I was expecting an angry bark. An explosive eruption to match the ferocity of Mount Vesuvius spouting molten rock and fire. Instead, 12 cylinders crank over with all the civility of an airport conveyer belt rousing into life and commencing suitcase-laden laps in the arrivals hall.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little for dramatic effect here, but this is merely to convey how remarkably muted 680bhp worth of 6.3-litre V12 is in the new Ferrari GTC4 Lusso. It’s allegedly what customers for this car demanded. “Owners of the FF told us they want less noise at slow speeds,” says Ferrari’s head of powertrain development, Luca Poggio, with a mild shrug.

Although Ferrari bills it as an ‘all-new’ car, the truth is that it’s a comprehensive revamp of the FF.

We’re at the international launch of the GTC4 Lusso in the picture-postcard town of Brunico — aka Bruneck — in the northern tip of Italy (it used to be part of Austria until being annexed by the Eyeties in 1918), and tomorrow we’ll be opening the taps in the aforementioned V12 on the winding roads of the Dolomites that form an extension of the Alps.

So, what exactly is the GTC4 Lusso? Although Ferrari bills it as an “all-new” car, the truth is that it’s a comprehensive revamp of the FF. One of the casualties of the makeover is obviously the nondescript FF moniker. In its place is an evocative new name — even though you won’t find any badges on the car spelling out its identity — that draws heavily on Ferrari’s illustrious past.

The ‘GTC’ bit is a carryover from past greats such as the 330 GTC and is an abbreviation of Grand Touring Competizione, while the ‘4’ is a reflection of the car’s four-seat, four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive set-up. As for ‘Lusso’, it’s Italian for luxury, and the suffix has appeared in the past on classics such as the 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso.

During the presentation, we’re told prospective owners of this car “use their Ferrari in a different way” to those who have a 488 GTB or F12 in their garage. To ram the message home, we’re shown images of FFs in snow, on gravel roads and chock-full of Ikea furniture in the rear. We’re also informed that FF owners made 60 per cent of trips with four occupants on board and clocked up 50 per cent more mileage annually than other Ferrari pilots.

But just as everyday usability is a key component of the new GTC4 Lusso, so, too, is the naturally aspirated V12 motor, which can trace its lineage all the way back to the 166 S that launched in 1948. In fact, Poggio confides that such is the importance of this engine configuration’s continuity to Ferrari that it’s the reason it downsized and turbocharged its V8s. It was the only way the marque’s fleet consumption and CO2 figures could fall within acceptable norms.

The sheer mass of the GTC4 Lusso means it’s not a point-and-squirt weapon in the vein of the F12...

Eventually, the V12 will become a dinosaur, but for now we’re here to bask in all its aural and visual glory. That’s why it’s a mild disappointment to discover the mighty 6.3-litre unit is barely audible on tick-over and at around-town trundling speeds.

It’s only when we’re clear of the township of Brunico that the road opens up and presents an invitation to prod the GTC4 in the guts. The V12 motor gains new pistons for a higher compression ratio (it rises from 12.4 to 13.5:1) and there’s also a brand-new six-into-one (per cylinder bank) exhaust system that’s worthy of being displayed as a work of art in your living room.

The net result is that power rises from 651 to 680bhp, while torque is bumped from 683 to 697Nm, with 80 per cent of the latter quota on tap from just 1,750rpm. Ferrari quotes a 0-100kph split of 3.4sec (3.5sec for the FF), and 0-200kph in 10sec (11sec for the FF). For what it’s worth, top whack is 335kph. It also pulls up slightly sharper than before, with braking from 100-0kph achieved in 34m (35m for the FF).

So, on paper that’s several boxes ticked already, but out in the real world, the GTC4 generates its acceleration in linear fashion, rather than with the eyeball-squashing violence of the F12 or 488 GTB. The reason for this is that you simply cannot hide 1,920kg of mass. Stretching a tad under 5.0m from stem to stern and 2.0m across the bows, the GTC4 Lusso is a huge car (for a Ferrari). It’s also weighed down by the fact it’s stuffed with four full-size seats, AWD hardware and loads of luxo kit.

That said, the innovative Power Transfer Unit (PTU) that transmits drive to the front wheels via its own gearbox (with two forward gears and one reverse) is 50 per cent lighter than a conventional AWD system. The PTU system can apportion up to 90 per cent of torque to the front wheels when traction at the rear is compromised, but it operates only up to fourth gear.

As with its predecessor, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that sends drive to the rear wheels is housed at the back (in unison with the E-Diff), and this is to obtain a 47:53 weight distribution over front and rear wheels, which Ferrari boffins claim is the ideal split for agility (i.e. minimal understeer) and stability.

So, how does it all gel on narrow, windy and heavily trafficked roads in the rarefied atmosphere of the Dolomites? There’s no doubt the GTC4 is the quietest and most cosseting Ferrari I’ve ever driven. At bumbling speeds, the V12 recedes into the background with only a muffled hum audible in the cabin. The roads beneath us are scarred with potholes, but these, too, are all but nullified by the MagneRide dual-shock dampers. If you blindfolded someone, sat them in the car and told them they were riding in a Bentley, they’d probably believe you.

