75 Years in the Making

The Purosangue honors Ferrari’s history while blazing a new path.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 1
April 13, 2023

Three-quarters of a century after Enzo Ferrari introduced his first road car, Maranello has unveiled its first four-door model—one that bears more than a few similarities to an SUV, no less. What would Enzo say to that?

After all, the founder of the legendary racing team wasn’t the kind of person you’d call open to innovations. It took years for him to be convinced to walk away from the proven solutions of wire wheels, drum brakes, solid axles, and front-mounted engines. In his private life, until the very end, he reportedly never used elevators or flew on an airplane.

When it came to business, however, he was exceptionally clever—or, perhaps, cynical. Enzo, who claimed he could not afford the cars bearing his name, was often seen driving a plebeian Peugeot 404, but had nothing against selling grand, baroque GTs to rich American clients. A few decades later, he even gave them the option of speccing their 400s with a lousy three-speed GM automatic.

So, would Enzo allow a four-door car to wear the Cavallino Rampante on its hood? Actually, he tried to, according to Enrico Galliera, Ferrari’s Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer. Decades ago, the company built two prototypes with the aim of examining exactly such an idea. Why it was dropped may have been revealed by Sergio Pininfarina, who at the 1980 Turin Motor Show revealed the Ferrari-powered four-door Pinin. This lavish sedan might have won the hearts of the public, but it was defeated by the laws of physics. At that time, a car of such size and weight just couldn’t provide the dynamic prowess expected from a Ferrari.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 2

Many things have changed over the last 43 years, and a breakthrough in this area arrived roughly seven years ago. In early 2016, then-CEO Sergio Marchionne was still asserting that he’d have to be shot before Ferrari would build an SUV. Come 2017, though, Marchionne admitted the company was doing what he had said it never would: developing a four-door “Ferrari Utility Vehicle.”

WHAT HAPPENED DURING this one-year span that caused Marchionne to make a 180-degree turn? Jacopo Canestri, leader of the Purosangue’s Vehicle Dynamics Team, believes the answer lies in the introduction of a new type of suspension, one that allowed a big car to provide the driving qualities hitherto associated only with the marque’s low-slung supercars.

The innovation in question is called Ferrari Active Suspension Technology, and it was co-created by Multimatic, a Canadian automotive engineering giant which developed suspension systems for the Ford GT, Mercedes-AMG One, and Aston Martin Valkyrie. Multimatic also supplies its hydraulic spool dampers for Ferrari’s GT race cars as well as the optional Assetto Fiorano package available for the road-going SF90 and 296.

Unlike traditional suspension, active suspension doesn’t only try to absorb the forces generated by the road and body roll; it also counteracts them. In the Purosangue, an electric motor (one per damper) turns a ball screw that moves the damper shaft independently of external factors. This e-motor, which is powered by a 48-volt system and managed by some seriously complex software written by Ferrari, can not only slow the motion of the shaft but also accelerate it in the opposite direction as desired.

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The FAST system was designed to take both vehicle dynamics and ride quality to whole new levels. It does so by simultaneously controlling body roll to a precisely measured angle (slashing it by half in the case of the Purosangue), redistributing roll stiffness in different phases of a corner, and filtering out road imperfections by actively adjusting ground clearance for each of the wheels (by as much as one inch). This novel, lightning-fast system also eliminates the need for conventional anti-roll bars as well as Ferrari’s optional front-end lift system.

FAST is only the first of an absurdly long list of engineering marvels that was injected into the Purosangue’s chassis in the quest to make it drive like a full-fat Ferrari. Another is rear-wheel steering. Carried over from the 812 Competizione, the system can turn each of the rear wheels independently up to 3 degrees, boosting agility in corners and stability while accelerating or braking.

The Purosangue also receives a pair of 296 GTB innovations: the race-inspired ABS Evo braking controller and the Electronic Power Steering’s grip estimation function, both of which work in conjunction with that car’s six-way chassis sensor. All of this is interwoven with the expected, and exhaustive, set of driver’s aids, which range from the electronic differential to Side Slip Control.

