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Thursday 7th September 2006


FERRARI 599 GTB FIORANO

Can Nick Hall stop giggling long enough to drive it? Read his report.

Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano

Just a few short miles from Maranello, when the traffic died, the road opened out. The temptation to plant the right pedal to the floor proved too much, and the sheer magnitude of Ferrari’s achievement with the 599 GTB Fiorano struck home as I and my photographic companion began to giggle like children.

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Bar the Enzo, this is the fastest road car ever to emerge from those hallowed gates and it feels even quicker. A 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds and a top-end speed of 205mph are de rigueur in a top-line sportscar these days; the standing kilometre in under 20 seconds and 124mph in just 11.4 seconds would impress even if the car came with a rollcage and competition number.

A date with J-Lo is cheaper

Forget the figures for a moment, though: they fog the emotional experience that defines a legend. Even grown men go weak at the knees when handed the keys to the Prancing Horse. That’s helped Ferrari flourish despite huge prices, mechanical gremlins and servicing costs that make a date with J-Lo look cheap. A Ferrari isn’t a car: it’s a romantic ideal.

The nose harks back to the Ferraris of the 1960s with that broad grille and its profile is the 599’s strongest suit with that long, bulbous front pinched in at the sides like a perfect hourglass.

Those subtle buttresses on the rear, barely visible from the front, aren’t there for aesthetic appeal. They help that gigantic diffuser generate massive downforce that pins this machine to the floor in the high triple digits that will become a part of everyday life.

Inside, swathes of carbon-fibre and sumptuous beige leather fill the cockpit and that gigantic Prancing Horse on the steering wheel is a constant reminder that yes, this is the premium driving seat in the world.

And that’s before I even fired it up, trickled out of town and floored the throttle for the first time.

Adrenalin erupting

It’s an addictive adrenalin shot and, if this were my car, I’d just hand over my licence at the first police station to save time. Ferrari has worked on the harmonics and the note piped into the cabin would make Mother Earth smile – despite the obvious pollution problems. It’s impossible to resist the noise or forward motion.

With the force of Vesuvius blowing its stack, a simply obscene 612bhp and 448lb/ft of torque erupts from the six-litre V12 that first saw service in the almighty Enzo. This car wrenches at your neck and twangs on heart strings simultaneously. Considering this is the Grand Touring Ferrari, a refined replacement for the 575 that slots in beneath the barge-like 612 Scaglietti but is still built for the long haul, that’s almighty performance.

The F1 superfast gearbox, the latest technical masterpiece to be handed down from the Formula One team, helps the cause here. Having merged the acts of engaging the clutch and slotting the gear home, this car can change up or down in 100 milliseconds. Other manufacturers claim a faster time, but that’s just for the change, Ferrari’s time covers the entire clutch operation and gearshift. Graziano doesn’t mind admitting it took a fair bit of work.

There is a manual option, but this kit is so good that even Luddites should try it, as the manual box simply couldn’t keep pace with this free-revving engine that whips round to the 8,400rpm redline in a missed heartbeat.

More from Michael's garage

And this is just the start of the technical mastery snaffled from Michael’s garage, as this car comes with predictive traction control. Yes, the F1-Trac system knew I was going to lose it long before I did and, along with the variable limited slip diff, took the appropriate measures to keep this £170,000 beast on the road.

Effectively the car learns the road surface and tailors the level of slip at the rear to deal with the next patch of tarmac, depending on the bravery level with the Manettino switch on the wheel. From Ice through to Race, which lets the back end step out of line just enough for fun, the 599 GTB Fiorano comes with a set-up and attitude for every occasion. 

In comparison, ceramic brakes seem positively yesterday, yet those racing inspired units are a vital part of the DNA. Offering incredible feel, they’re so effective they can take you back in time when really stamped on. In short, they are as good as anything on the road today and make the on-off approach of Porsche’s units feel about as contemporary as flared trousers.

Some of the technology comes from less glamorous surroundings, like a Buick. The 599 comes equipped with Delphi’s Magne-Ride active damping system, which changes the viscosity of fluid in the shocks by increasing or decreasing a magnetic field. The full explanation reads like an astrophysics essay but, in short, this car has active ride suspension without any of the mechanical parts and a response time of one millisecond.

Just marvel

You will never need to know this, however, all you need to do is marvel at the way this car soaks up bumps that would have cracked vertebrae in an old-school F40 without giving up any of the roadholding ability of the most iconic sportscars to bear the badge.

In the corners, the 599 needs to push through the understeer to kick the tail out, but this makes for a sensationally forgiving car on the limit and there’s none of the knife-edge handling that Ferrari has become famous for. The front-mid engine design with the gearbox in the rear provides near-perfect weight distribution. Meanwhile, the aluminium chassis which keeps the weight to a reasonably trim 1,690kg ensures the Prancing Horse car can carry sensational speed through the apex. In short it’s a Grand Tourer when it needs to be and a flat out sportscar in the bends.

And, finally, this is a Ferrari that you can use every day thanks to a new twin plate clutch and a different approach to engineering without the cambelt. This is no track car: it’s too grown up for that, but this is perhaps the first Ferrari that could truly take the abuse, and could be the start of a new dawn for the Prancing Horse when it comes to reliability and durability.

There are some typically Italian quirks, like a handbrake that won’t hold the car without a two-handed tug and, even though it is beautiful, it has to be said the 599 doesn’t have anywhere near the visual impact of some of Ferrari’s icons.

Weaving magic

Under the skin, though, Ferrari is weaving magic. And such things don’t matter when you’re streaking past a 10-car queue of traffic with the 1,000-yard stare of a sniper and 230kph on the clock on a road that winds through the mountains like Vermicelli while the intoxicating sound of an old-school V12 F1 car rocks the world.

The horse may be prancing, but Ferrari is racing forward into a new world of technology and the resulting cars are still at the vanguard of the motoring world. And as the cars get more advanced, safer and less of a handful, the more time we can spend giggling like schoolchildren and enjoying the ride.

Author: Nick Hall