Ferrari Purosangue first drive: global grand tour comes to New Zealand

David Linklater
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What comes to mind when you think “Ferrari V12” and “grand tour”? Probably a howling exhaust note bouncing off Italian Alps as you take the long way to a very long lunch.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
The car is left-hand drive, but yes: that's a Purosangue at full song on Kiwi roads.

Here’s Ferrari’s version of the same: bring a fleet of cars from Modena to New Zealand, inviting 50 international journalists to drive them 3000km from Auckland to Te Anau. Who’d have thought Italians could come up with the ultimate Kiwi summer road trip?

In fact, Ferrari has been doing media grand tours since the late-1990s, inviting journalists on big trips to interesting places in exotic cars: Russia (1997), China (2004), South/North America (2006), India (2008).

This is its first new one for 15 years and make no mistake, it’s a big deal: more than a year in the planning, five cars and a fleet of support vehicles. All five cars do five separate legs, with the 50 journalists flying in and out to tag-team at various locations.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Yes, we sat on this side for the Purosangue NZ grand tour. But drove on the left, too. Obviously.

Ah yes, the cars. All left-hand drive examples of the Purosangue, Ferrari’s controversial new five-door, four-wheel drive supercar. It’s controversial because it’s kind of an SUV, with all that, what do you call it, “practicality” (a 473-litre boot!) and increased ground clearance.

Ferrari could have made this a plug-in hybrid to soften it up, but you get the feeling it’s making a point with the V12.

Ferrari argues that increased clearance is to make it better as an everyday driver and since it’s not designed to go off-road, it’s not an SUV (but, ahem, lots of city SUVs aren’t off-roaders either).

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Raised ride height, but the styling still says 'supercar' in so many ways.

More to the point, while it’s a wagon on top, it’s pure Ferrari GT underneath. The company could have made this a plug-in hybrid to soften it up a bit, but you get the feeling it’s making a point here: Purosangue boasts a 6.5-litre V12 that’s derived from the 812 (tuned for a bit more low-down torque), mounted far enough back under the bonnet to make this a mid-engined machine.

The Purosangue’s styling definitely has a supercar vibe, despite the extra doors.

The complicated AWD system is similar to that used in the GT4Lusso shooting brake, which the Purosangue ostensibly replaces: there are two separate gearboxes, the main one at the back and a power transfer unit (PTU) at the front, which helps achieve 49/51 weight distribution. The PTU is for low-speed traction and stability, because at higher speeds (above fourth gear for the rear-mounted transmission) it disengages and the Purosangue becomes RWD.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Each suspension damper has its own electric motor and 48v power supply.

The adaptive suspension is next-level, with special dampers that each have their own electric motor, with a 48-volt power supply. So it’s truly active and removes the need for any additional anti-roll features; it’s probably the most sophisticated suspension system fitted to any production car. The four-wheel steer is a development of that used in the 812.

The rear seats are comfortable and relatively spacious. You really can go four-up in this supercar.

Compared to the GT4Lusso, the Purosangue’s styling definitely has more of a supercar vibe, despite the extra doors. The back doors are rear-hinged, which Ferrari executives on the event say are partly for packaging because they allow a shorter wheelbase, and partly for “theatre”. We’re gonna say the second thing is the main thing. Ferrari calls them “welcome doors”. They power open from the outside and can be powered shut once you’re seated.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
'Welcome doors' are for packaging and theatre, says Ferrari. Mostly theatre though, right?

The rear seats truly are comfortable and relatively spacious for adult passengers. You can go four-up in this supercar for sure. But where to? Oh that’s right, the NZ Grand Tour. We joined in on the second leg – the only Kiwi participants.

There's a rest day for the international travellers in our group. But it's just a nice day for us.

For the international guests, it’s as much about the locations and roads as the car, of course. Our bit starts at the incredible Kinloch Manor near Taupo, designed around the concept of a 21st-century Scottish castle.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Start point for our leg at Kinloch Manor. Not-SUVs in front of a not-castle.

It’s a rest day for the international travellers in our group, who have come from Germany, Switzerland, Japan and The Phillippines. But just a nice day for us.

