While Ferrari has resolved many of its maintenance and reliability issues, there was a time when they weren’t known as quality items. Sure, they were good to drive, had great engines and looked beautiful, yet the driving position and build quality were to be tolerated in order to unlock the fantastic driving experience.
Since the NSX forced the supercar establishment to clean house in the early ’90s, Ferrari has come to represent the pinnacle of emotive driving experience with improved quality and reliability (apart from the occasional fire…). But if we’d told you ten years ago that Ferrari would launch a four-wheel drive, four-seat shooting brake, you’d surely have laughed us out of the room; progress can only go so far, right?
Well, here we are in 2012 and a properly optioned version of such a car is available circa $350k and has rightly been praised to the rafters. From its searing power and handling to the way it effortlessly melds into the life of a prospective owner, the FF has set a new standard for performance and daily usability in the Prancing Horse stable.
But how do you go about improving such a car? Naturally, Ferrari would prefer you immerse yourself in the extensive factory personalization program. And while there’s merit in that, in the rarified world of $350k cars, you might run the risk of parking next to much the same car at the golf club.
Step forward Novitec Rosso; a German tuning house in the small town of Stetten, 60miles south of Stuttgart. The lack of companies serving Ferrari exclusively reinforces the notion it’s not a task to be taken lightly, but Novitec Rosso has deservedly carved out a reputation for both high quality and engineering.
Formed in ’89, Novitec set out to refine Italian sports cars, having notable success in the ’90s with Alfa Romeo turbo and supercharger installations. They would later branch out into Ferraris, with the formation of Novitec Rosso in ’03.
The company defined its current identity with the – now synonymous – twin supercharger (the translated term ‘bi-compressor’ sounds cooler) conversion that first appeared behind the bulkhead of a 360 Modena.
The success of these conversions has led to a glass-fronted, tiled-floor premises with leather couches: a very modern, very cool place to close a sale or inspect the company’s FF.
This year’s color du jour is Giallo Modena – a bold yellow that Novitec uses across all its demonstrators. It highlights the external carbon pieces beautifully. And while some of the FF parts are cosmetic, much of the kit offers genuine aerodynamic advantage for high-speed stability.
Physics tells you the lower center of gravity, light wheels and increased footprint make the Novitec FF a sharper tool
Up front, the carbon grille is complimented by a carbon lip spoiler, while carbon side skirts trim weight from the profile, making the FF sleeker and longer. But the real drama is reserved for the rear, where tinted lights (another Novitec hallmark) compliment the carbon roof spoiler, tailgate spoiler, diffuser and rear valance; all significantly more aggressive than the Ferrari parts.
There’s even a carbon roof, which looks as if it always belonged there, appearing to elongate the glass areas. Novitec didn’t taken a hacksaw to the top of this FF, instead it’s a precision-cut piece of carbon laminate bonded onto the bare aluminum roof in an intensive two-week process.
The bespoke quality continues inside, which can be trimmed in any material or color you choose. The FF is a fantastic starting point, with great ergonomics matched to excellent design cues. This car, for example, featured carbon door sills and extended carbon shift levers (almost twice as long as standard) that offer a genuine enhancement to usability; with the FF’s quick steering, there’s now less need to remove your hands from the wheel for mid-corner gear changes.
This is a good thing, considering the stage 1 engine upgrade puts 702hp and 527 lb-ft at your disposal – an increase of 51hp and 23 lb-ft over the stock 6.3L V12.
No superchargers here, so the extra power is liberated with a tweaked ECU to deliver peak power at 8200rpm: 200rpm higher than standard. There’s also a stainless steel exhaust with no regulator flap and cat replacement pipes. Yep, the restrictive, noise-absorbing cats are junked and the subsequent aural entertainment is heavenly. All V12 engines should sound this way. There’s a rich, exotic note that builds in volume and intensity, flooding the cabin with a racecar howl at the top-end. The natural refinement of the big V12 means its fine for daily use, but the fireworks are just a downshift away.
You can get just the ECU (684hp), stage 2 with fewer exhaust mods (688hp), or stage 3 including an optional exhaust flap switching system on the steering wheel through the Manettino (694hp).
Raw performance figures point to an extra 3mph at the top-end (now 211mph) with stage 1, but the engine work was geared towards throttle response. Frankly, the stock FF is almost uncomfortably quick in full flight, but the Novitec car delivers even more, with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission allowing you to surf the torque in a wave of uninterrupted acceleration, nailing 60mph in a traction control-aided 3.5sec, with 100mph coming up just 4sec later.
All Ferraris are now equipped with carbon-ceramic brakes from the factory, so Novitec focused on slightly lower springs and its ultra-lightweight NF4 forged wheels. These are staggered in width and diameter, with huge 22x12" rear wheels wearing 315/25 ZR22 Pirelli P Zero Nero tires.
Grip, in the dry at least, was predictably huge, with the chassis doing a great job of transferring 700hp to the road. The FF feels like a big car, but with its steering accuracy and no perceptible body roll, it displays remarkable agility when driven hard. It also has a surprisingly approachable nature: the part time four-wheel drive system plays its part here, stepping in only when you’re approaching the limit of rear grip, and only apportioning up to 20% of its power to the front axle.
The idea is to leave the steering as pure and uncorrupted as possible. In fact, we only ever felt a gentle tug on the wheel when accelerating hard out of second gear corners.
Without a standard FF to conduct a back-to-back comparison, it’s hard to quantify how much advantage the modifications bring, but physics tells you the lower center of gravity, light wheels and increased footprint make the Novitec FF a sharper tool, while the wind tunnel-honed aerodynamics bring greater stability to high-speed cruising.
It’s more than fast enough to satisfy the majority of tastes. Those who want more would probably be better suited to the 850hp 599 bi-compressor, which Novitec Rosso would happily sell you…
2012 Ferrari FF
6.3L V12 with Novitec Rosso ECU, 8200rpm rev limit, stainless steel exhaust, no regulator flap, cat replacement X-pipe
seven-speed F1 dual-clutch
15.7" f, 14.2" r carbon-ceramic rotors
Wheels & Tires
21x9" f, 22x12" r Novitec Rosso NF4 forged wheels, 255/30 ZR21 f, 315/25 ZR22 r Pirelli P Zero Nero tires
carbon fiber grille, lip spoiler, side skirts, roof spoiler, tailgate spoiler, diffuser, rear valance and roof panel, tinted lights
carbon door sills and extended shift levers