It would take 1000 monkeys, or psychologists as they are otherwise known, 1000 years to unravel the mystique and mystery surrounding Ferrari. All any car fan knows and needs to know is that when the name is mentioned we get that warm fuzzy feeling we used to enjoy when Pam Anderson ran across the beach for no reason whatsoever, in slo-mo.
So when I got the magic call to Maranello to drive the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, I was jumping round like a teenage boy with the full series on DVD and parents about to go out for the day.
And not once in that time did it even occur that this could be a bad car, which was absolutely nuts. Ferraris of old were recalcitrant beasts, thinly disguised racing cars that specialised in killing rich people and breaking down. Yet still we loved them, we were all spellbound by a mass hysteria not seen since Biblical times. And we still would be, if it were necessary.
But Ferrari now makes good cars, not myths. The F430 was stunning, combining technical excellence with the agility of a Thompson’s Gazelle and, more importantly, some level of control on the limit. And now we have the 599, the replacement for the 575, and it’s even better.
The Berlinetta is the second fastest car the company has ever produced, behind the almighty Enzo and it even has the same engine. The six-litre V12 has a monumental 612bhp and 448lb/ft, which will take this car to 62mph in 3.7s and 125mph in 11s, while it will keep going to 205mph if you have the guts.
These are neck-twanging figures, and then there’s the noise. As it closes on the 8400rpm limiter, you’d swear you’d crashed, died, and somehow made it to Gilles Villeneuve’s version of heaven as the thrumming bassline gives way to the high-pitched, lung-busting tenor of an old school V12 F1 car.
But it’s not ferocious, rabid, any of those things, as the steed does all the work. One second I’d spotted a gap in oncoming traffic, the next I had overtaken four cars and the wall in the middle distance was sprinting towards the windscreen. All I had done was floor the throttle, twist the wheel and click my right finger every few seconds to get to 150mph.
This is supercar performance in a Grand Touring package. The only problem, if you can call it that, is the Ferrari is so utterly, devastatingly controlled that any monkey could drive it at obscene pace. And they will.
That’s largely thanks to the technology, as Ferrari is loaded with so much advanced kit it makes its rivals look like a ZX81 vs an iMac. Normally this many computers are compensation for poor dynamics. But not here…
Yes the semi-automatic gearbox was a pig in its first incarnations, but the F1 Superfast has now evolved into an indispensable tool. There’s still a case to be made for the optional six-speed for pure involvement, but with gear changes now taking just 100 milliseconds the argument is all-but lost. When the gear changes last longer than the bursts of acceleration linking them, and it would be close with this car’s outrageously whippy rev counter, then the traditional tri-pedal system is dead.
And it also comes with an auto option, which is almost seamless and shows that the Italian marque has truly taken comfort and low-speed functionality into account with its latest road rocket.
Magne-Ride suspension, sourced from Buick, is a revelation, too. The fluid inside the damper changes density thanks to a magnetic field and, to go beyond that basic explanation of magnatoreological damping control I’d have to go back to school.
Suffice to say the response time drops to 1 millisecond and as a result the car skates over bumps and holes in the road. It’s no saloon and lets you know everything is there, but somehow it stays comfortable while holding on to tortuous roads that wind through the mountains like pasta burned to the pan.
Then there’s the predictive traction control, yes really. This car learns the surface and knows you’ve lost it long before you do and takes the steps to correct things. With the Manettino switch dictating the level of slip permitted before the computer killjoys kick in, from Ice through to full-bore Race, the car can smooth out even the most fractured driving style and keep the 599 GTB Fiorano on a razor-sharp turn whatever the speed.
But even without all the wizardry this car would still have been fantastic. More work went into the basic construction than in any previous Ferrari, bar Michael Schumacher’s Sunday ride, and it shows at and in every turn.
Built entirely from aluminium, the 599 tips the scales at 1690kg, more than acceptable for the modern Grand Tourismo class, and the weight distribution is near perfect thanks to the V12 being shoved right back to give it the very best configuration of front-mid engined layout.
The basic handling set-up has followed the safe path of virtually every modern sportscar manufacturer: a touch of understeer that makes for a fantastically forgiving car that can be chucked in without fear – a relative novelty for Ferrari pilots. Turn the electronics off and give a solid prod on the throttle and, it goes without saying, you can smoke the tyres and kick out the rear as readily as ever, but you need to kick through that safety net to access the R-rated thrills.
And the aerodynamic assistance for such a sleek shape is unbelievable. Those buttresses on the rear aren’t some extravagant Pininfarina touch. They work in harmony with the monumental rear diffuser to plant the rear to the deck deep into triple figures without resorting to a giant and drag-inducing rear wing.
It stops in a hurry, too, thanks to perfectly weighted ceramic brakes with a depth of feel that make using Porsche’s system feel like diving into the shallow end of a kid’s paddling pool. The lengthy pedal travel allows for moderation of the car’s braking and with 398mm discs on the front and 360mm on the rears, stamping on the pedal provides all the stopping force of a brick wall when you really need them.
So technically it’s the best car ever to emerge from Maranello, an Enzo you can actually use in all weather, all conditions and all journeys. It even has a decent boot. And that is crucial, as customers now expect to drive their supercar every day. That’s why the twin-plate clutch to finally cope with the demands of the semi-automatic, the rock solid construction in the chassis and the near German build quality offered by the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano are as vital to its success as headline-grabbing top speeds.
As is the interior, which by Ferrari’s past standards is a work of pure genius. Perfectly trimmed carbon-fibre seats and a cockpit that is not only properly designed, but properly stitched and glued, is something we have waited for on these cars since the dawn of time. Ferrari has finally learnt how to do interiors, and for that we should rejoice.
So this car is as near as you’ll get to the perfect 10, there is only one question – styling. The front has the cultured, broad grin of the early 60s’ Ferrari GTs and the side profile is undoubtedly it’s best angle, with a low-slung aggression that exudes cool. The back end looks like an automotive bow to tie those elegant strands and you would not kick this car out of your garage, this much is certain.
But it is girl-next-door pretty rather than supermodel stunning. It even went unnoticed by too many folks for my liking in its own home town and anonymity would be a crushing blow for an attention seeker that has just spent £170,000.
That, and that alone, could just keep the most complete car ever to emerge from Maranello’s gates from the all-time classics list. Like the flat-chested, RADA-trained girls in Baywatch, you just wonder whether the silicon-obsessed money men and the small boy in us all will give it the chance it truly deserves.
If they do they’ll find a true depth of talent that makes this the finest car to wear that mythical badge. And they might just discover the very best GT car in the known world.