Talk of a Ferrari SUV invites challenging derision. Traditionalists are worried that the Italian supercar maker’s heritage, ideals, and values are under threat. Should we really be worried though? Matthew Warrener examines the case…

Ferrari makes sports cars born out of an unchallengeable constitution of their own making. When conveying their corporate DNA, Ferrari states: “The design of each Ferrari vehicle draws inspiration from the Scuderia Ferrari in Formula 1, Gran Turismo or Sports prototypes.”

Sports cars — mostly red, always two doors, fast and highly capable. They’re designed to win both on- or off the track. But how do you win off the track when there are no prizes awarded away from competition? There has to be something we can recognize in the product that differentiates it from mediocrity, and that difference has to be unique.

A Ferrari has to have a certain aura, something created to demonstrate what the company refers to as an ‘artisanal’ approach — a blend of Italian excellence and human brilliance. For many, the brand with the prancing stallion badge makes vehicles that embody the inherent passions and aspirations of a fiery and passionate nation. This comes alive for all to see and for all to desire in Ferrari’s products.

Ferrari LaFerrari and 156 Sharknose sketches by Flavio Manzoni

Ferrari LaFerrari and 156 Sharknose sketches by Flavio Manzoni

Heritage by Design

Ferraris look very different to other cars: the visceral elements that embody the exterior designs are very… Ferrari. You can see the lineage; today’s designs pay respect to the legends that went before them.

Look closely at the LaFerrari and you’ll see the gaping nostrils that recall the 156 Sharknose, driven to victory by Phil Hill in 1961. The design of the F12 TdF recalls that of the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB, with a similarly shaped grille and front fender air vent graphic. The louvered outlets over the rear fender also echo the characteristic vents of the fabled 1964 250 GTO and the rear outlets of the 275 GTB, while the rear is finished with a modern carbon-adorned Kamm tail.

Ferrari doesn’t just make sports cars because that’s all they know. They make them because it is all that they believe in. It is what they care about. The company’s DNA is synonymous with pedigree and heritage. This revolves around a set of ideals and values.

Traditionally, it’s the same for all other carmakers. We know Ford as the creator of the affordable car for the working man; a company that rose to prominence building a single model in one color. Rolls-Royce makes the ultimate in luxury, claiming its cars are a ‘work of art’. The company was founded on the principle of beautiful engineering, which in turn was used to create the motor car, the emerging product of the day.

Ferrari F12TdF sketches by Flavio Manzoni

Ferrari F12TdF sketches by Flavio Manzoni

Makers of cars tend to gravitate to their brand values rather than what they are technically able to do. It makes sense. Consumers only buy those two things: the brand that represents their set of values (or that they’ll happily endorse) and the practical purpose of the product itself. But every now and then carmakers surprise us by making something that startles and captures the imagination all over again. Ford did this with the new GT, but we should have always expected it. Henry Ford, just like Enzo Ferrari, was a racer at heart. There is a precedent for this.

With talk of a Ferrari SUV, a product that invites such challenging derision, traditionalists are naturally worried that this heritage, one so closely protected and promoted, is under threat. Should we really be worried though?

A modern day Ferrari is a technical marvel, no doubt, but it is also unashamedly respectful to all that was good that went before it.

Rumors have persisted for some time but became clearer when FCA supremo, Sergio Marchionne, reportedly said: “we’re dead serious about it” when speaking openly about the Ferrari SUV project in late 2017. Most recently, Marchionne again declared: “It will look like whatever a Ferrari utility vehicle needs to look like. But it has to drive like a Ferrari”. What is being mooted as a FUV — Ferrari Utility Vehicle — is now firming up to become a very real and open project.

The Case Study

Naturally, there are questions. When brand DNA is so firmly set it becomes a challenge to create something that sits outside the realm. However, in a world of fast dynamic shifts in consumer behaviors, their financial might, and their ability to easily migrate from one brand to another, it is becoming all the more important to slightly skew internal values to accommodate the very transient moods and desires of those who will actually buy them.

We’ve seen this quite dramatically over recent years. When Porsche released the Cayenne — an SUV of some considerable mass, power and capability — it startled the market and industry alike. Calls of ‘selling out’ were heard from Stuttgart to Los Angeles and everywhere in between.

When we think of each carmaker we immediately associate it to a specific shape. For Porsche, it is that all too familiar, organic smooth and fast pebble with a delta bias of high back, low front. Fashioned by the aesthetics of the day, but nevertheless, a familiar shape. In the Cayenne, the notion of that shape continues, though with some extreme manipulation.

Porsche Cayenne (2018) sketch

Porsche Cayenne (2018) sketch

Crucially, the Cayenne was responsible for propelling Porsche ahead. The company went from being a niche sports car manufacturer to a mass market maker of sports-oriented cars. Sales took off from a mere 54,000 globally in 2003 to some 240,000 in 2016. Today, the Cayenne is one in three of all Porsches sold.

The Cayenne gave Porsche volume and much-needed profits without adversely affecting the company’s premium niche brand values. Ferrari, however, needs to balance this more delicately.

The Newcomers

There is no doubt that the SUV marketplace has become a kaleidoscope of choice with so many different shapes and styles available — from small rakish crossovers through to the behemoths at the upper echelons of the segment.

Two of the most recent and diverse iterations are in the form of the Bentley Bentayga and, perhaps the most divisive of them all, the Lamborghini Urus. Both products are thought to be clearly viable in the marketplace — very little gets done in this industry without there being a business case for it.

So how did these two most iconic makers of luxury and performance convince us that their brands were suitable for what remains a divisive product to many?

Bentley Bentayga chosen Crewe model rear

Full-size model of the Bentley Bentayga in the viewing area.

Telling the backstory of the brand and rationalizing the decision to create new products is equally important to the actual specifications and characteristics of the product itself. To that end, both brands reminded us of their past moments of significance and glory.

Bentley effused the adventures of the Bentley Boys and the legend of ‘pushing the limits of power, performance and craftmanship’. The Bentayga continues to deliver this story, the luxury SUV’s visual cues are undoubtedly Bentley and the performance is there to match: the company claims the Bentayga is the most powerful SUV in the world.