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Wednesday 26th September 2012


PH FLEET: FERRARI 599

The finer points of Ferrari ownership are perhaps not so fine, but Chris Harris is still enjoying the ride


The more exotic the motor car, the more likely we are to forgive its shortcomings. When of course we shouldn’t.

This is especially true in the world of the Italian supercar, most of which are built according to the first rule of Maranello: namely that you pay all the money for the glorious engine, and they throw the rest in for free. When you attempt to adjust a door mirror in a 612 Scaglietti and the knob completely detaches itself, you think this might be a believable explanation.

Peering at the small details of a car like the 599 can often be very disappointing. Take the key: a nasty lozenge of red plastic that has aged with all the grace of the Morris Ital’s centre console. The key is your first point of contact with a car. It should usher in the treats to follow. The 599’s key is horrid.

The car itself isn’t. Ferrari made enormous gains in trim quality and cabin durability in the Noughties. This car feels far sturdier than my 612 and, for the most part, the buttons actually deliver the function allotted to them – again, something you couldn't always say about the 612.

Chamois would be quicker (and quieter)
Chamois would be quicker (and quieter)
Because these are occasional cars, people rarely scrutinise boring stuff like ergonomics or the basic competence of menial things like windscreen wipers. If they did, they would conclude that the 599 has simply terrible wipers. They clank and rattle (just like the ones in the 612 did, before they broke) and it’s impossible to get them adjusted to a speed which will swish away a standard UK downpour.

What to make of this? Ignore it and simple enjoy that remarkable engine? Or look befuddled because Ferrari can make a massive V12 rev to 8500rpm, but cannot produce a functioning, quiet wiper system? In the rain, sadly it’s the latter.

Brooding on the wipers, it’s easy to conclude that Ferrari spends zero time actually sorting these cars for everyday use. You may even think that 200mph doesn't count for much if you can’t get the basics right. Well, one look in a 599’s side mirrors eradicates all thoughts of Italian laziness: they are simply the best mirrors I have used – no mean feat when your hips are as wide a 599's. The glass is massive, the blue tint somehow makes everything look crisp, and they’re heated. Someone spent a long time making them this good, and forgot about the wipers. I won’t mention the wipers again, honest.
Objects you see here may be less expensive
Objects you see here may be less expensive

The electric window switches are the last of the 456-style plastic hoops and they sometimes don’t work unless you nudge them from just the right angle. About right for a £90k motor? Quite. On the debit side, the seats are just fantastic: big, supportive, endlessly adjustable and heated.

I am still learning the Becker hi-fi unit’s controls. Sometimes it doesn’t like me docking my iPhone, but that’s small beer compared to the glove-box mounted connector which is way too short and old enough not to want to charge an iPhone 4. Such is life.

The headlights are plenty good enough, and I’ve only had one ‘Total Electrical Armageddon' warning on the dash. Having owed a few of these Fiats, I naturally completely ignored the message. It never returned.  

It’s a thrilling car to use for supposedly normal journeys. My only criticism of the motor is that above 50mph, you don’t get any real exhaust noise in the cabin. Drop the windows a little (when they feel like obeying orders) and you suddenly realise what sultry music you’re leaving behind. I don’t want the car to be any louder, I’d just like some more of its existing music filtered into the cockpit.

Thirst is a problem. Keeping an accurate record would be far too depressing, but in normal use I’m seeing 10-12mpg. Employing the heavier clog sees that drop into single figures. A Prius it is not – a fact I celebrate each time I drive it.

One unexpected bonus of running carbon ceramic discs is the lack of corrosion if you leave the car outside for a few days. The mild steel discs on a 575 used to oxidise in a few hours and get nasty after a few days. These are fur-free. Use them hard and the pedal gets long – they don’t fade badly, but require big pedal pressures and become hard to modulate.

So, 1500 miles in and I’ve discovered that the 599 is lacking in some minor details, pretty deficient in others and in possession of an outstanding engine. Everything changes and yet nothing changes.

Author: Chris Harris
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