Publicly, Ferrari CEO Amedo Felisa and outgoing President Luca di Montezemolo have routinely denied any plans to branch out from sports cars into saloon cars, or even SUVs. However, the apparent sighting today of a secret test vehicle in London suggests that the company’s plans for an off-road model are both real and well-advanced. Cleverly disguised as a 458 Spider, the off-road test vehicle was spotted in a sophisticated test facility designed to replicate a residential street in Westminster. Typically this terrain is the preserve of Range Rovers and other “Chelsea Tractor” SUVs, so it is clear which section of the market Ferrari is targeting with its off-road plans. Hidden from view is an enhanced version of the now-familiar mannetino control dial on the steering wheel, bearing two extra settings: “SM” and “DM”.
When pressed to explain the London sighting, an anonymous source close to the project explained that 80% of real-world off-road demands can be covered by Kerb Ascent and Kerb Descent capability (known as Salita Marciapiedi and Discesa Marciapiedi in Italian, hence the SM and DM settings on the mannetino). In Westminster, home to many of the marque’s established sports car customers, the off-road coverage figure rises closer to 100%. Our source revealed, “It was clear to us that in London, and Westminster in particular, we had found the right market for our first off-road vehicle.”
Industry commentator Alberto Maretti greeted today’s sighting with delight: “Suspicions are high that the new off-road capabilities will be launching as the much-rumoured Ferrari Fuoristrada [Italian for ‘off-road’]. We got our hopes up in 2011 when we were hearing about the current FF model, thinking that the ‘FF’ initials were giving the game away. As we all know, the FF is strictly a road-going vehicle, despite being equipped with 4-wheel drive. Now it is clear from what we have seen today that Ferrari has achieved off-road capability whilst remaining true to sports car styling. This really is an incredible day for the prancing horse badge.”
Looking beyond the new car, Formula 1 fans may now have an answer to why Ferrari’s F1 team has been underperforming this year. A key principle of the Ferrari brand is that its road-going cars inherit technology from F1, so we would expect the new SM/DM system to be proven in grand prix racing before being given the green-light for road car deployment. Perhaps the team’s performance this year has been unduly distracted by trialling technology destined for road cars and this ultimately led to Alonso’s departure. When we put this to the boss of Scuderia Ferrari, there was a telling silence.