The boss came into my office the other day and asked if I wanted to write the road test on Ferrari's latest-and-greatest GT machine, the 599 GTB Fiorano. What was I going to say? "Gee, you know, I think I'm busy that week ..." Yeah ... right. Anyone with half a heartbeat and an able right foot would leap at the chance to spend some quality throttle-time with Maranello's second most powerful (to the Enzo) street car ever.
And this is no creampuff, despite Ferrari calling the 599 a Gran Turismo. Its front-mounted 6.0-liter all-aluminum V-12 positioned well aft of the front axle is serious business, derived from the much vaunted, limited-production Enzo powerplant. Its power is breathtaking: 611 bhp at 7,600 rpm and 448 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,600.
The 599 may be down 39 bhp to the Enzo, but as we found at the track, that didn't matter one bit.
Using a special launch mode shown to us by a Ferrari test driver on hand, the computer handles traction control and shifting. Launched in this manner, the 599 squats down hard on its rear 305/35ZR-20 Pirelli P Zero tires, lifts its nose and, with nary a bit of wheelspin, pins you back into the seat as it explodes to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds. Yes, that's right, quicker than an Enzo. That's also quicker than the McLaren F1, the Porsche Carrera GT and 911 Turbo and the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, and a tie with the 650-bhp Ruf Rt 12.
How is this possible? The special launch mode, for one thing, along with the latest 6-speed F1 gearbox (called F1 Superfast) that accomplishes shifts in just 100 milliseconds, versus the < F430's 150 milliseconds and the 575M Maranello's 250 milliseconds. And those super-sticky P Zeros, developed specifically for the 599, with a tread-wear rating of 60. (That's R-compound adhesion, as most performance tires exceed 200.) The 599 is not just quick off the line, but forges relentlessly up to speed, running the quarter mile in 11.2 sec. at 129.3 mph, eventually topping out at a claimed 205 mph.
It's bested by 0.1 sec. through the quarter by the Enzo, and, of course, it's no match for the Bugatti Veyron (2.6 sec. to 60 and a full second quicker in the quarter-mile -- and $1.4 million, versus the 599's base price of $278,345).
How does the 599 GTB handle? Thanks to front and rear forged-aluminum double-wishbone suspension and the first use of magneto-rheological dampers in a Ferrari road car (developed in collaboration with Delphi), the 599 exhibits sports-car handling in the guise of a GT. This damper system reacts four times faster than traditional versions, according to Ferrari, and reduces brake dive, acceleration squat and body roll. Although the steering was lighter than expected around the skidpad, the 599 circled at an impressive 0.97g. Its slalom speed of 71.2 mph is impressive in anyone's book, even more so when you consider its curb weight (3865 lb.) and the length of its 108.3-in. wheelbase. It's not the easiest car with which to navigate the orange cones, showing a tendency to swing its tail out if steering inputs are too abrupt.
On the road, the 599 simply dazzles, and if you find fault with what can only be called a "slightly harsh" ride with a bit more road noise than your Honda Accord's, then you're buying the wrong car. Throw the 599 into a corner and it just flat sticks, providing excellent feedback.
And, at a track day or the like, there's only a trace of understeer if you're driving with Schumacher-like aggression. Of course, the difference between the 599 and most cars is that with 611 bhp, eliminating understeer is just a poke of the throttle away. But only if you have the car's steering-wheel-located manettino controller set to Race or CST Off, which disconnects the F1-derived stability control. The traction and yaw control in the Sport mode are far too invasive if you believe "fun" means getting the car a bit sideways. Sport provides a great safety net, but you simply can't go as fast with it on, and it seems ridiculous that it upshifts for you at an indicated 8050 rpm; in Race and CST Off, it holds gears to the 8,400-rpm limiter. The Race mode is less invasive, but to truly absorb the talents and raw ferocity of the 599, turn the manettino to CST Off. Now you can powerslide through corners at will and let the car’s enormous talent as a driver's machine shine through.
The 599 starts not with a roar or a snarl, but rather barks to life, scaring the unsuspecting. Give the car full throttle in 1st or 2nd gear -- at any rpm -- and the force of acceleration is so great that it's hard to keep focus on what lies up the road or on the red shift lights dancing across the top of the carbon-fiber-and-leather steering wheel -- it's all happening so fast!
But when you're not ripping up through the gears at full throttle, mesmerized by the shrieking exhaust, enjoying the "crack" of each upshift or the mini backfires on deceleration, the 599 can be driven like a fairly normal car. It has good outward vision, easy ingress/egress and very comfortable seats, despite large bolsters for lateral support.
And it's surprisingly quiet in sixth gear at highway speeds. The interior is quite roomy and impeccably finished in carbon fiber and rich leather, as these Ferraris are still of the almost-completely-handmade variety. Cubby space could be better, but it seems wrong to complain, especially in a car meant for driving fast, not driving to work.
The two huge vents atop the center stack did have my wife making cracks about the robot from the movie 'Short Circuit.'
We're not going to tell you the 599 is perfect; after all, one limiting factor is that it costs an exorbitant amount of money; the other is the outrageous wait list to buy one. And the trunk of our test car had a mind of its own, opening for us only sporadically, while the hood twice came partially unlatched at high speed. We didn't like these problems, but we're chalking them up to the extremely hard life this Euro-spec high-mileage test car has seen.
The more time you spend in the 599, the more you respect it; you can't help being impressed by a car classified as a GT machine that can perform with the world's best sports cars. And sure, it handles great and looks great. But eventually you realize something: What defines the 599 is that awe-inspiring 611-bhp V-12; the unreal power to which you never get accustomed, the way it wants to shred the rear tires under full throttle. And the most raucous, intoxicating exhaust note this side of a race car. We wonder how something this loud and this fast can be legal ... but we're not going to worry about it. We just wish we could start each day with one more run up through the gears.