You climb quickly up Black's Mountain from the red brick suburbs of West Belfast, driving up what might be called a Corniche road were it in Cannes, not Antrim. We're here partially because it's a convenient few minutes' drive from the front door of Charles Hurst Ferrari, still the only Prancing Horse dealer on the island, but also because up behind the peak lies the tiny village of Dundrod. Sleepy it may now be, but it has reverberated to the sounds of motor racing since the 1950s when the first TT sports car race was held here. It's the kerbstones that tell you all about the roads around Dundrod – whatever the political climate of the day, instead of unionist red, white, and blue or nationalist green, white, and gold they've always been motor racing black and white.
It seems like an appropriate place to bring the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso, the motorised artist formerly known as the FF. A V12-engined Grand Tourer in the finest tradition of trans-continental travel, the Lusso is about as luxurious, as bombastic, as downright rapid a way of getting between places that you can imagine.
I didn’t, at first, want to like it. Its price tag, which would in all likelihood breach the €500,000 barrier were you to import one, had raised by Corbynista hackles, and I was prepared to mount a barricade and denounce its bourgeois trappings to the People’s Committee For Affordable Motorings. How can one, these days, justify a car that costs as much as a decent house, or one that has CO2 emissions of 350g/km (no, not a misprint)?
To be honest, it didn’t take long before I had thrown away my corduroy cap with its red star, donned a pair of shades and started referring to myself as Fabrizzio. The GTC4 Lusso just has that kind of magnetic personality, that sense of Hollywood glamour that disarms you faster than airport security.
The paint job helped. The gorgeous, dark “Tour De France” blue just looks so much classier and more subtle than the usual Rosso Corsa red, and the small styling tweaks around the lights, grille, tail and roofline have helped to mould the occasionally awkward FF shape into a far sexier silhouette.
Then there's the fact that it's practical. Yes, genuinely so. The boot, accessed by an electric tailgate no less, is spacious enough for several soft bags, or perhaps a week's shopping. The rear seats, every bit as comfortable as those in the front, have space for genuine adults. And while the driving position is far from perfect (when I had my legs and bum in the right spot, the wheel was slightly too far away and was obscuring the top of the yellow rev counter) it is still sufficiently cosseting that you could easily drive from, say, Dundrod to Milan in one night - just as the great Juan Manuel Fangio tried to do in 1952 (although admittedly he did fly from Belfast to Paris) trying to do both the Dundrod TT and the Italian GP in the same weekend. He crashed en route, smashing a vertebra, which kept him out of racing for the balance of 1952.
There’s little danger of a repeat shunt here, mostly because the Lusso is, as was the FF, four-wheel drive. Not conventionally so – instead of a power take-off from one gearbox, the Lusso has two gearboxes; a conventional seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle at the back, and a small two-speed unit at the the other end which powers the front wheel.
It doesn’t feel four-wheel drive much of the time (not least because when you’re cracking on, drive to the front it disengaged) but it gives you far more confidence than you would experience in any other big-engined Ferrari. In an F12 or similar, rounding a fast corner to find that a tractor has dropped piles of muck and mud on the road would normally register a 10 on the sphincter Richter scale, but the Lusso just powers on, regardless.
And such power. 690hp, or 681bhp for you old-schoolers, from a 6.3-litre V12 which rips the air asunder with shrieks, growls, roars, and an almost jet-turbine-like whoosh. Except when it doesn’t. Tweak the gorgeous little “Manettino” switch on the bottom of the steering wheel to Sport and the Lusso will accelerate with undisguised ferocity, and all the noise your ear canals can safely carry. Switch it to comfort, and back off into cruising mode, and it is exceptionally refined, smooth, cultured. It turns from a day at the races to an evening at the Uffizi with the movement of a fingertip. Even the ride quality is good, very good. Better than a BMW 520d on M-Sport springs, in fact, especially if you have remembered to push the button marked “Bumpy Road “which softens up the dampers a little.
It does handle rather well too, although that’s definitely rather well, as opposed to spectacularly well. The steering, which now works the rear wheels as well as the fronts, is light, fast, accurate, but lacking a touch in outright feel and feedback, and when you turn into a fast corner, chasing the ubiquitous swarm of motorbikes that now congregate in these hills where the two-wheeled Ulster Grand Prix is run, that big, shovel nose can take just a fraction of a fraction of a second longer to react than you might expect. It’s sensation that underlines both the Lusso’s not-inconsiderable 1,900kg bulk, and its true role as a Grand Tourer.
Other quibbles are thankfully few. The instrument panel is a bit messy, and some of the displays rather baffling, and the doors could open a touch wider to allow easier cabin access. The new 10-inch infotainment screen is impressive, but takes some time to learn its ways. Not all will care for the current Ferrari habit of putting almost every major switch and button on the steering wheel either, but I have to say I quite like that and twiddling the windscreen wipers can give you a tiny taste of adjusting your diff settings as you blast down the Mulsanne at Le Mans… Childish, but fun.
Childish, but fun rather sums the Lusso up nicely, I think. It is almost a caricature of Italian performance cars – that endless bonnet, the musical V12, the tan leather of the cabin, the sheer glamour and impossibility of it all. Yes, an Audi RS6 Avant would give you 90 per cent of the performance, and twice the practicality, for a fifth of the price, but that’s just not the point. The Lusso, as its Sixties throwback name suggests, is a car for and from another time. An endless-nosed GT of the old school, a car that belongs more to Bergman, Bogart, and Bacall than, possibly, Belfast. On the Dundrod TT circuit though, it gets you closer to Fangio than you’d ever imagine.
Ferrari GTC4 Lusso. Price: as tested, Circa €490,000 Power: 690hp. Torque: 697Nm. 0-100kmh: 3.4sec. Top speed: 335kmh. Claimed economy 18.8mpg (15.0-l/100km). CO2 emissions: 350g/km. Motor tax: €2,500 per annum. Verdict: Looks, power, and poise wrapped up in one searingly expensive package. Ideal for the modern, or classic, racing playboy. 5/5