Looking at 3D models of the Purosangue’s chassis (which is 25-percent stiffer than the GTC4Lusso’s), it’s easy to see why Ferrari calls it an all-new design. The Italians have continued their longtime relationship with aluminum, which makes up most of the architecture, and betray it only occasionally with high-strength steel. Carbon fiber was used sparingly, the most prominent application being the roof panel. One of the engineers told me the original plan was to have a standard aluminum roof and offer the carbon-fiber unit as an option—but then they decided to simplify things, making the carbon-fiber roof standard and simply cutting a hole in the composite panel if a client ordered the optional panoramic glass roof.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 4

Although the chassis is new, it retains Ferrari’s now traditional front-mid-engine layout, with the engine pushed behind the front axle and the gearbox nestled with the differential on the rear axle. A transaxle has been part of Ferrari’s road-car heritage since 1964s’ 275 GTB, but it’s very rarely seen in the world of four-door cars, let alone SUVs, since it’s not the most practical solution in terms of cabin space. Luckily, the Magna 8DCL900 dual-clutch eight-speed transmission (which is now virtually standard across the entire Ferrari model range) is impressively compact. Its gear ratios were carried over from the 296 GTB, aside from a longer top gear for more relaxed cruising.

The transaxle contains only one of the Purosangue’s transmissions. The second, as on the FF and GTC4Lusso, is bolted to the front of the engine and sends a small portion of its torque to the front wheels. This extremely compact (just seven inches in length) 4RM-S Evo setup features three gears—two forward plus reverse—and remains active through fourth gear, after which the car is solely rear-wheel drive.

Despite nodding toward SUV-dom, Ferrari wanted to leave no doubt the Purosangue is a true Prancing Horse. (The name in Italian means thoroughbred, but literally translates as pure blood: puro and sangue.) To do this, the company chose the boldest engine possible: its flagship Tipo F140 V12.

Just think about that for a moment. In a world in which every new car apparently needs to be at least a hybrid (including Maranello’s own SF90 and 296) and even Ferrari itself is only two years away from launching its first EV, the Purosangue four-door packs a normally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 which dates all the way back to the Enzo. It’s a remarkable decision that only Ferrari could pull off.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 5

For its new role, the storied V12 sees its intake plenum and intake and exhaust manifolds redesigned in the name of a reasonably wide torque band. While the maximum value of 528 lb-ft is achieved at a peaky 6,250 rpm, 80 percent of that total arrives at just 2,000 rpm.

Don’t be fooled, though: This is still a rev-hungry engine with a clear racing pedigree, one that spins to 8,250 rpm and makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The unmistakable mechanical soprano may be quieter than before, due to the presence of gasoline particulate filters, but no other car of this type can provide an aural experience on a similar level, nor can it offer similar performance.

The Purosangue’s Tipo F140IA generates 715 bhp, which translates into a 0-62 mph time of 3.3 seconds, a 0-124 mph time of 10.6 seconds, and a top speed of 193 mph. This makes Ferrari’s thoroughbred the fastest SUV in the world…but is it really an SUV?

FERRARI’S MARKETING DEPARTMENT certainly doesn’t refer to the Purosangue that way, and there are several obvious reasons to agree with this corporate line. For one thing, if each car coming from Maranello is meant to look like an exotic supercar, then Flavio Manzoni’s design team should be applauded for another success. In the light of day, the Purosangue appears even more otherworldly than in a studio.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 6

It also doesn’t look much like an SUV, even though the short hood and pushed-forward windshield give the shape some Sport Utility-like robustness. It’s more of a muscular shooting brake, or, more to the point, much like the rest of Ferrari’s lineup.

The Purosangue’s front end repeats the motif of the air inlets aping the lights first seen on the SF90 Stradale (although here the actual headlights are tucked into those inlets). Out back, the taillights are taken virtually unchanged from the 296 GTB, while the diffuser looks like it was lifted from some secret hardcore track weapon.

With a wheelbase of 118.8 inches and a length of 195.8 inches, the Purosangue is a big car, albeit not revolutionarily so compared to its unofficial predecessor. Put one next to a GTC4Lusso, and the Purosangue takes up only two more inches in length and width. The eight-inch increase in height is an entirely different matter, of course.

The exotic flavor continues when it’s time to take a seat in the back. Ferrari’s engineers wanted to ensure this moment was going to be an event, and they succeeded. With the pull of a small aero fin that doubles as a handle, the electric rear door swings open against the wind on a single, massive, rear-mounted hinge. Besides wowing onlookers, this “welcome door” solution was chosen to boost practicality, as even this relatively small door provides easy access when it opens to a full 79 degrees. In addition, traditional rear doors would have required a longer wheelbase.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 7

Sitting behind the driver’s seat immediately reveals what the Purosangue is all about. As its dimensions would suggest, there’s plenty of space for my legs and my head, but a middle third seat is conspicuous by its absence. The designers claim its presence would be undesireable, as the car would be more Utility than Sport with it, but in reality the position of the gearbox made this an impossibility. Thus, the two rear passengers are treated to a pair of unexpectedly stiff, supercar-like buckets.

