Organic brake pads for automotive are extremely complex and sophisticated composite materials, in which their numerous constituents interact together during braking action. A combination of partly conflicting friction, wear and NVH properties is achieved by careful ingredients selection and mixture formulation. Recently enacted US legislation has pushed brake pads manufacturers to develop copper-free alternatives. Being copper a key ingredient in many high performance formulations, considerable effort is being put into newly designed formulations and materials. The work presented here is part of a successful development program that led to the creation of a new family of iron-based powders, specifically designed for copper-free organic formulations. A portion of the experimental study is presented here, comprising both macroscopic friction behaviour and microscopic reaction mechanisms, in traditional and new copper-free formulations. Relationships between these two aspects are analyzed, stressing how the unique chemical behaviour of newly-designed alloys is linked their friction performance.