Friday 30th October 2009


FERRARI 599 HGTE

PH takes the High Road (and the Low) to sample the magnificent 599's latest 'handling pack'


Imagine somebody threw you the keys to a Ferrari 599 HGTE and said 'it's yours for the weekend'. Where would you take it?

For my part, I confess to briefly wondering how long the £230k price-tag of the car on offer would keep a typewriter monkey in peanuts if laundered through some lesser-known Eastern European currency. But a bright yellow Ferrari 599 with F1 GTE on the number plate, hammering flat-out across Europe for two days, would surely sear a trail so hot that even Interpol couldn't fail to notice its passing. More to the point, TWOC'ing a brand new Ferrari of any kind is probably to be discouraged, even when you really, really, really, desire one as much as I do. (Life isn't fair children, but that's the way it is.)


Having ruled out life as a fugitive, a quick scan of an old AA roadbook was all it took for an alternative plan to form, and suddenly the words of Yazz and the Plastic Population seemed strangely prophetic. The only way was indeed, it seemed, 'up'.

Or 'oop' as we southerners prefer, amusingly, to call it.

Grim or not, the mythical northern wilderness of challenging moorland roads zig-zagging between rocky crags, snake passes and high peaks that we read about in our glossy motoring magazines seems like some kind of driving nirvana as we drearily grind our gears around the M25. There's such a lot of it, too; the Derbyshire Peaks, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, the West Coast of Scotland to name but a few. So much so, that if you want to knock it all off in a weekend, a 620bhp Ferrari is probably de rigueur.


But a yellow one..? I didn't half feel self-conscious as I gingerly got to know Ferrari's 599 HGTE press car on that first rush-hour commute home from work. The vivid colour scheme, the badge, the price tag and those shocking performance figures made it intimidating just opening the door and climbing aboard. Jeez, and firing up the engine for the first time doesn't help put a chap at ease either - the push-button starter eliciting a gloriously vocal blip. Better give it another quick rev then... Holy Cr*p!

Seriously, if you think a regular 599 GTB with its Enzo-derived V12 sounds like sex on wheels, wait until you've heard the HGTE. Its stunning cacophony is enhanced with a fruitier exhaust, and even when cruising lazily through town the noise rips through the air like a jet-fighter over an empty desert. Well, it does if you're keeping the car in an unsuitably low gear late at night, essential for sharing the love.


And what of those performance figures? Well Ferrari quotes 0-62mph in 3.7secs for the standard 599 GTB Fiorano, with 0-100mph arriving in 7.4secs, and 0-150mph in 16.3secs. The HGTE or Handling GT Evoluzione package is - as the name suggests - focused on uprated chassis dynamics, not extra performance, but it does include a re-map for the robotised F1 gearchange that allows changes in 85milliseconds instead of the standard 100millisecs (100 only... yawn!), and a re-mapped throttle that quickens engine response still further.

Still the truth is, if you're lucky enough to get hold of one of these beautiful machines (and please resort to larceny only if it's absolutely the last resort), it's pretty much a given you'll only ever unleash the full performance on a track. But it doesn't take a weekend to work out there's much more to the unalloyed joy of owning a 599 than stretching that glorious V12 to its 9,000rpm limiter.


First-off, the car looks drop-dead gorgeous, even in the outrageous yellow hue of our test car. Hunkered low and wide, the 599's posture and flowing lines combine pure aggression with bewitching glamour. And there's no denying that vivid yellow looks exciting and racy, especially with those 20ins alloys, black grille and rear diffuser to set it off. I'm going to stop telling people Ferraris should only be available in red.

The best view though, at least for me, is over the bonnet from the driving seat, where the 599's beautifully sculpted bonnet evokes an almost retro air - a throwback to the 1960s perhaps, when front-engined GT racers still ruled the motorsport world. Viewed across that bonnet with its raised wheelarches and central scoop, every mile of road becomes an art movie with the most amazing V12 soundtrack - and while the car is always unquestionably top of the bill, as a driver you can't help but bathe in its reflected glory. Whether you deserve it or not, like the perfect mistress this Ferrari makes you feel special every time you get behind the wheel. It's an expensive seduction, but if you're one of the lucky few who can afford it, it must be mighty hard to resist.


