What is it? When developing the 599, Ferrari wanted to create a “21st-century F40.” So you could be forgiven for thinking the car it was actually meant to succeed was the 575 Maranello, with which it shares its front-engine, rear-drive layout, V12 engine configuration and even its wheelbase. What’s it like? The 599 is the best new Ferrari road car to be put into mainstream production. Better than the 512 TR and the 550 Maranello. Better by a margin you’d not credit than a 612, better even than the pretty damn wondrous F355 and F430. It has an Enzo engine that is 19kg lighter than the old 12 in the 575 (or the 612), and produces over 100bhp more. Peak power of 611bhp comes at 7600rpm, but it’ll spin very happily at 8400rpm. And it sounds amazing. You can have a six-speed manual, but most will choose Ferrari’s F1 paddle-shift. A complete gearchange takes 0.1sec: an F430 shift is half as slow again. Use launch control and, despite the traction limitation of an engine up front and just two driven wheels, it’ll pass 62mph in 3.7sec, and hit 125mph in 11sec flat. Not even an F40 will do that. But the 599 is no combined GT/supercar; it has a hard ride, at maximum effort the gearshifts are nothing short of savage, and when you turn it into a corner, you’ll scarcely believe the engine is in front of you. It has a big boot and a spacious cabin, but if you want to go touring, take a fatter, softer Scaglietti. The GTB is a hardcore, balls-to-the-wall driving machine. The body control is fabulous if you keep the Manettino controller in the Sport setting. Switch to Race and it becomes other-worldly. It barely understeers at all on the way into corners, grips mightily through the apex and will slide freely at the exit, but only after you’ve overwhelmed traction you’d expect solely from a mid- or rear-engined car. And it’s not easy to drive the doors off. It has no vices, but so strong is its grip and so quick are its reactions, it’s far more of a challenge than a 575. Which is how it should be. Should I buy one? The 599 has faults, but not many. That engine sitting on the front wheels means it’ll never have 911-grade steering feel, the optional carbon discs brakes have a slightly wooden feel, I’d like the paddles to rotate with the wheel and the part-electronic instrument display is a mess. But so what? We can’t think of another car on sale with a better claim to being the greatest production supercar in the world.
10 May 2006