2011 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, 6.0-litre V12, petrol, six-speed F1 automated manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Ferrari claims to be highly protective of its image. It goes to enormous lengths to ensure its cars win every group test in every magazine, supplying a team of technicians to ensure they are perfectly set up while other manufacturers simply supply a car that’s been valeted and had the tank brimmed. It only allows journalists to drive the cars if their write-ups are seen in ‘the right places’ and the lists of dos and don'ts is enormous; mainly, though, they’re don’ts. Image, it reasons, is critical to the success of the brand – something I find difficult to reconcile with the fact that my local petrol station gives away tacky official Ferrari merchandise to customers that buy enough fuel. And as for Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, well the less said about that the better. It would never have happened if Enzo was still around.
No other company I deal with has this approach and, like many of my colleagues, I feel like giving Ferrari a kicking because of it. Horror stories abound regarding the terrible way it treats the media and customers alike and part of me wants to dismiss the cars as extravagant and irrelevant posing machines only fit for sad blokes going through mid-life crises. But I can’t bring myself to do it because Ferrari builds cars like the Ferrari 458 Italia and this: the 599 GTB Fiorano. With cars like these in its range, there’s no need to be over protective of anything. They say it all.
Ferrari’s 599 GTB Fiorano, to give it its full title, has been with us since 2007. And it isn’t, no matter what you might think, a bona fide supercar. What it is, is possibly the most accomplished GT car ever conceived or built. Possibly better, even, than the Aston Martin DBS. Which is possibly the one car I’d rush out and buy if my numbers came up. The 599 is astonishingly good – and I say that even though it goes against the natural inclination I have to give it the aforementioned kicking.
I feel the same about the Porsche Boxster. I really want to dislike it but every time I drive one, particularly the S model, I fall head over heels in love. Apart from slightly anodyne looks, a dodgy dashboard treatment and the driver’s footwell being a bit tight against the left leg, it’s the perfect sports car. And the 599, while it does have one or two niggling foibles, is the consummate GT car and I want one so much it hurts.
Much has been made of its engine which, apart from a slightly different state of tune, is essentially the same V12 masterpiece as was fitted in the mental Enzo. Yet the two cars could not be more different in temperament. One is a frantic, schizophrenic hardcore nutjob that takes huge levels of skill to master, the other is a doddle to drive hard and fast while offering huge levels of comfort and refinement. No prizes for guessing which is which.
But that engine endows the 599 with shed loads of charisma. It’s one of the all time great motors and really needs to be heard to be believed. Yet it’s best heard from the outside, as was the case with the 599’s ancestors, the 550 Maranello and 575, because on the move the 599 is serenely quiet unless you really gun it. So best find a long tunnel, drop the windows as well as a couple of gears before burying your right foot into the carpet. It’s a life affirming cacophony that turns your spine into a quivering mess. And if the rest of the 599 disappointed, it would be worth the asking price for this alone.
It doesn’t disappoint, though – not on any level. When I first saw it in photographs I must admit I was underwhelmed but at least it was a more resolved design than the 575. See a 599 for real, however, and while it might not exactly be a beauty, it’s truly an impressive piece of work. It’s absolutely huge, too, looking like it would struggle to stay in a single lane. It’s also instantly recognisable as a Ferrari and that has to be a good thing.
There’s purpose in its design with clever details such as the rear buttresses which channel air across the car’s rear, increasing downforce. Coupled with a flat bottom, the 599 is stuck to the black stuff like superglue when the speed is piling on. Which is a good thing because speed piles on with alarming ferocity. In fact, while I say the 599 isn’t a supercar, it’s actually every bit as fast as a Porsche Carrera GT and would obliterate past über Ferraris like the F40. But in the 599 that shocking speed is usable and exploitable; benign yet utterly thrilling. It’s the sheer depth and breadth of its abilities that impress the most.
The structure is all aluminium and some 85 percent of the 599’s mass is found within its wheelbase, so weight distribution is excellent with 47 percent over the front wheels and 53 over the rears, as opposed to an equal 50/50 found on the previous 575M. It’s a subtle difference but it’s one that serves to differentiate the 599 as more of a driver’s car than its forebears. That engine really does deliver, too, producing a colossal 456kW and 608Nm, with a 330km/h top speed while 100km/h from rest is despatched in just 3.7 seconds. It redlines at a heady 8400rpm, so when it comes to performance it’s every inch the supercar.
When it comes to interior refinements, however, its GT credentials are very much to the fore. The finest hide covers every surface and the cockpit is superbly designed with typical Italian understatement. Only the unnecessary steering wheel lights and buttons detract because you really don’t need any LEDs telling you when to shift gear when that V12 is in full swing. Your ears will do just fine. And the F1 shift paddles could do with being mounted on the back of the wheel, too, so you can execute shifts mid-corner without any awkward groping.
The optional carbon brakes take some getting used to, too. There’s zero fade, even when you’re giving them a hammering but the pedal feel isn’t as sharp as the rest of the controls, appearing to have a tad too much travel when you’re expecting instant bite. The steering, on the other hand, is quick and precise and there’s plenty of feel. Point the 599’s nose and it incisively obeys every command with an almost telepathic ability to interpret driver inputs. It feels totally alive, nimble and chuckable. Most important of all, though, it’s controllable.
That’s not to say it’s a total pussycat as many owners will no doubt attest. It will bite hard if you make big mistakes and one or two famous soccer players have ended up hitting the headlines for bending their 599s within days of taking delivery. It’s forgiving to a point and you fiddle with the car’s ESP settings at your peril. Race mode, for instance, really shouldn’t be pressed into service on a public road because the degree of slip from the rear end is dramatically increased and there’s obviously a danger that all that immense power will overcome a driver’s natural abilities. To get the best out of a 599, like all the very best modern cars, takes much time and perseverance if you’re going to disable the (unobtrusive, it has to be said) electronic aids.
A ‘Handling GTE’ package is also available, which lowers the ride height and offers even faster gear changes along with plenty of carbon addenda for the exterior if that sort of thing floats your boat. Truth be told, though, the standard car gives a near perfect balance of prodigious power and exploitable performance that even an amateur wheelsmith can enjoy to the full. The suspension is forgiving, offering supreme comfort and scalpel sharp dynamics when you really go for it.
The 599 GTB Fiorano is truly a remarkable car, if you haven’t already gathered that. It’s not a supercar in the truest sense because you could happily cover many hundreds of kilometres in it at a moment’s notice and emerge the other end feeling glad you’d made the trip. Yet it can obliterate all but the most extreme vehicles thanks to its peerless combination of absolute power and adjustable, limpet-like grip.
It won’t be long before a replacement emerges but it’s difficult to imagine how Ferrari will manage to top this. But then we say that about every model the company launches (the same goes for the likes of Porsche, Lamborghini et al) but somehow they manage to come up with something that makes the outgoing model seem like old news. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.