They swore the Ferrari Purosangue would never exist. It does, and it howls

Through snow and mud and mountains, the 1st SUV from a brand that famously said they’d never make one is a RM1.7m speed machine. Here’s what it’s like to drive


I KNEW my car had made an impression when the portly construction worker I passed in Pinzolo, Italy, made that signature gesture Italian men do where they shake their hand at the wrist, like they’ve just touched something too hot.

SUVs don’t often generate fiery ardour. But the 2023 Ferrari Purosangue, the automaker’s first four-door vehicle, had that precise effect as I drove through the ski town three hours north of Milan.

Signore must have liked the sinewy air ducts set like suspension bridges on each side of the hood. Or the guttural growl of the V12 engine. Maybe it was the sloping roofline, 23-inch wheels and sizzling vermilion paint that caught his eye.

I get it. The US$393,000 (RM1.76 million) Purosangue (pronunciation: PUR-o-SAN-gway, it’s Italian for “thoroughbred”, literally “pure blood”) is a smouldering hulk of metal, carbon and supercar heart aimed at taking down its closest competitor in the segment — the US$230,000 Lamborghini Urus — as the top-performance luxury SUV.

The Purosangue lacks a large centre control screen, instead making the elegant choice to have controls behind the steering wheel, and in front of the passenger

After 12 hours behind the wheel in the Dolomites, a day that included driving off-road on snow, on Alpine switchbacks, and on broad expressways, I can report that it doesn’t knock the Urus from the throne. The Urus has a better overall combination of performance, value and faithfulness to design heritage. But for Ferrari fans, the Purosangue will still set pulses racing. It will even attract some new admirers.

If you follow Ferrari NV at all, you know the carmaker pretty much has everything: Sold-out orderbooks and record sales in 2022; margins that rivals including Porsche and Mercedes-Benz can’t touch; and riotous hybrid supercars such as the 296 GTB, SF90 Stradale and LaFerrari.

The one thing it lacked was an SUV. (See also: The US$189,000 Aston Martin DBX, the US$200,000 Bentley Bentayga and the US$355,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan.) Ferrari leadership had sworn they’d never make such a sacrilegious conveyance. In 2016, CEO Sergio Marchionne told Bloomberg News, “You have to shoot me first.” Times have changed.

Che sorpresa! The amount of money to be made by joining the most lucrative automotive segment in the world finally became too silly to resist. Ferrari says that starting this year, the Purosangue will make up 20% of its total global production. The percentage is low: Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and Bentley report their SUVs account for roughly half of their sales. But Ferrari, ever the contrarian, has long made far fewer vehicles than it can sell. Company brass even refuse to call it an SUV, describing it instead as an “agile car” with “volumes more imposing than Ferrari’s most powerful sports cars.”

When I ask Ferrari’s design director, Flavio Manzoni, if he’d studied his rivals’ SUVs, he replies, “I wasn’t interested at all. This was not a world we wanted to be connected to. I didn’t want to be contaminated.” So, he started at square one, he says, and built a 4,500 lbs vehicle with all-wheel drive and four driving modes with suspension settings to handle deep snow and ice. He added rear doors and ample adjustable clearance off the ground, both new line items for Ferrari. (So, yes, it’s an SUV.)

All sensuous curves from the clamshell hood to the rounded fenders, there’s not a straight line on this car. The front boasts the classic shark-nose style shared on my personal favourite Ferrari, the Roma. Daytime running lights on each side of the hood sit between two pairs of air intakes, a design cue that emphasises the arched ducts rather than headlamps. The rear doors open in reverse, carriage-style, easing access to the back two seats. It’s a cool look and affords more space for bulky items such as coats and knees, because it frees up the area where a normal door’s hinge would be.

Hallmarks of the car include carriage-style rear doors and a menacing V12 engine

At first, I couldn’t see the door handles. Up close I found a black, credit-card-size piece of plastic at the bottom of the window. A light pull opens the rear door with the help of an electronic motor; it can be closed by pushing a button on the inside door frame or using the black lever again. It’s not an exact science, nor is it quick. More than once I resorted to pushing, then re-pushing, then shoving the door closed because the motor was too slow. Ferrari gave me the chance to test the Purosangue off-road, on a small snow track cut into the mountain near the resort town of

Madonna di Campiglio. I started with the car in wet mode, with a soft suspension setting, and hit the gas. It whipped around snowdrifts and a lone skier relaxing in a sweater, toy poodle in tow, the rig staying firmly planted to the ground with no wiggling or sliding. The slip control — a new electronic stability function that works on each of the four wheels even under braking — and a slew of other cornering systems helped master the ruts and bumps along the course. The Purosangue also has hill descent control, a standard feature for many off-road vehicles but a first for Ferrari.

Then I switched to ice mode. That tightened the feedback between the steering wheel and the tyres as we sped along the side of the mountain. It was wild to be hearing that famous Ferrari V12 engine note, not on a sunny Miami street but instead while avoiding snowbanks and that toffee-coloured poodle (utterly unbothered,  by the way) as I blew by.

Back on the road, I activated the seat warmers — it had been -7C° that morning — turned the red switch on the steering wheel to comfort mode, then waved to some school-children in boots and ski helmets as they waited for the bus. I needed to hit the highway. I flipped on the 21 speakers’ worth of Burmester stereo to some sort of Italo-disco on the radio. But there was a loud intermittent popping, which I first thought was an errant snowball from those kids. It turned out it was “related to an early version of the software for the audio system,” a spokesperson told me, and will get fixed.

The cockpit feels modern, sporty and rich. I’d suggest opting for the glass roof, because the standard recycled polyester fabric roof lining feels like…polyester. The Purosangue lacks any centre touchscreen; its absence felt like a welcome escape. Instead, I controlled audio, drive settings and heads-up display functions from a tiny touch-sensitive section of the steering wheel. It may bother some users not accustomed to playing video games or being on their phones a lot.

A round dial in the centre of the dash controls climate for both driver and passenger. And if you haven’t guessed, no, there’s no onboard navigation system, either. The Purosangue doesn’t offer it. “Our customers plug their phones in any way — they don’t need it,” another spokesperson told me. OK. I didn’t reach the 192mph top speed promised in the Purosangue, and I didn’t take out a stopwatch to check the advertised 3.3-second zero-to-62mph sprint time. But after turning back toward Pinzolo and bombing down Route SS43 and the A22 near the ice-blue water of Lake Toblino, I came close.

Maybe it was the disco music or the mushy pink of the setting Alpine sun that had me surging past the lumbering trucks around me. The Purosangue lacked wobble as it darted through traffic; the faster I went, the more fun I had. It gets a combined 13mpg, but you didn’t get this far through the review if you care about that. (The Urus gets a combined 14mpg; this segment isn’t for those concerned with efficiency.) The refined powertrain, pin-precise handling and level cornering is what you came here for; the Purosangue offers those in spades.

Back at the hotel nursing a Bombardino, I found myself feeling smug, basking in the glow of this feat from Ferrari. The automaker’s signature performance, offered from a higher seat position, is a treat. Founder Enzo Ferrari would’ve rolled over in his grave if he’d heard his company made an SUV — er, sorry…“agile car with imposing volumes.” But he would’ve loved it once he got behind the wheel. — Bloomberg

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition