Issue 29 | The Ultimate Grand Tourer

Published in SCD Magazine Issue 29 Autumn 2018

Matt spends a full week with the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T on the SCD Tour de Alps to find out if it really is the ultimate grand tourer.

It’s always interesting to see which cars people choose to do road trips and driving tours, and for the SCD Tour de Alps, there was some real variety. There was a strong showing from Ferrari with three 458 Speciales including an Aperta, two F12s, a 488 and even a 599 GTO as well as plenty from other manufacturers too including two Lamborghini Huracán Performantes and an Aventador, three McLaren 720S and a 570S, three Porsche 991s including a GT3, two Audi R8 V10 Plus, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage AMR, Lotus Exige 380 Sport and even a Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport and Morgan Aero GT.

Something for everyone, then, but what about us? We took what we think might be the ultimate grand tourer, the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T. It’s safe to say we were rather excited at the prospect of spending a week on the best roads in Europe in quite possibly the best car for the job.

For years now, Ferrari have been making four-seater super-grand tourers, and in 2011 they changed their own game when they replaced the 612 Scaglietti with the FF, a four-wheel drive shooting brake which meant you could finally take your Ferrari on a family skiing holiday. Five years later, the FF’s recipe was refined to make the GTC4 Lusso, still a shooting brake, still four-wheel drive, and still sporting an epic naturally-aspirated V12 all of its ancestors did.

But what if you want a grand touring Ferrari without the four-wheel drive and with a little less thirst meaning you can, erm, tour, for longer between fill-ups? Enter the GTC4 Lusso T. It’s powered by a 3.9 twin-turbocharged V8 closely related to that you’ll find in other models in Ferrari’s current lineup which puts out 602bhp and even more torque than the V12 Lusso – a mighty 561lb ft.

Before we really get into things though, why does the GTC4Lusso T exist? Surely if you can afford such a car, you can afford the asking price and appetite of the V12 model? Well, Ferrari’s aim isn’t to save you a few pennies on fuel, but rather bring a more sporting driving experience to their flagship grand tourer. 

The V8 model only saves just over 50kg from the V12’s hefty 1,920kg kerb weight, but all of that weight is lost from the front end, leaving a weight balance of 46% front and 54% rear – very impressive for a car which still has a big twin-turbocharged V8 up front!

As well as moving from a 6.3 V12 to a 3.9 V8, much of that weight is saved by a change not many people seem to realise with the T. It’s a change we feel will be very welcome on Tour de Alps, and that is that it ditches the V12 Lusso’s four-wheel drive system in favour of a traditional rear-wheel drive-setup – perfect for the mountain passes and switchback hairpins we have in store.

As well as that, emissions are almost 25% lower and, in theory at least, it can travel 120 miles further on each tank than the V12 – grand tourers are all about range rather than economy after all, but it’s hard to ignore how much you’d be saving over a week’s driving – you could use that to pay for a special meal with champagne in France, or maybe a small sandwich in Monaco.

My first experience of the Lusso was outside Geneva Airport the night before the tour. Tim (TC Media) and I waited outside after our flight from Manchester and saw its triple layer white paintwork glittering underneath the street lamps. It shares the FF’s shooting brake profile but, to my eyes, has refined that car’s styling and looks more complete, especially at the rear – it has a classy presence without being overly ‘look at me!’.

It was easily the best way I’ve ever been picked up from an airport, so much so, I didn’t even mind folding myself in the back seat, except I didn’t have to fold myself. The rear seats are now significantly deeper and wider than those in the FF and I was amazed at how much room there was back there and how comfortable it was for four guys whose subject of banter frequently reverts to weight!

You really could go touring four up if you wanted to. The interior is a great place to be and this car is specced beautifully with everything covered in blue leather with white stitching, a perfect match for the white paintwork and blue calipers. It has the all-important passenger display, perfect for scaring those sat beside you, and the must-have panoramic roof which gives the cabin a really airy feel. It’s also amazing when you can see the mountains above you through the roof of your Ferrari – not while driving of course!

As nice as it was in the back though, the seat behind the wheel is the one I really wanted to be in and the following evening after the first day of the tour from Geneva, driving through France and into Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel, it was finally my turn as we took a drive into the mountains, but first, let’s talk spec.

We all love a good look through the Ferrari options list, don’t we? So here goes. That glistening triple-layer paint is called Bianco Italia and costs as much as a small hatchback at £15,360. That panoramic roof I called a must have? £11,520. The passenger display, another nice option, comes in at £3,360. The premium hi-fi is £3,552 and Apple CarPlay an alarming £2,400, although they did work together nicely to provide a thumping soundtrack on that cruise from the airport, although that was the last time we needed the stereo all week. I could go on, but in total this car has almost £55,000 of options resulting in a list price of £255,058 – time to get behind the wheel and find out if it’s worth it.

My first drive in the Lusso coincided with my first experience of the Petit Saint-Bernard Pass on the border of France and Italy and it was quite an experience. It was a moment people dream of all their lives, driving a Ferrari, in Italy, in the mountains, in glorious sunshine, with a great bunch of people in a great bunch of cars – what a way to start the week!

The Lusso is a big car – it has to be to fit a massive engine up front, four big lads inside and all their luggage gear in the boot – but on the road it does shrink around you. Unbelievably this was my first time driving abroad and even with that in mind and even with oncoming traffic on some narrow roads, I never felt myself cringing at its width. That means you have confidence in the Lusso, confidence which is entirely backed up by its dynamics as I would find out over and over throughout the coming days – more to come on that!

Day 2 was a perfect test for the Lusso as a super GT as we had seven hours on the road from our hotel in the mountains of Italy along some incredible routes towards our stop for the following night just over the other side of the border in France. The road leading to our coffee stop at the top of a mountain was my first chance to really push the Lusso and it began to shrink around me even more.

The typically quick Ferrari steering means the front end darts into corners like you’d expect of a car half a tonne lighter, helped even more so by the four-wheel steering which gives fantastic agility for a car with such a long wheelbase. That long wheelbase along with the relatively low centre of gravity and improved weight balance of the V8 model means the Lusso stays remarkably stable in fast corners given its weight. The traction on exit would have you believing that it still has the V12’s four-wheel drive system too – it’s amazing how early you can get on the power out of the countless hairpins we encountered!

It pulls strongly on a wave of torque out of those corners, with performance figures tantalisingly close to its V12 brother. 0-62mph comes up in 3.5 seconds compared to the V12’s 3.4, and it reaches 125mph in a rapid 10.8 seconds, barely a third of a second behind the V12. Should your grand tour include a quiet autobahn, the Lusso T will just about knock on the door of 200mph.

I was surprised at how turbocharged the engine feels coming out of hairpin after hairpin. Even in first gear you have to wait until around 3,000rpm and then the turbos come into play as if a rocket has been lit, holding max torque until 5,250rpm and producing its full 602bhp all the way at its 7,500rpm redline. 

It keeps pulling so much that it actually leaves you wanting even more revs as you kiss the limiter. SCD member Gordon took his V12 Lusso on the tour with the optional steering wheel with LED shift lights which would be a must for me when driving quick, and it’s just cool isn’t it?

The boost makes it a little tricky to slide out of slow hairpins as you really have to be ready to throw on the opposite lock when the turbos spool and traction breaks, but it makes it an exhilarating experience and a rewarding one to master.

The Lusso doesn’t have Race mode as you’d find in the even more performance-orientated Ferraris, nor does it have the genius CT off hero mode, so it’s straight from Sport to everything off. It does still have the Side Slip Control system you get in the likes of the Speciale, but it does feel more conservative, so it’d be welcome to have that in between mode as it’s nice to have a lively back end coming out of corners but still have that safety net as speeds build.

At the top of the mind-blowing Col de la Madeleine, we pulled into our coffee stop with some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. I hopped out of the Lusso absolutely buzzing with adrenaline after the drive up, and I’m not sure I expected a grand tourer to leave me feeling that way!

More incredible roads followed and the Lusso excelled leading the way for the rest of the pack, especially on the rare bumpy sections. It would be a great car for UK roads as its supple suspension soaks up the bumps and leaves the body in control while it has enough ground clearance to shrug off any dips in the road or speed bumps through villages that had drivers of more track-focused machinery wincing as their carbon splitters got a light shaving.

It continued to impress when we eventually reached some roads from this planet again. The double-glazed windows isolate you from the outside world like a true luxury car, the exhaust valves close and it rides so well that you rarely need to press the ‘bumpy road’ button on the wheel. Granted that’s not what a Ferrari is all about, but it’s nice to still feel fresh when you get to the next twisty road or to get to your destination with your back and ears still intact. Even after all that driving, we arrived at the hotel ready for more driving when everyone else was ready for a drink.

…it can give some of the excitement of a proper supercar whilst being able to carry four people and their luggage…

The following morning, day 3, we headed out early to film and photograph the Lusso on the highest paved road in Europe, the Col de la Bonette. Later that day we would be driving the same road again with twenty supercars in our wake, but early in the morning, the empty ribbon of super-smooth tarmac slithering up the side of the mountains gave me chance to really explore the Lusso as an out and out sports car.

The simple answer is yes. Everything I experienced the day before only rang truer still; the quick steering, the sharp front end, the traction, but also something I didn’t touch on so much the day before, the brakes. On a road like this where you frankly don’t want to even look over the edge, it’s nice to have some confidence in your brakes, and the Brembo carbon ceramics had a real job on with hard stop after hard stop, fighting 1,865kg downhill, but the pedal stayed right there.

At getting on for two tones, it’s never going to feel like a Speciale, but the agility and balance of the Lusso is so impressive that I’d believe you if you told me it was 300kg lighter than it really is, and to say it offers Bentley levels of comfort and refinement when you want it to, it keeps a good level of the thrills you’d expect from a Ferrari when you turn up the wick.

