First Drive: Ferrari Purosangue 2023 Review
Luca di Montezemolo, the former Ferrari boss who oversaw the transformation of Maranello’s fortunes in the mid 1990s, turning it from a complacent peddler of over-rated, under-achieving machines into an engineering powerhouse whose cars were even better to drive than they were to look at, said Ferrari would never make an SUV. But then he got booted of the company, replaced by the mercurial, Machiavellian Sergio Marchionne and hints started to be dropped that Ferrari could not ignore this most lucrative of market places forever. Then Ferrari floated on the New York Stock Exchange and became accountable, above all, to its shareholders. And they’d be forgiven for asking why Ferrari was giving such a golden goose so wide a berth. But how could Ferrari build an SUV yet stay true to its values and keep happy those purists who’d say a Ferrari SUV is simply not a Ferrari?
You’re looking at the answer, the all-new Ferrari Purosangue. Although Ferrari has never called it an SUV, despite the fact its dimensions are far from those of a conventional SUV, when the world heard that Ferrari was making its first five door car, it just naturally filled in the blanks and concluded that’s what it would be. For Ferrari, it was the perfect result: a car that’s perceived to be its answer to the SUV, so therefore part of that world without, really, being anything like one at all.
Nor has Maranello been in the least bit shy about entering what is for it a brand-new part of the market. Others might try a ‘soft’ launch with a competitively priced offering just to see how it is received. Not Ferrari: it’s gone in not at the top level, but built a few more storeys and sat on top of that instead: at £313,120 it’s over £130,000 more than the Lamborghini Urus Performante and Aston Martin DBX707, the SUVs whose power outputs most closely match that of the Ferrari. Even the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is the best part of £50,000 cheaper.
Moreover, just try buying a Purosangue for option-free list price and see how much interest your dealer has in granting you a car from his or her precious allocation. Not much I’ll warrant. Anecdotal information suggests very strongly that many are being optioned up to £400,000 and beyond.
Has this deterred the market? Not in the very slightest. It depends on whom you talk to, but the shortest delivery time anyone at Ferrari will offer is 18 months, others talk of an order book stretching two years into the future.
- Most practical Ferrari in history
- Fabulously well resolved chassis
- Engine sound when fully extended
We don't like
- Lack of low down torque
- Fiddly switchgear
- Astronomical pricing
So is it an SUV at all? Not really. In terms of its concept – if not its price point – it’s closest to something like a Porsche Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo, or even a Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo. It’s a slightly elevated five-door crossover with coupe styling and a hatchback incorporated. But perhaps an even easier way to think about it is as a replacement for the now defunct FF/GTC4 Lusso line. That too was a full four-seater, you just no longer have to clamber past the front seats to get in the back.
In design terms the basic engineering is very traditional Ferrari. The structure remains largely aluminium with additional steel sections used in areas where maximum strength is required. And the 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine is a direct descendant of the unit introduced into the Enzo over 20 years ago. Will other engines be offered? Ferrari, being Ferrari, says it has the V12 engine and tries to change the subject. You can press as hard as you like and they’ll stick to the prepared script like 20-year-old chewing gum to the underside of a school desk; but ask them to deny flat that there are plans to put its V8 or V6 powertrains under the bonnet and they can’t quite bring themselves to do. So yes, of course there’ll be at least one more engine and, as both the V8 and V6 are capable of carrying hybrid powertrains, I’d not be surprised if this didn’t become the first Ferrari to be offered with three different power units. Except when Ferrari put the V12 and V8 in the Lusso they said this was not in fact one car with a choice of engines, but two distinct model lines.
This is important for anyone trying to figure out how many Purosangues will be built: soon after Porsche launched its first SUV just over 20 years ago it was outselling all other Porsches combined. Ferrari says that won’t happen with the Purosangue because it will limit numbers to 20 per cent of total production. But whether that is 20 per cent for the V12 and another 20 per cent for another engine because Ferrari counts that as a different model will only become clear when Ferrari concedes the existence of that ‘second model’.
Performance and Handling
Do not be disappointed to learn that this is the least exciting Ferrari to drive of the modern era, for the truth is it would need to defy physical law for it be anything else. This is not just the heaviest Ferrari ever made, but is so by a massive margin, weighing fully one quarter of a tonne more than the closest thing it has to a predecessor, the GTC4 Lusso.
Moreover, the V12 becomes something of a curate’s egg in this application. You probably don’t need me to remind you that it is one of the world’s greatest engines, providing as good a reason as anyone ever needed to buy an Enzo, an F12, an 812, a LaFerrari and so on and on. It is an overtly, fabulously sporting engine installed in a range of overtly, fabulously sporting cars. And for all its many strengths, the Purosangue is not that. What a family car of near 2.2 tonne heft needs more than anything is low-down torque and despite many modifications aimed at achieving precisely that, it is what the Purosangue lacks. A Porsche Cayenne Turbo, for example, develops more torque at 2,000rpm than the Purosangue does at its 6,250rpm peak.
When it is on song, the V12 delivers a richness and a texture to the driving experience that no turbo V8 – the go-to choice of almost all high-powered SUVs – can approach. Working in conjunction with its flawless eight-speed double-clutch gearbox, rousing performance can be achieved accompanied by the kind of soundtrack only Italian V12s appear able to produce. As an occasional party piece, it is a spectacular piece of theatre, but it is perhaps worth noting that if Ferrari did no more than transplant wholesale the turbo hybrid 296 GTB powertrain, with half the cylinders and less than half the capacity, the car would gain over 100 additional horsepower, a commensurate amount of additional torque, but low down in the rev range and some rather more respectable mpg and CO2 figures.
