Extreme Ferrari - the 599 GTB [review]


Ferrari has long ruled the super car roost and may not be used to having competition but of late it has certainly taken up the challenge of their Modenese neighbour. The new 599 GTB Fiorano owes its name to the engine size that displaces 5999cc and adopts the GTB acronym that stands for Gran Turismo Berlinetta which means grand touring coupe. Fiorano is the name of Ferrari’s own test track located next to the factory in Maranello.

This 599 GTB is the replacement for the 575 Maranello and is Ferrari’s most serious road going sports car they have currently in production. The basis of the new 599 GTB’s chassis is the 612 Scaglietti but built according to greater demands for the extreme performance this new super coupe will possess. This new chassis reaches 20,000 Nm per degree in torsional strength, which represents a 35% increase over the 575M. Yet at 1690-kg it is significantly lighter than either the 575M (1730-kg) or the much larger 612S (1840-kg).

A Ferrari is nothing if its exterior bodywork does not evoke strong visceral stirrings. One can feel the seductive tension just by standing next to the 599 GTB. Yet that very sexy outfit is not without function. It has to cleave the air efficiently enough to allow the 599 GTB to reach a heady 330 km/h yet keep the entire body of the 599 GTB pressed to the tarmac by 160-kg of aerodynamic downforce at that speed.

It does require a lot of power to attain such a high speed and expectedly the new V12 of the 599 GTB obliges. The V12 is not merely an improved version of the former 5.75-litre V12 but is a retuned version from Ferrari’s most expensive, limited production road going car the Enzo. Imagine for a moment a car no heavier than your garden-variety family saloon and add another 500 bhp. It’s not hard to see that this sled is more rocket than car.

Never before has CST and F-1 Trac been so necessary as this beast has a massive 620 bhp waiting to be unleashed on the poor rear tyres. The V12 hails from the 660 bhp Ferrari Enzo and is not from the 575M. Even with less power, the 599 comes within a whisker of the 1255-kg Enzo’s 0-100 km/h time of 3.65 seconds, posting an spectacular 3.7 seconds and more impressive is a 11.0 second dash to 200 km/h. The reason for this discrepancy is the limit of RWD traction, preventing higher acceleration forces from being applied at take-off and this will become a bigger problem as the horsepower war rages on and Ferrari limits themselves to the purist approach of RWD.

With such short times, the act of the gear change itself becomes significant. Manual shifts take about 5-600ms to accomplish but if one can have a system that shifts in 100ms then you can gain half a second in acceleration without having to find another 100 bhp. To this end Ferrari offers its third generation electro-hydraulic F-1 SuperFast transmission. Without designing a special F-1 only transmission, 100ms is just about the limit of shift times as Ferrari has to adapt this transmission for use as a 6-speed manual gearbox as well. When introduced to the 575M shift times were 250ms and improved to 150ms in the 360CS and F430. Real Formula One cars typically shift at 50ms.

While an invaluable tool at shifting, the F-1 transmission has also made track driving easy or maybe too easy as all one has to do is flick the paddle switch and the car performs an expertly executed downshift replete with a blip of the throttle and a declutch action all at the same time. Of course they have included an Auto mode for those who need to get approval from their other half, not that it would fool any enthusiast. The gearbox is integrated with the rear axle to provide what Ferrari claims is the ideal front to rear dynamic weight distribution of 47:53 to accommodate weight transfer during braking.

Naturally the suspension is up to race car standards as well. Ferrari is now employing leading edge technology in their suspension system, what they call SCM (Sospensioni a Controllo Magnetoreologico) or just Magnetorheological Suspension system. It uses a special ferromagnetic fluid that changes its viscosity when an applied electrical current generates a magnetic field that changes the viscosity of the fluid and thus reacts in 10ms, some four times faster than conventional adaptive suspensions like their Skyhook system which uses an electro-mechanical system to open or close small valves in the damper units to adjust fluid flow.

The control of the suspension and body movement is absolute and produces a driving sensation almost alien to what we know of conventional systems. The damping forces are equal in compression and rebound unlike previously where rebound damping is much higher. The dampers kill off any trace of oscillation overshoot instantly after the bump which is unusual as this comes without the race-car harshness associated with such firm damping. However it would have been interesting to see how the suspension works in something more comfy like the 612 where the suspension moves more as the 599’s suspension is unyieldingly hard. Of course this confers the 599 with razor sharp responses but is penalized in terms of ride.

Ferrari has of course tuned the 599 GTB to be the most extreme car they have for customer use but this means ultra firm, almost unyielding ride. Luckily there is a way to recover a modicum of comfort by switching the car’s traction computer to the wet setting, which dials in a softer damper setting. Of course the wet traction setting allows the traction control to intervene very early to prevent skids in the wet so is fine when one merely wants to get to the Ritz Carlton for dinner.

This control is found on the steering wheel called “Manettino”, a system again derived from Formula One where the buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver access to all the driving parameters encoded in the computer governing the car. The normal default is set at “Sport” and is suitable for most fast driving conditions. “Race mode” is meant only for track use and the traction and stability controls intervene much later giving the enthusiast driver freer rein on the dynamics of the car but will still help at the extreme limit. There is a setting called “CST-Off” which disarms all the stabilizing controls for the brave souls who prefer to do all the thinking instead of the car.

