoolers), in the Lusso T it produces 602bhp at a relatively frenzied 7,500rpm, with its peak torque of 760Nm available in seventh gear at a much lazier 3,000-5,250 revs. Figuring that the T is most likely to be used in city and higher-grip conditions, Ferrari has also dispensed with the Lusso’s front driveshafts, but has retained the rear-wheel steering, electronic differential, traction control and third-generation Side Slip oversteer-management system to ensure sharp handling and agility.
Not that the smaller engine and the move to rear-drive makes the Lusso T much lighter than the V12 version. Although the V8 is set well back in the engine bay, the complex plumbing required by the turbochargers easily fills any space that’s been freed up, as well as contributing to the mere 55kg difference between the two cars. Moving that mass towards the centre of the car does, however, re-balance the weight distribution to a sporting, rear-biased 46:54.
On a 220km route through southern Tuscany I discover exactly how sporting and fit for purpose the GTC4Lusso T is. The interior of my red machine – not the more flamboyant Rosso Dino but an appropriately chianti-like shade called Rosso Fiorano – is certainly posh enough for a car whose curiously compressed name includes the Italian word lusso, meaning “luxury”. Unsurprisingly, much of this unfussy yet elegant space is covered in soft, smooth leather – a small herd’s worth, by the looks of it – and the standard seats are comfortable and supportive, though perhaps not quite as torso-clenching as the sport chairs in AMG-branded Mercs. An optional glass roof panel, which stretches almost to the tailgate, means there’s plenty of light in here too.
In line with the prevailing philosophy at Ferrari, almost all the important switchgear has been shifted to the steering wheel, so aside from operating the 10.25-inch touchscreen at the centre of the dash, you’ll rarely need to remove your hands from the helm. The cabin is capacious enough to swallow four full-size passengers with ease, and there’s even some decently usable luggage space in the rear (fold the two back seats and you get as much as 800 litres).
Ultimately, of course, it’s the driving that matters, and while the GTC4Lusso T can fairly lay claim to being the most practical Ferrari ever, it’s no less thrilling for it. This becomes apparent as soon as I take over the hot seat during a stop on the autostrada. Accelerating – not particularly aggressively – into the outer lane, I glance down at the instruments to realise I’m already doing 185. Good grief, this car is fast.
Voted International Engine of the Year in 2016, the smooth and flexible 3.9-litre is a peach of a motor that, in combination with the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, endows the GTC4 with power delivery and acceleration that are breathtakingly immediate and linear. At 3.5 seconds from rest to 100km/h it’s a mere tenth of a second tardier than its V12 sibling, and though its 320 top speed is just shy of 200mph, a number that’s now a benchmark for any self-respecting supercar, the Lusso T at its fiercest is still startlingly quick.
Access to maximum twist at 3,000 revs in seventh gear (thanks to variable torque management) is just one reason why it’s so impressive as a cruiser. Another is its magnetic adaptive dampers, which can be adjusted for greater comfort independently of the drivetrain and chassis settings – and that’s equally a boon on winding country roads. The long wheelbase and steered rear wheels further contribute to the high-speed refinement, though on rougher sections of highway it can exhibit a tendency to thump rather than waft over the undulations.
On serpentine Tuscan back roads, the Ferrari belies its size, responding eagerly to throttle inputs and precisely to rapid changes of direction, heroically hanging on to corners and trajectories, and chopping off speed with almost brutal efficiency whenever the brake pads bite into the carbon-ceramic rotors. The dual-clutch transmission is a revelation, selecting up- and downshifts while in Sport mode with such uncanny intuition that I cease bothering with the paddles entirely.
Whether dashing cross-country along kilometres of gently flowing tarmac or corkscrewing down hillsides of hairpins, it’s massively capable, hugely entertaining, and astonishingly nimble for a car so big. The downside, however, is that rear–seat passengers will be protesting so loudly they’ll likely drown out the racing-car rasp of the flat-plane-crankshaft V8 – assuming they haven’t turned green and passed out already.
And that does point to the glaring conundrum surrounding the GTC4Lusso T: that a vehicle so versatile, practical, sociable and luxurious is at heart so uncompromising. Because this is a car of ridiculous speed and abilities that verge on brilliance – it’s a car that demands to be driven hard and rewards such treatment handsomely. In other words, it’s the real thing: a genuine Ferrari.
The question, then, concerns less its ability to ferry the kids to football coaching on a Saturday afternoon. It’s much more as to whether you’re willing to risk your driving licence every time you take them.
FERRARI GTC4LUSSO T
Engine: 3.9-litre, twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch
Max power: 602bhp
Max torque: 760Nm @ 3,000-5,250rpm
Max speed: 320km/h
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds
Kerb weight: 1,865kg