The sports-car layout eats up some of the trunk space, as well. While the spec sheet promises 16.7 cubic feet for cargo, subjectively it looks smaller; it’s surely not a place for storing four people’s luggage. It’s quickly clear this Ferrari won’t be a substitute for a Range Rover or a Bentley Bentayga, at least not for road and ski trips.

Up front, the Purosangue remains a Ferrari first and foremost. Sliding into the driver’s seat, I’m greeted by a mix of fine materials (albeit still short of the very best the super-SUV segment has seen) and high-tech electronic gadgetry. Just like in Maranello’s sports cars, there’s no central screen. Instead, its role is handled by a large instrument panel display and a second screen, measuring an unprecedented 10 inches, fitted in front of the passenger.

To be honest, I don’t have the time to figure out how to operate them, not even the small third screen that pops up in the middle of the cockpit to operate the HVAC system and adjust the seats. Also, even after repeated exposure, I still can’t come to grips with the logic or functioning of the haptic HMI setup, even though the steering wheel has already been updated compared to the 296 GTB. Ferrari just has to do things its own way…yet it’s also thanks in part to such overcomplicated gimmicks that every car coming from Maranello feels so special.

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PRESSING THE UNNECESSARILY SOPHISTICATED touch-sensitive engine start “button” on the steering wheel brings all 12 cylinders to life. Within the first few meters I can feel how athletic and alert the Purosangue is, and things only get better when I find some empty mountain roads away from the crowded Madonna di Campiglio ski resort.

With the needle on the yellow tachometer whipping into the 8,000-rpm range and the engine howling, I quickly reach absurd speeds from which I need to brake long before the first hairpin appears. The drama continues into the corners, where the otherwise cold-bloodedly effective rear axle can reveal a surprisingly liberal attitude towards grip while braking.

The Purosangue can slide into oversteer long before the front wheels touch the apex; it’s as though the car wants the driver to drift through the whole length of the corner. In proper hands this is one crazily engaging and entertaining machine, offering a level of thrills I’d usually associate with Ferrari’s recent two-seaters.

The combined manettino/suspension button plays a significant role here. The former features five modes (Ice, Wet, Comfort, Sport, and ESC-Off), while the latter now offers either two or three ride stiffness settings (Soft, Mid, and Hard) per mode, for 12 combinations in total. It sounds complicated in theory, but in reality you just need to set the manettino and, optionally, press the suspension button if you really need something different. With my preferred Race and CT-Off modes not available, I settle on Sport mode and Mid suspension as the sweet spot. Thus set up, the Purosangue is happy to play the hooligan on command.

Photo: 75 Years in the Making 9

A couple of hours into my journey, I reach the route of the annual Trento Bondone hillclimb (part of the Italian Championships in this discipline). Over the next few uphill miles, I play with the Ferrari’s tail-happy nature, frivolously sliding from one hairpin to another, all while passing skiers doing a similar thing in the opposite direction on a slope just beside the road.

It’s a delightful scene, and the Purosangue is a wonderful dance partner. It’s not as sharp as an 812 Superfast, but it shows off much more racing DNA than, say, a Roma or Portofino M. Compared to the GTC4Lusso, the Purosangue is simply far more advanced and, despite its raised ride height, much more exciting and engaging to drive. Credit must go to the eighth iteration of Side Slip Control and ABS Evo. Indeed, the Purosangue is one of three road cars I’ve driven with brakes that feel very close to those of a GT-class racing car; the other two are the 296 GTB and the Porsche 911 GT3.

It’s only when I reach the summit and stop for a break, and the smell of burnt tires and hot brakes hits me as I open the door, that I realize just how much effort goes into the performance. From behind the wheel, it’s so easy to forget this Ferrari weighs nearly 4,500 pounds before fluids and has a ground clearance of 7.3 inches (just 5 mm shy of a Porsche Cayenne).

Come to think of it, the Purosangue isn’t that heavy in the grand scheme of things. Lamborghini’s Urus Performante and Aston Martin’s DBX707—the closest competitors I can think of—are heavier, although they’re also larger and more versatile. After all, they’re proper, albeit extremely fast, SUVs, which, I can declare at this point, the Ferrari definitely is not.

In SUV terms, the Purosangue suffers from some serious compromises. While huge on character, the normally aspirated V12 can’t provide as much effortless torque as its competitors’ turbo-charged V8s. Not that it makes much difference, really, because you can’t tow anything, anyway. You won’t go too far off-road, either, as, in an ice-covered parking lot, the Purosangue’s novel all-wheel-drive system still sends most of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, which is wonderful for spraying snow up into the air but little else.

