I feel I owe a great debt to automotive magazines. I never discovered the ‘joy of reading’ when I was a child. I did my required assignments in school, and some of those turned out to be both interesting and entertaining, but it was car magazines that opened a whole new world. A lot of guys would grab car magazines in the library at high school, but most would leaf through looking at pictures, but reading the articles turned into my obsession. Those articles taught me a wealth of knowledge, not just about automotive technology, but how to convey those thoughts and information in an entertaining way.
When my children were young they would often hear my laughter when I sat down to read, and my first wife was forever puzzled at what could possibly be so funny. These people always possessed what I felt was the dream job, to drive some of the greatest cars in the world and then attempt to capture that experience for the rest of us to enjoy. To explain to someone else how you feel when you drive an exciting machine is no easy feat, but the creative ways these journalists came up with never ceased to amaze me.
Driving a high performance machine around a track is a tsunami of emotions unlike any I’ve ever experienced. My respect for the professional racing driver grows exponentially every time I turn a lap or attack a challenging road. Anyone who thinks a pro driver is not a ‘real athlete’ is someone who has never had a brush with the true experience. I’ve seen more than a few people step out of a ride-along at the track, and they do so sweating, gasping for breath, and quivering all over from the adrenaline rush. These are after effects of riding, not actually turning a wheel in anger, so imagine turning that intensity level all-the-way-up! I’ve never been sky-diving, but I can’t imagine anyone calmly jumping out of an airplane for the first few times…unless you have a death wish.
The truly talented automotive journalist finds brilliant new analogies and adjectives in every paragraph to convey these experiences onto the page, and to this day I find that ability fascinating. A recent case in point is the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, a car bred from racing technology but blessed with the attributes to function in the real world.
Enzo Ferrari cared about one thing…winning races. The Grand Prix Team that bears his name was his central focus, and he only began producing sports cars for sale to the public to finance his racing team efforts. Given that knowledge it comes as no surprise that most cars wearing the Prancing Horse Shield have little use except a pure driving experience. The halo cars produced in Maranello employ technology taken directly from the Formula 1 Team, and as such are basically racing machines tamed for street legal use.
Sergio Marchionne, current CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which in turn owns Ferrari, has made the statement that it was not in their DNA for Ferrari to ever build a crossover or SUV. The number of Ferraris produced with a back seat is severely limited, but at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show the company unveiled the “FF” marking the first Ferrari ever produced with four-wheel drive. The FF also boasted seating for four adults and storage space for luggage under its hatchback design. The shooting brake body style of two doors and an estate-like body didn’t prevent the car from keeping with Ferrari’s signature sleek looks.
While Marchionne certainly kept his word of not producing a SUV, they came as close as possible while still building a sports car. The FF had its growing pains with its unusual 4WD system which utilized a gearbox on both ends of the engine in order to keep the hood and overall height low.
With almost every other premium car brand now producing a crossover/SUV, Ferrari has remained true to its heritage by updating the FF into the “GTC4Lusso.” This new version improves on the FF in many ways, but to me, the biggest leap is the staunch resolve to stay the course rather than buckling under to the latest trend.
Crossovers and SUVs have a lot to offer but they still fly in the face of basic rules for a sporting machine. A tall roofline means wind drag and high ground clearance raises the center of gravity, both hurt mileage, performance, and handling. Modern engineering and electronics have made huge strides in taming the inherent side effects of the basic SUV, but the Lusso proves there is an enticing compromise to be struck.
An estate car need not be a land barge, nor does it need to seat seven people. It has NO need of any manner of carpentry on its outer panels, and it need not be shaped like a shoebox. Granted, the Ferrari costs $250k, but it also has four wheel steering, streaks to 60mph in under 4 seconds, and packs a muscular 680 horsepower from its screaming 6.2L V-12 engine.
For me, the Lusso stands as an exotic example that practicality need not be ugly. A Ferrari should possess this level of performance and style but a similar domestic version could be produced for a fraction of the cost. A 300 horsepower/30mpg, coupe/shooting brake could easily find a place in the market, and the quirky, quasi-homely Hyundai Veloster is blatant proof of that.
Sports coupes like the Camaro and Mustang are passed over every day in favor of a crossover simply because a couple has a child, or they occasionally carry a friend, neither of which is practical in either car. A machine as beautiful as the Lusso selling for the price of a Mustang would be heaven sent for many a new car shopper.
In a society that relentlessly pursues the concept of “having your cake and eating it too,” I’m amazed a car like the Lusso isn’t already on the showroom floor. Ferrari is showing the way if any one of them would dare to be beautifully practical.
- T. August Green