Despatching the slow-moving traffic on the first decent straight, the opportunity beckons to at last have some fun. Arriving into a tight left-hander, I discover the brake pedal isn’t the most progressive. Nothing much happens for the first half-inch of travel, but after that the anchors grab abruptly. It’s something you eventually dial into after some ankle recalibration, but it’s initially disconcerting and not conducive to smooth-braking inputs.

The brakes themselves are huge carbon-ceramic stoppers, but they have their work cut out in retarding the almost two-tonne Ferrari. The sheer mass of the GTC4 Lusso means it’s not a point-and-squirt weapon in the vein of the F12 and 488 GTB. You need to pre-plan your line, get your braking done in time and allow the weight of the car to settle before turning in to corners. The key is to get into a rhythm and make the car flow from one bend to the next.

The GTC4 has even more electronic wizardry than its predecessor, with the updated 4RM-S system minimising traction control and stability control intervention via new ‘Grip Estimation’ software that pre-emptively manages torque output to the wheels to all but ensure the electronic nannies remain dormant. Push hard and you’ll find the GTC4 clings to the tarmac with tenacity, even if you mash the throttle halfway out of a tight hairpin. Considering there’s almost 700 Newtons being deployed by the four contact patches of rubber, it’s not a bad feat. A three-metre wheelbase and this much weight are normally a recipe for understeer when raged this hard, but the active rear-steer and aforementioned electronics do their best to disguise the girth of the car.

Precision is required to thread the juggernaut through some of the ultra-tight roads we encounter (made all the more challenging by the fact that we occasionally discover oncoming traffic intruding into our lane as we round a blind corner), but the GTC4 is equal to the challenge. The seat of my pants tells me it’s quicker than a Bentley Conti GT Speed, Aston Martin Vanquish or Mercedes S-Class Coupé across this terrain… but an F12 or 488 GTB would have dusted it.

As for the V12 engine I’ve been harping on about, the only time your eardrums really get to savour its full crescendo is at full throttle… in a tunnel… with the windows down. The exhaust mufflers have bypass valves that open up at speed, but even then the GTC4 isn’t anywhere near as vocal as its siblings. And you’re wasting your time looking for an exhaust button on the console, because there isn’t one.
Aesthetics is a highly subjective area, especially when you’re dealing with an entity that has a pointy snout grafted on to a station wagon rear end but, to my eye — and clearly those of the fawning gawkers who swarmed all over the car at Lake Misurina — the GTC4 Lusso is a discernible improvement over the anonymous-looking FF it replaces.

The seat of my pants tells me it’s quicker than a Bentley Conti GT Speed, Aston Martin Vanquish or Mercedes S-Class Coupé...

Penned in-house by Ferrari Design, the GTC4 looks wider and squatter than its predecessor, even though its key dimensions are unchanged. This visual trickery is the result of a broader mouth and L-shaped headlights that extend inwards to create the impression of added width at the front.

The same applies to the rear with a lower, flatter rump housing four taillights, whereas the FF made do with two. The vent cut-outs in the rear bumper are now longer and more horizontal, while the rear glasshouse has been vertically truncated to make for a more tapered derrière. The flanks have also been substantially reprofiled, with a sharply scalloped lower section alleviating the oldie’s slab-sided look, and gills in the front fender replacing the single vent in the FF.

All in all, the GTC4 Lusso definitely has more visual presence on the road than the FF, and few will dispute it’s a sharper looker. A quantum leap has also taken place inside the cabin, which now embodies a pronounced ‘dual-cockpit’ design whereby even the front passenger gets their own display screen (with digital speedo, tacho, gear readout and G-force graphic) to look at. They can also fiddle with the infotainment and HVAC controls via the new 10.25in HD touchscreen atop the centre console.

The interior has an airy feel (the two-square-metre glass roof helps immeasurably here), and all four seats are comfortable and impeccably sculpted... yes, even the ones in the back. There are more useful little storage cubbies scattered around the cabin than was the case in the FF, and Ferrari claims you can stash up to 800 litres of stuff in the luggage bay with the rear seats folded down.

So, as far as everyday usability goes, the GTC4 Lusso is clearly more capable than any other Ferrari has been to date. No, it doesn’t dish out the visceral high to substitute for an F12 or 488 GTB, but then, which other compliant-riding four-seater out there does?

The GTC4 Lusso probably wouldn’t be the Ferrari I would buy (that’s assuming I had a million or two sloshing around in my bank account in the first place), but I can easily see why the hulking coupé will appeal to its target market.

It’s hard to imagine a more stylish, comfortable and rapid — at least while staying in contact with terra firma — way of crossing continents. The fact that the Lusso offers the ability to take your family along for the ride endows it with credentials that are unique in this rarefied segment.