Then there’s the eye-watering price. With an MSRP of $398,350, the Purosangue isn’t a competitor to those machines from Lamborghini and Aston Martin. The only SUV playing in this league is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and even that larger and much more luxurious machine starts at a few grand less.

And that’s fine. We shouldn’t view Ferrari’s first four-door as some kind of response to the Cayenne or Urus. Rather, it’s the realization of the FF/GTC4Lusso ideal, what those cars might have been had the technology existed. The crossover format may have been dictated by market trends, but the Purosangue delivers concrete progress on virtually every GT front.

It’s a Ferrari you can use in more real-life scenarios than any model ever coming from Maranello. You can pack more stuff in it than any previous Ferrari, and far more conveniently, yet the Purosangue still boasts the out-of-this-world looks of a thoroughbred exotic, and it’s as thrilling to drive as one, too.

In short, the Purosangue is a car Ferrari needed for a long time, so long that it was even on the to-do list of Enzo Ferrari himself. Finally, after so many decades, the company now has the means to create it.

Sidebar: Four Questions with Matteo Biancalana, Head of Ferrari’s Aerodynamics’ Department

How big a role do aerodynamics play in a car of
this type?

Not so big, right? That’s what I thought at the beginning of this project as well, that it’s going to be an easy one this time. Not at all! To the contrary, just to give you an idea of how much work we put in this car, I can say it was twice the amount of what we did for the 488 GTB.

Even if you don’t see this at first sight, we put massive effort into developing the car and came up with a huge number of body parts related to aerodynamics. Our work covers not only topics like drag and downforce, but also providing proper cooling for the brakes and other components. For example, we are especially fond of the solution which allowed us to eliminate the need for the rear windscreen wiper. Instead, the rear screen is cleaned by the airflow coming from the rear spoiler. It is equipped with two pairs of vortex generators at each end of the lower side of the wing, which are not seen from outside but generate air swirls which scrub the screen through the force of the wind.

This project was a big challenge for us because it’s totally different to what we have done in the past. It’s a car of a completely new shape, with a body of different volumes. In the beginning, we had no choice but to experiment with different ideas and try out some new ones. The ideas we had worked out for the rest of the range just didn’t apply to this one. In addition, the Purosangue is a GT car, so it needs to follow a set of strict rules regulating the shapes, the harmony, and the elegance of its body. This forced us to become very creative and bold with some solutions.

Can you give us an example?
Just on the front of the new Purosangue, we put 12 air intakes of various shapes and sizes, all designed for different purposes. Take the air passage on the side of the hood, for example. One may see it solely as a design exercise, but in reality it’s there because of a long sequence of events.

The Purosangue is the first car to feature the Ferrari Active Suspension Technology, which in turn brought an exceptionally long—from our perspective—wheel travel. This requires a big volume in the wheel arches, which has dramatic consequences for the car’s frontal surface and the needs of air circulation. We addressed this through the creative interpretation of the front-end treatment [provided by Ferrari’s in-house design studio] with additional air inlets artfully complementing the daytime running lights.

To extract the air effectively from the big wheel arch, the channel which leads the hot air out of it is supported by the aforementioned air passage, which begins on the hood. The latter provides an additional portion of air coming at a greater speed, which results in negative pressure where the two tunnels join, beneath the car’s body in the area above the fender shield. This is just one example of how complex the whole development process was, and how many consequences even the smallest step brings.

Is the diffuser still functional given that the ground clearance is so high?
It is working, but it’s there not so much for the downforce—it generates it, of course, but that’s not the main reason for its presence—but for the drag reduction, which now plays an all-important role in the world of ever-more-stringent CO2 limits. The same can be said about the overall shape of the rear hatch, which was designed in a way that provides less suction in the area behind it. With such solutions, we cut down the fuel consumption of the car by a noticeable margin.

What’s the story behind the carbon-fiber wheel arches?
They have a name in Italian: codolini [small tails]. They’re made of carbon fiber as they feature some sophisticatedly shaped aero devices which couldn’t be achieved with a sheet of metal. It’s yet another example of the very intense and creative cooperation between Ferrari’s design and aerodynamics departments. The solution was born in the design studio, and the first time we put it on the car it didn’t function at all. But that was okay, as it was our job to work on it, with the aim of neutralizing any negative effects and enhancing the general aerodynamic performance of the body.

Also from Issue 206

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  • 500 F2
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  • 499P debuts at Sebring
  • F1: Groundhog Day
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