Starting the next morning, the two-day route goes around the western side of Lake Taupo, down the Desert Road and eventually left towards Hawke’s Bay, over the so-called Gentle Annie road (SH49) – one of the best pieces of tarmac in the country and the most challenging on the Tour, according to our Italian hosts who have recce’d the route weeks in advance.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Some absurdly challenging roads; shame about the weather.

There’s a visit to Craggy Range near Havelock North, we crash (sleep, not the car kind) and then dash the next day towards more wine country in Martinborough, over the Remutakas to Wellington and the final destination for the cars, Weta Workshop in Wellington. A transporter truck to the Interislander awaits.

But it’s not quite over for us, the final night spent at the outrageous Naumi Hotel in the central city, a riot of colour and shapes that calls itself a “sensory arcadia”. Delightfully dizzy design everywhere.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
A rare glimpse of Ruapehu on the Desert Road.

Check a map and that’s all definitely the long way around, the 700km-plus route designed to showcase as much of the spectacular scenery and spectacular corners on offer in the lower half of the North Island as possible.

And we did feel sorry for Ferrari and the overseas journalists on our leg, because the weather was atrocious. An awesome day at Kinloch upon arrival, but the next 48 hours was bleak and wet, with limited visibility and therefore limited sightseeing; no sign of Ruapehu on the Desert Road, for example. Not ideal for a bunch of people wanting to see cool stuff and hear a V12 sing.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Purosangue hotly pursued by Ford Ranger. Only in NZ?

But if rubbish weather must try and spike your supercar trip, this is probably the right vehicle. You could not claim Purosangue simply shrugs off slippery roads: with all that performance and a slightly higher centre of gravity than your average V12 supercar, there’s still plenty of potential to terrify yourself – AWD or not.

But the tricky conditions are still a magnificent way to show off both the elastic nature of V12 engines in general and the especially torquey nature of this one. Not only is it docile, it can seem quite muted at low speeds – probably a plus for a daily driver.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
A tour, not a race. At least that's what Ferrari said.

But boy, does this car flow over tricky tarmac. As communicated to us rather emphatically on the welcome night at Kinloch, this trip is not about taking the car to the ragged edge; it’s a grand tour, a chance to appreciate what the car can do to entertain and inspire on a long trip. It’s a fine balance of self-control for a bunch of car enthusiasts, but the car itself is so finely balanced it really does live up to its name when cruising the country roads of the North Island: it feels like a throughbred Ferrari through and through.

The only time rain really does stop play is over Gentle Annie, where the weather is especially dismal and many corners are caked with mud. We meet a few farm Hiluxes coming the other way and even a herd of cows at one point. Safety concerns mean this is the only road on the trip where we have a lead car, which rarely gets above 70km/h.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Purosangue in Pahiatua. And theatre, lots of theatre.

The next day’s route, from Havelock North to Wellington, starts out dry and sends us right into the sinewy stuff. That V12 really howls when it gets the chance and while this tallish Ferrari still moves around a little on the most undulating surfaces, the combination of smooth ride, sharp handling and beautiful balance are quite breathtaking.

It’s all too easy to swallow the Ferrari flavour sachets on events like this, but we get the point about Purosangue being very much its own thing. It’s not based on anything else, nor is it a powered-up, tied-down version of a mainstream SUV: it borrows plenty from other Ferraris but because of that, at heart it’s a V12 GT with a few more seats and a few more millimetres under the sills.

Ferrari Purosangue NZ grand tour.
Journey's end at Weta Workshop. And one of the world's most-used 2023 Ferraris.

An incredible machine, as it should be for the price. Ferrari doesn’t build a car unless it’s already sold and most have some degree of personalisation, so with that in mind: consider $700k a reasonable starting point. But it’s $700k you can happily enjoy every day.

About half-way through our tour I ask about one of the vehicles in the support fleet, a Ram towing a double-axle trailer. I’d assumed it was emergency stuff, like spare tyres or even windscreens. Nope, it was a whole extra car, just in case. Ferrari always commits fully to everything it does; and it does everything in style.

ENGINE: 6.5-litre petrol V12 POWER: 533kW/716Nm GEARBOX: 8-speed automated dual clutch (F1 DCT), AWD 0-100KM/H: 3.3sec, 0-200km/h 10.6sec, top speed 310km/h CONSUMPTION: 17.3l/100km, CO2 393g/km (WLTP) PRICE: $690,000 (estimated base)


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