Driving Ferrari's first four-door four-seater, the Purosangue

We take the full-sized seater car for a spin on the picturesque winding roads of New Zealand’s North Island

Ferrari’s Purosangue – which translates as thoroughbred from the Italian – is the marque’s first four-door production vehicle. Photo: Ferrari
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Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari, once confidently declared that the Italian sports car maker would never produce an electric car or an SUV, while he held the position. Fast-forward to September 2022, when Ferrari launched the Purosangue, the Prancing Horse’s first four-door, four full-sized seater with more than a hint of the SUV about it – the marque is facing some seriously awkward questions.

The Purosangue – which translates from Italian as pure-blood or thoroughbred – is wide and muscular, and has more than a passing resemblance to a sports utility vehicle. Yet, Ferrari is neatly sidestepping the issue by stating that this car is so brimming with innovation, it deserves a designation all of its own.

And, to be fair, it has a strong argument. I was introduced to the car in Auckland in December, part of a group tasked with driving it to Taupo via Rotorua, on New Zealand’s languidly winding roads. While utility specs are still relatively new in high-performance vehicles – Lamborghini unveiled its Urus SUV in 2017, Rolls-Royce wheeled out the Cullinan in 2018 and the DBX was unveiled by Aston Martin in 2020 – Ferrari may be late to the game, but it has been far from idle. Instead, it has used that time to create not a new model, but practically a new species for this debut.

It rose, Ferrari insists, from the demands of customers for a performance car better suited to daily life. While purists might lament a shift away from the strict rigours of racing tradition, in reality, Ferrari has packed so much next-generation technology into a new chassis, that the car almost bristles.

The four seats are sculpted in semi-aniline leather, which allows the distinctive grain to show through, and have consoles between them, even in the back, to differentiate from bench-style SUV seating. A large proportion of the interior and dash is moulded from carbon fibre, a material usually found in jet fighters and spacecraft, and that is strong, light and eye-wateringly expensive. Being Ferrari, it is naturally offered in various finishes, including with added copper for warmth, while the floor carpet is made partly from recycled fishing nets, with an option for bulletproof flooring, should the need arise.

The front passenger has a 27cm touchscreen, which allows them to finesse every cabin detail – from preferred climate to choice of lumbar massage – while the driver has a discreet head-up display to show the driving speed. The steering column is fully adjustable for optimum driving comfort, and is, as expected, framed by racing-style paddle gears. Ferrari’s signature Manettino switch, which allows the driver to set the suspension to the driving conditions has settings for snow, ice and the wet, yet nothing for off-road, again shutting down any comparison to an SUV.

Its four doors swing outward from the centre of the car in a configuration Ferrari dubs “Welcome doors”. With all four doors open, the revealed interior is spacious, airy and, well, welcoming. And although not the first Ferrari to have this many doors – that distinction goes to the FF and the GTC4 Lusso, among others – these are the most user-friendly, thanks to the full-sized seats, and certainly the easiest to get in and out of.

Of course, the true thrill of Ferrari is that towering engine sound, and with a press of a button, the 6.5-litre, V12 engine leaps into life with a throaty roar. Petrolheads will weep with joy at specifications such as the 8-speed dual-clutch transaxle, and a rear-mounted gearbox with a 49:51 weight distribution, which borrows the 4RM-S four-wheel drive system from the GTC4 Lusso. It has 715 brake horsepower, spins at 8,250 revolutions per minute and generates a whopping 716Nm of torque.

For the rest of us, these figures outline how powerful the engine is, how fast its components work, and how efficiently this is translated into motion. Measured in Newton metres, torque is the twisting power that delivers the engine power to the wheels, and the figure of 716Nm is very, very impressive indeed. It certainly helps to explain that despite weighing in at more than two tonnes, making it the heaviest Ferrari ever made, the Purosangue can go from 0 to 100kph in 3.3 seconds, and has a top speed of 311kph.

But this kind of power requires fingertip control, so the Ferrari team has redesigned the suspension system from scratch, to provide exactly that. Each wheel is now equipped with its motor controlling the damper, dubbed Ferrari active suspension technology, which can adjust the speed of the piston, to either speed up or slow down. The result offers a ride of unheard-of smoothness, and contains the pitch and roll of the car to an unprecedented degree. With the four wheels acting independently – and preprogrammed to anticipate almost any driving scenario – the technology is so sophisticated, fast and responsive, it can regain control in even the most extreme corner or spin, doing away with the need for roll bars. You might want to read that sentence again.

Of course, the average driver – even of a Ferrari – will be blissfully unaware of the mind-blowing innovation at their fingertips, a sign of the skill of the Ferrari engineers. The state-of-the-art technology that runs through this car is there to serve the driver and create the best possible experience, and as such, exists in the background. Certainly, heading through the undulating roads of New Zealand’s north island, we were aware only of comfortable smoothness, and a reassuring sinking into corners as the independently operating rear wheels hugged each bend.

It ate up the kilometres with elegance and ease and responded instantly to the slightest hint of acceleration. The V12 engine offers more power than any person will ever need in a lifetime, yet gives a feeling of being anchored to the terrain.

As it continues to write its history, the Purosangue is also the quietest Ferrari to date, a fact that has drawn murmurings from die-hards, but still offers a rich, guttural roar. Standing outside the vehicle, the sound is theatrical enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, yet seated inside, is dialled to a level compatible with a comfortable drive. And with that deep growl rising from somewhere below the seats, there is the constant reminder that the beautiful drama of Italian engineering is just an open window away.

In perhaps the biggest nod to the demands of modern life, the car has 16.7 cubic feet of boot space, which we discovered is enough to hold one suitcase, but not two.

Forced to stash our additional luggage inside the cabin, this charming, yet infuriating, attempt at practicality only highlights how strong the lure of performance is for Ferrari. Even when it tries to embrace normal life – and this boot is the biggest it has ever offered – it cannot escape the gravitational pull of the racetrack. What use is luggage space when racing? One can only shrug and agree.

Yet, thanks to all the engineering, the Purosangue is not cheap, coming in at Dh1.3million before adding a single extra. While it is neither a supercar, nor family friendly runaround, it still has a two-year waiting list, so clearly Ferrari is tapping into a real need.

It does, however, remain something of an enigma, occupying an undefined new ground, so undefined that, at times, even Ferrari seems a little confused about how to describe it. But, as it couples technology with astonishing power, perhaps this is truly a Ferrari for a modern clientele. Just don’t call it an SUV.

Updated: February 12, 2024, 7:12 AM