To make matters worse for those of us who can't, the 599 HGTE drives like a dream too. No, make that a full-on fantasy. The 599 GTB has already won numerous 'best supercar/GT' accolades from respected reviewers around the world, and now here's a package from the factory designed to make it dynamically better still.

There's little doubt in my mind that the HGTE option - available as an original factory fit as per our test car, or to retro-fit from your friendly Ferrari dealer - turns the best front-engined GT that Ferrari has ever built into an even better one. (For traditionalists, this car could be the best GT Ferrari will ever build, as 'corporate social responsibility' issues signal the end of the line for high capacity multi-cylinder engines V12 engines - so if you've got one, you might want to keep it!)


To the already delectable GTB set-up, the HGTE pack brings stiffer springs (17/15 percent front/rear) and a stiffer (1.5mm thicker) rear anti-roll bar, plus new calibration settings for the magnetorheological (stick that in your spell-checker) shock absorbers when the 'manettino' is in its sportier settings.

It also features a 10mm lower ride height, and thus lower centre of gravity, and bespoke 20ins split-rim alloy wheels - saving 5kgs - with softer tyres.

On the road, Ferrari claims perceptibly sharper turn-in from the alcantara clad wheel, while body control moves from the realms of the sublime to the ridiculously, deliciously, awe-inspiringly good - and not just on the track, but over the UK's twisting, challenging moorlands and dales that we headed north to find.


With the manettino set to 'sport' (it takes a more heroic man than me to choose 'race' in a £230k work of art on roads like these), this big coupe displays an agility and poise that transcends its size and weight when driven purposefully across country.

In spite of the raw performance potential, it's not about the speed but the scintillating sense of a finely-honed machine in harmony with its environment, covering difficult terrain with the sinuous ease of a snarling big cat in pursuit of game. It's not even uncomfortable, as the 599's constantly adaptive suspension soaks up dips, crests and sudden camber changes with a suppleness that belies its size and weight.


Press on in 'sport', and the electronics allow just enough wheel slip out of tight corners to keep you focused and/or entertained, but otherwise the traction is nothing short of phenomenal. The paddle-shifted six-speed F1 gearbox ratchets up and down through its ratios so fast that shifts never really seem to have time to unsettle the car, and the steering's accuracy and feel is a constant delight. With that gorgeous V12 soundtrack (did I mention that?) this really is 'Grand Touring' in its purest sense.

That Grand Touring experience is helped, of course, by an extremely roomy cabin and a pair of wonderfully comfortable alcantara trimmed hard-shell seats. As this is the HGTE model, Ferrari thoughtfully provides an embroidered reminder on the seatbacks which some owners might feel a little OTT, and the interior also features special carbon fibre trim pieces - including a dash panel that makes an excellent sucker mount for your sat-nav, without spoiling the view out of the windscreen. (The 599 does come with its own sat-nav, but it's evidently not idiot proof and I couldn't bear to waste any of my weekend thumbing the manual...)


With the engine in its naturally-appointed place there's plenty of space for luggage/shopping in the boot, making this quite the practical Grand Tourer, too - especially as you no longer have to get Ferraris serviced every five minutes, or worry about the battery going flat outside your hotel every morning.

Nope, having lived with this glorious machine for a most amazing weekend, I know you could live with it every day. So look out for me at the newsagent on 'rollover' weeks...


(PS. Many thanks to Graypaul Ferrari in Edinburgh for washing the flies off the car, and a lift to the airport at the end of my glorified delivery trip. There, I've admitted it - sorry to shatter any illusions, ladies!
The folk at Graypaul will be happy to fix you up with a 599 HGTE if you've got £207,000 burning a hole. Alternatively they can upgrade your 599 GTB to HGTE spec for £17-£20k, depending on your car's current specification. Go on, you know you want to...
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Author: Chris-R