The wildcard in the current Ferrari range, the four-seater, four-wheel-drive FF was launched with great fanfare back in 2011. It was billed as something decidedly different from the usual Maranello fare, with the first models shown barrelling along a snowy mountainside as if to cement their image as a go-anywhere wondercar. Now that the Ferrari range has expanded to include svelte coupes like the California T (see W*187), hardcore track cars and billionaire collectables, is the FF still a flagship or just a curious sideline?

Four-seater Ferraris are nothing new. But the FF's immediately predecessor, the Scaglietti, came under fire for not conforming to the brand's rigorous aesthetic standards in its quest to squeeze four full-sized adults behind a large V12 engine. We loved the Scaglietti – and even specified an example of our own – but the criticism must have stung, because Ferrari went back to Pininfarina with a very different brief.

The FF is, broadly speaking, a shooting brake. The 'two-box' body means there's plenty of space for passengers and luggage, while another innovation, four-wheel drive, lurks under the body shell. The FF still hasn't received universal acclaim for its appearance, but in our view it looks fantastic. Sure, it's enormous, a wince-inducing bulk that initially makes life tense for the regular urban driver. There's no hiding in plain sight either, for the 630bhp V12 wants to let everyone know you've arrived, and heads turn at the slightest blip of the throttle.

The aesthetics stumble slightly inside, although there's no denying the cabin is spacious (especially with the vast panoramic glass roof) and comfortable. While other manufacturers are stuffing in steering wheels with buttons that replicate things like radio and navigation function, Ferrari insists on only placing driver-focused controls on what it dubs the manettino. After a while it makes sense to dip the lights and even flick on the indicators using these switches, but the vehicle dynamics selector is a naked nod to Ferrari's F1 heritage and feels out of place in a GT, rather than a pure sporting machine.

The FF is by no means slow. Very few cars top out at 208mph and the sub 4 second sprint to 60 is right up there at the front of the pack (the company maintains it's the world's fastest four-seater). If you're constantly ferrying yourself over the Italian Alps and taking in a few miles on well-maintained autostrada, there can be few finer vehicles for the trip. The Ferrari FF is a symphony of noises, some of which are unexpected, like the unnerving popping and crackling of cooling mechanical bits that accompanies the end of any journey. That engine note, too, is fast approaching some kind of cultural watershed; there'll always be those that love the sound of a V12 at full bore. The problem for companies like Ferrari is that plenty of people don't, and that number can only be increasing.

So what will happen to this covetable niche of six-figure sports cars? In recent years, Ferrari has pushed its bespoke business into ever-more unpredictable niches. One-off cars for rock stars and industrialists have been followed by the LaFerrari hypercar and the recently announced Pininfarina Sergio, a limited edition of six. The FF is still a volume machine in comparison but it remains a breed apart from the rest of the current range, in style, ethos and practicality. Too big to be a true sports car, the FF is an unparalleled piece of automotive eccentricity.

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