Later that day, with the full pack following the Lusso’s lead, it just kept performing all the way along the Col de la Bonette, with a brief stop at the top for a photo opportunity and a tiring hike in the thin air to an incredible panoramic viewpoint at 2,715 metres. Ferraris of the past might have felt a little fragile for pushing hard on tough roads all day long, but the Lusso feels properly solid and never once did it suggest it was unhappy or even throw up a light on the dash as we carried on further onto the Col de la Lombarde, another incredible stretch mixing tight switchbacks with fast flowing sections.

And that’s exactly what you want from a grand tourer, something that can do every task you ask of it but also keep doing it over and over without falling to bits or throwing a tantrum, because no one wants to be stranded in France at almost 9,000ft with no phone signal!

En route back to our hotel, we took the opportunity to do some more filming with the Lusso in the setting sunlight and watched the members go by in small groups into the distance. One pair in particular gave us an experience I think we’ll all remember for a while; the 458 Speciale Aperta and V12 AMR echoed into the distance as the sun set behind the peaks, the clouds rolled in and the air grew quickly colder while Adam, Riad, Tim and myself stood silently in awe until they eventually went out of sight behind the mountain a good couple of miles away – a proper petrolhead’s moment we kept bringing up as we enjoyed our pizza later that night!

I was really looking forward to day 4, not just because we were heading for Monaco, but also because we’d be taking on the infamous Red Rock Road. Adam and Jonty had told me about the road itself set against the rocks but also the eight tunnels in quick succession – I was already conjuring up what it was going to sound like in my head!

After a morning of spectacularly scenic driving, we descended into a huge valley towards a sleepy village for our rest stop, and then onwards to the one I’d been waiting for. Driving Red Rock Road in a convoy of 20 supercars really was like something from a film, feeling like a road through Mars as the tunnels cut through the red-tinted hills. Those tunnels didn’t disappoint either, they’re one way so there’s no worry of oncoming traffic and they’re very narrow so the orchestra of exhaust notes is incredible.

Red Rock Road is pretty fast and flowing, and the Lusso felt incredibly stable, and it feels like it has the perfect amount of power to feel truly fast out of corners but still controllable. I’d have happily swapped the rear-wheel-drive dynamics for a wailing V12 in those tunnels though, as I can only imagine how good that motor would sound in there! The V8 sounds good, but can anything compare to a naturally-aspirated Ferrari V12?

When the time came to settle everything down again to keep the police of Monaco happy, the Lusso duly returned to its cushy cruiser persona in traffic and I dropped the windows to the blazing sun of the French Riviera. Amongst the flash of all the supercars, the Lusso still attracts attention without being too shouty. I think it’s a really elegant shape which seems to welcome a warmer reception than something bright yellow.

After the obligatory tour of the F1 circuit, we arrived at our stop for the next two nights, The Fairmont Hotel on the famous F1 hairpin. Once the cars had been squeezed in pride of place out front, it was time for a much-needed lunch by the side of the rooftop pool, with views out to the yachts at sea on one side, and to the hairpin and our resting cars below.

Later that night, the Lusso was leading the way again towards some spectacular viewpoints. Only in Monaco would you casually come across a red carbon Bugatti Chiron at the lights! At the top, Monte Carlo looked like a little lego town and the height of the cliffs we were stood on was enough to make some people feel a little queasy, but it was one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen, especially with several supercars parked in front of it, and it was the perfect way to cap off my time with the Lusso.

Countless people have since asked me things like, “How was the Alps tour? It looked incredible!”, to which I tell them it was every bit as good as it looked, if not better! The roads were everything I could have hoped for, the weather was perfect and the people, as ever, made it unforgettable. The Lusso is a similar story, in that it’s every bit as good as I expected it would be, but a little bit more as well.

Plus, if you need those rear seats, I honestly don’t think the Lusso has any true rivals. The Panamera Turbo S is brutally fast but more of a luxury saloon, the Bentley Continental Supersports has the power but weighs a whopping 400kg more, the brand-new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera looks amazing, but the rear seats really are just for small children, and of course, not one of them has that prancing horse on the steering wheel.

The fact that it did everything everyone else did, that it can give some of the excitement of a proper supercar whilst being able to carry four people and their luggage is a truly impressive feat. When you’re done touring, it would be a perfect family car too without quite the same petrol station addiction as the V12 – SCD member Gordon drove his V12 Lusso back in convoy with us and filled up twice between Monte Carlo and Dijon while we only filled up once!

I absolutely expected the Lusso to be the ultimate grand tourer, and it absolutely lived up to that expectation; it was the perfect companion for every one of the 1,800 miles we covered in it in just one week. What I didn’t expect though, was for it to be such an impressive sports car, and for it to feel like such a true Ferrari.