But the chassis is a triumph and, unlike the powertrain, was born for a car like the Purosangue. The ride quality for a car of this potential is exceptional and in almost all road conditions you want to leave the manettino with the suspension set to soft. Medium gives you a little additional roll control for only a small downgrade in comfort but the hardest setting would only be worth it on really fast, smooth roads or, more likely, a race track. Accurate steering means the car can be driven with great precision, essential for one this wide, and while there’s not much steering feel, that is to be expected from a car of this size and mass
This may not be an SUV, but it is a full four-seater, which will allow four six-footers to sit together in comfort, even if the adjustable rear seat may prove a little high and hard for some. The boot is not huge, but the rear seats fold completely flat at the touch of a button allowing a great deal of Ferrari tailored luggage to be loaded. The rear hinged doors work as well here as they do on a Rolls-Royce or Mazda RX-8, providing completely unhindered access to the rear and the ability to almost just step out when departing the car. It is perhaps worth noting however that the Purosangue is not certified to tow anything, let alone a horse box.
The car is trimmed in sumptuous leather as standard, on top of which the optional carbon-fibre cappings look a trifle odd. The Human Machine Interface looks like that seen already in the likes of the 296 GTB and SF90 but this latest version brings some curious choices: for instance Ferrari has decided that navigation is no longer required, because owners will use proprietary Apple or Android systems from their smartphone. Which is all well and good until someone forgets said smartphone, or loses it, or has it stolen, or ventures into an area with zero reception. Or just doesn’t own a smartphone. And yes, such people still exist.
Strange also that this is the first car that makes you choose between being able to see where you’re going or looking at a rev counter. For, once Apple CarPlay is activated, that loud and proud yellow tachometer that dominates the screen on first arrival simply disappears. The haptic controls on the steering wheel are none too friendly either. It’s not so much that it’s a fiendishly complex system because despite all the myriad menus it works reasonably intuitively, it’s just far too easy to over or under scroll and miss your target, in a way you never would with a switch or a button.
And Ferrari leaves a reminder too of just how effective the old approach can be, by way of its manettino driving mode control. Twist for ice, wet, comfort or sport settings, press for soft, medium or hard suspension. If only all the other control systems were so simple and effective to use.
Technology and Features
Even if the aluminium structure and V12 engine sound quite old school, in reality the level of technological sophistication packed within its shape is more than enough still to baffle a hack even after a 64-page technical presentation and a press conference so long it had an interval.
All of Ferrari’s usual features are here, such as the latest version of its side-slip control system which is capable of monitoring and controlling tyre slip so well you’ll think you just turned into a drifting god. The four-wheel steering system from the 812 makes an appearance too and is worth noting for its ability to steer each rear wheel independently of the other. Which is very clever indeed. As is the four-wheel drive system, developed from that pioneered by the FF, which gets around the complexity of running a shaft all the way from the gearbox (between the rear wheels) back up to the front end by using another shaft emerging straight from the front of the engine with its own three speed gearbox, two for going forwards, one for going backwards. So the car is effectively front-wheel drive in reverse.
But the really clever, new and innovative technology concerns the suspension. On first acquaintance it all looks normal enough: double wishbones at the front with a multi-link rear end and coil springs all round (air springs were not even considered despite its luxury brief and 2,170kg mass). It has super-sophisticated electronic dampers as you’d expect, but so too is there something missing here: anti-roll bars. We have seen in cars like Bentley and Porsche SUVs what are loosely described as ‘active’ anti-roll bars run off 48-volt power supplies that can be so stiff as to essentially eliminate body roll or so loose (for off-roading usually) as to be effectively disconnected.
Ferrari’s system developed for them by Canadian whizzkids Multimatic (whose other jobs include building the GT for Ford and supplying Aston Martin with Valkyrie monocoques) uses actuators on each wheel which can actively act upon the spring below in an instant reaction to conditions underfoot. It can’t read the road and is more reactive than truly active, but in its ability to replicate the effect of an active anti-roll bar, while maintaining truly independent suspension movement from one side of the car to the other, it is a truly novel and highly effective approach.
It’s easy to see why the queues for the Purosangue are long and getting longer. It is a Ferrari like no other that does things no other Ferrari has done. It even has hill descent control for negotiating slippery slopes. For the first time a prospective purchaser can sell the idea of buying a Ferrari as something to benefit the entire family. There has never been a Ferrari which works better as daily driver, for none has been so comfortable, nor has there been one better suited to loading up with luggage and kids and heading off for the mountains or some other kind of adventure.
But it could be better still and I suspect that when Ferrari finally gets around to fitting a smaller, hybridised turbo engine to the Purosangue that will be the one to have. Hopefully by then it’ll have sorted out the quirks in the HMI too. For now, then, it feels slightly like a work in progress which, given that this is Ferrari’s first foray into the field, is perhaps to be forgiven. It’s a fascinating car for sure, but one that leaves you feeling that the best is yet to come.
Engine 6.5-litre, twelve-cylinder naturally aspirated
528lb ft (716Nm)
Eight-speed double clutch, four-wheel-drive
Reviewed by Andrew Frankel