This 599 GTB’s awesome power and dynamics are so beyond the skills of ordinary drivers that it is highly recommended that owners attend Ferrari’s advanced driving school called “Corso Pilota”. Owning a Ferrari does not make one a Ferrari driver and that is worthwhile to remember. With care and respect we take the 599 GTB to the hills and we experience what going ballistic really means. Distances close in with such speed it is frightening so its a good thing the brakes are the latest Carbon Ceramic variety and stop the car with impunity. The steering is so direct one cannot even sneeze otherwise you’d change a lane at high speed. The car feels resolutely stable at 200 plus km/h and the steering always unerringly sharp and precise. Limits are unnaturally high thanks to the suspension and special Pirelli tyres but it is no failsafe when all 620 bhp is deployed. It is only on the racetrack can the 599 GTB be safely and fully exploited.

Our very first impression while turning out of the factory is the 599 GTB can oversteer easily if you leave it in Race mode and hit the throttle a little enthusiastically. It will shift with an abruptness that seems a tad less brutal than the 360 CS perhaps because the shift gap is shorter than the 360 CS. Overtaking is done with contemptuous ease blasting by traffic as if they were standing still. The engine possesses a refined bark but never ear piercing even when shifting at the redline. And although you get to enormous speeds so easily the 599 always lets you know its going fast as every sensation is a real buzz, from the livewire steering, roaring engine, almost teeth chattering ride and road roar.

On the narrow country roads there is just so much mechanical grip that we find ourselves steering through corners rather than flowing them together. It is sort of frustrating that despite out best efforts we cannot find the real handling limits on the open roads, always braking early and just occasionally touching the lateral limit. After some 350 km of mixed roads we return to Fiorano circuit for our hot laps.

We catch a break as the F-1 team has yet to return for Fiorano testing so the track is ours. As usual there are two instructor laps where he familiarizes us with the corners then we drop into the driver’s seat. Acceleration is tremendous and we can feel the hard backrest up against our back as we rip through 1st and 2nd gear. The first lap is on Sport mode. It lets you go fast but oh so safe, mildly in understeer mode most of the time and only cooperates if you coax it gently. This is not for the track, so before the lap is over we switch to Race mode. What a difference, it seems there is no electronic nanny but its there, just keeping well out of the way for now.

Application of power out of corners brings the tail out. You can feel it clearly through the steering and chassis. It’s malleable and predictable, far easier to read than the mixed signals from the 575M. One can have some tail out fun and still come back safe but obviously cannot save those bereft of any skill. The learning curve is steep, it has to be with just one lap left and still feeling the way round Fiorano. Its combination of varying radius corners can be deceptive. But its over all too soon just when one has gotten a grasp of the circuit. The brakes did not wilt despite the 1690-kg weight because Ferrari cleverly fitted all cars with the CCM (Carbon-Ceramic Matrix) brakes. They give wonderful bite and progression hiding the extra mass the 599 carries over the 1160-kg 360 CS.

Just to put things into perspective, not that we were able to duplicate the results, the 575M laps Fiorano in 1:30.00, the F430 in 1:27.00 and the 599 GTB does it in 1:26.00. The great Enzo isn’t that much faster at 1:25.00.

It is a day fulfilled because we now realize part of the frustration on most roads is because we are merely passengers in a high-speed missile, guiding it along. On the track it participates with you clearly signalling its limits and thus allowing you to provide appropriate inputs, melding with you. Only on the track do you begin to understand the unyielding suspension that provides such an unfamiliar ride-handling compromise. Maybe all cars will have this one day but it should provide more comfort for city use.

The 599 GTB is an extreme car that’s for sure. Its track talents seem to outshine it on-road qualities. But the overtaking ability is just phenomenal, very addictive that you end up doing it for fun. So is this a crazy car at a silly price? Ordinarily we’d be inclined to say so but while our body still tingling from the experience, it would seem we may not only have lost our minds but our heart as well.

Such is the march of technology, pushing the limits further and further so that one has to be a Ferrari Pilota trained driver to get the most out of the car. This extreme car is only for the dedicated Ferrari enthusiast who must have the best and the 599 GTB certainly is. photos by Roberto Carrer.

CAPACITY : 5999cc
VALVES : 48-valves, 4-valve cylinder head
BORE X STROKE : 92 x 75.2mm
MAXIMUM POWER : 620 bhp at 7600 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 608 Nm at 5600 rpm

TYPE : F-1 SuperFast

TOP SPEED : 330+ km/h
0-100KM/H : 3.7 seconds

FRONT : Double wishbones, SCM dampers
REAR : Double wishbones, SCM dampers

FRONT : 355mm Ventilated Discs (CCM option)
REAR : 330mm Ventilated Discs (CCM option)

TYPE : Pirelli P-Zero
SIZE : f: 245/40 ZR 19, r: 305/35 ZR 20

ABS : Yes, EBD

LENGTH : 4665mm
WIDTH : 1962mm
HEIGHT : 1336mm
WHEELBASE : 2750mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1690-kg

PRICE in 2006 : SGD$ 1.03 million


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