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Monday 22nd February 2010


DRIVEN: FERRARI 599 XX

Want to play with Ferrari's £1m track toy? Well you probably can't, but Steve Sutcliffe has...

There's a certain element of doubt surrounding the purpose and, indeed, the justification behind the extraordinary new Ferrari 599 XX. Over the next two years fewer than 30 examples will be built by Ferrari, and remember; this is also a car that will never be raced, must never be driven on the road, and which will cost an incredible 1.1m euros plus local taxes.


So what, exactly, is the point of the 599 XX? Well, according to Ferrari this car is a real life test-bed for the various technology that's under development at Maranello. It is, if you like, a very red, very loud, reasonably profitable research development programme that's taking place in public, for all of us to observe and marvel over. Which is nice.


Anyone rich or bold enough to hand over 1.1m euros will, in effect, become part of that development programme, and will be invited to provide feedback to the factory on all of the 599 XX's key elements. Some people might accuse Ferrari of allowing its customers to fund the development of its future technology - and they'd also no doubt argue that the 599 XX is a cynical car as a result.

Yet to the owners of this extraordinary machine, such accusations won't matter one iota, because, in their minds, what they will be buying into is a priceless opportunity to experience one of the most advanced cars ever produced outside of a Formula One paddock. For the owners of the 599 XX, those few lucky sods, this in itself will be enough to justify the car's existence.


And besides, the asking price also includes two free private test sessions each year with full factory support, plus attendance to Ferrari's annual end-of-year party. And in the meantime, customers will be able to do what they wish with their 599 XXs. They can keep them at home, they can ask Ferrari to look after them, or they can drive them at any track day they so wish.

What actually is a 599 XX, then, and how does it differ from your humble 599 GTB? At the heart of the XX is, as ever, a V12 engine which, in this case, has been 'super-polished' inside and fitted with a new titanium exhaust on the outside to increase its power to a rousing 720bhp at 9000rpm. Torque has also risen to 505lb ft at 6500rpm while the weight has tumbled to a mere 1430kg - some 260kg less than the GTB.


Almost every exterior panel on the car has been reduced in thickness to get the weight down to a bare minimum. Even the propshaft material has been swapped for titanium in order to remove a few extra kilos. And, of course, there are no rear seats (as per the 'regular' 599), and not much by way of an interior, either. It's not quite a full-blown racing car inside; there's at least an attempt to provide a modicum of fixtures and fittings, but you get the picture all the same.

Yet what distinguishes the XX version of the 599 is not its quasi-racing car cabin, or its more powerful V12 engine, or even its uprated carbon ceramic braking system. Nor is it its reprogrammed six-speed paddle shift gearbox, which can shed gears during downshifts with quite incredible precision - with just one single pull on the paddle being all that's required, even when going from sixth to second gear.


No, what defines the XX is, just as Ferrari claims, the technology it contains, and the way in which this has been integrated into the driving experience to make the car as fast as possible, rather than as safe as possible, which is normally the purpose of such electronics. To all intents and purposes, what we are talking about is a much more powerful, much lighter version of the 599 that also happens to contain most of the electronic driver aids that were fitted to Ferrari's 2007-spec F1 car.

Hence the reason there are now two separate Manettino switches, both of which sit in the centre of the dash (ie not on the steering wheel as per Ferrari's road cars). One has nine different settings and is effectively a traction control switch that can be wound up or down, depending on how tasty you're feeling. The other has three different settings and is for the suspension, which you can set to comfort, normal or sport.


The car is fastest around Fiorano set in comfort, interestingly, and with the traction control on number two. Number one means no TC whatsoever; number nine means you are a bit of a shandy. And number nine is precisely the setting I used to begin with, what with the circuit being damp, and there being a set of stone-cold slick Michelin tyres fitted to the 19in rims.

Everything about the 599 XX is, to begin with, just impossibly intimidating. You sit so low behind the wheel that the end of the bonnet is nowhere in sight, and the wheel itself is festooned with switches, some of which allow you to scroll through the screen menu of the car's Virtual Race Engineer system, thereby adding to the sense of confusion.


And then a man wearing red overalls leans in across, flicks a few more buttons, removes what looks like an industrial-sized scart socket from beneath the dash and points to the starter button. And then, boom, the engine catches and there's an almighty burst of V12.

I take it very easily indeed to begin with, but almost the moment it starts moving the 599 XX feels the exact opposite to what I was expecting. In a straight line it is, of course, absolutely bonkers fast. In third gear it picks up so rapidly, you need to concentrate hard not to just run the thing into its rev limiter.


Just about everything else the XX does, though, is smooth and refined and calm. As a result it doesn't feel anywhere near as intimidating as it looks or sounds. It flows across the ground gracefully where you had expected it to bounce and weave. And unless you are loopy enough to wind the TC right down to the oblivion setting, it's also spookily well behaved mid corner.

I guess that's the aero package doing its stuff, as well as the TC. Either way, what Ferrari has managed to do is make a very fast car that feels all but idiot-proof to drive, without also feeling in any way numb. As such, what you'd inevitably end up doing as an owner of a 599 XX is get to know the car, gradually, in all of its various settings - hopefully not to the point where you end up in the tyres, wondering why you set the TC to number one...


The way you can throw the thing at a corner and then let the electronics guide you through is genuinely astonishing. After a couple of exploratory laps I summoned the courage to dial it down to five, but even then the car just felt planted, no matter what I did with the throttle on the way out of corners. Through a long, fourth gear right-hander there was maybe a whiff of understeer, but to all intents it felt neutral on turn-in and absolutely glued mid corner.

And the TC system really does aid your speed once you get used to the way it works. On number five, you can open up the throttle 100 per cent at the apex and then just wait for the system to decide when there's enough traction to actually deliver full throttle.


By monitoring the yaw and slip angles, alongside various other dynamic aspects, the XX will gradually give you more power, but only when it knows it is capable of placing that power on the road. And then, presto, you exit the corner with precisely the right amount of adhesion, without ever breaking traction.

Get really used to the way it works and, no doubt, you could dial down the level of assistance and perform digitally perfected drifts, all day, every day. It's a kind of 22nd century driving experience with a large dose of reality thrown in for good measure, a point at which the computer world meets the real one under a very loud, very expensive, very lightweight red roof.


And, let's face it, if you had 1.1m euros burning a hole in your pocket, you'd have one like a shot. Be careful with that TC setting, though, because the XX will still tear your arm off if you ride it badly. And that really would be game over.

 

Ferrari 599 XX technical specifications

Price 1.1m euros plus local taxes
0-100kmh "under" 2.9sec
Top speed 315kmh (limited by gearing)
Economy n/a (not homologated so not available)
CO2 emissions n/a (ditto)
Kerb weight 1430kg
Engine layout V12, 5999cc, petrol
Installation Front, longitudinal, rear wheel-drive
Power 730ps/9000rpm
Torque 505lb ft/6500rpm
Power to weight 510ps/tonne
Specific output 121ps/litre
Compression ratio 11.9:1
Gearbox 6-speed paddle shift
Fuel tank 86 litres
Front suspension
double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, magnetic dampers
Rear suspension double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, magnetic dampers
Brakes 398mm front, 360mm rear, carbon ceramic discs

Author: sutters