Life, it has been said, can be cruel.

Not always.

Particularly not when a 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena and a 2001 BMW Z8 become available on the same day to test drive.


The 360 we tested offers an automatic transmission for the first time, teamed with a Formula One-type, or "paddle shift," manual.

Formula One race cars have buttons on the back of the steering wheel that you press to shift. The 360 Modena paddles are on the steering column behind the wheel.

A variety of automakers offer so-called clutchless manuals in which you tap a lever to up or downshift without need for a clutch pedal. The 360 Modena steering column is flanked by large flat levers to do that. It has a clutch, but it functions automatically so you have to tap just one of those paddles.

The automatic goes to work when you push a button in the center console. A small shift handle-like lever also rests in the console, but comes into play only when you need "reverse" gear and have to pull it up and back.

In a machine powered by a 3.6-liter, 400-horsepower, 40-valve V-8 that claims a zero- to 60-m.p.h. time of about 4.5 seconds, chances are you'll spend precious little time in reverse. But you'll spend considerable time at the pump with its 10 m.p.g. city/15 m.p.g. highway mileage rating, which garners a $4,500 gas-guzzler tax. (There's also a luxury tax of $4,738, or 4 percent of the price of the car that exceeds $38,000.)

Whether you play with the paddles or let the automatic do its own thing, the muffled rumble of the V-8 resting behind driver/passenger in this two-seater sounds like a symphony about third gear.

"Ferrari wanted to expand sales to people who can afford the car, but either aren't able to shift manually or are intimidated by shifting manually and so for the first time it came up with automatic for the 360," said John Weinberger, owner of Continental Auto Sports in Hinsdale, one of two Ferrari dealers in the area, the other being Lake Forest Sports Cars Ltd. owned by Rick Mancuso.

"Ferrari has opened the door for those who don't or won't shift a 6-speed manual--and in doing so created a three-year wait for the car. About 80 percent of all 360s are produced with automatic," Weinberger said.

You can still get a 6-speed manual, which starts at $144,620 versus $148,350 for the "paddle shifter" manual and automatic.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a sophisticated traction-control system, capable of keeping a 400-h.p. aluminum-body rocket with a top speed of 180 m.p.h. on the pavement are standard.

You have a choice of normal or sport-mode suspension settings. Normal provides a cushion between you and lumpy, bumpy road surfaces. Sport is much firmer for optimum handling in very sharp corners and along twisty country roads. In sport mode the shock setting is "glue."

The list of options comes printed and pictured in a Cerrozzeria Scaglietti catal og so big you'll need two hands to lift and a strong back to carry it. It features $12,000 worth of extra-cost goodies--from Ferrari fender badge logos ($1,000 per fender and recessed into the aluminum panel so kids can't rip and grab to get a $1,000 souvenir), $1,800 for power seats (add $l,600 more for "Daytona" seat stitching), $4,000 for three pieces of leather luggage and $2,200 for a leather golf bag holder.

What you won't find in the Scaglietti catalog--or in the car--is a cupholder.

"It has nothing to do with the driving experience, which is why you won't find a navigation system either," sniffed Scott Rothermel, general sales manager for Continental.

"And there's no 0.9 percent financing, either. Most buyers simply write a check," he said.

2001 BMW Z8

This is one very potent machine off the line and one very limber and nimble vehicle on the roadway. Fast and agile, but an extremely limited-edition number. Only 400 copies are earmarked f e U.S. annually and reportedly the Z8 will be built for only three years.

However, so all is not lost, reportedly the new 6-Series coupe and convertible coming out in the 2004 timeframe (Cars, June 28) will share the same platform as the Z8. And there's talk about a new "Mercedes SL fighter" from BMW; in other words, the old BMW 850 done right--without a top.

But we digress.

Z8 styling hints at the Porsche 911, Corvette and the smaller and much less expensive Z3. Long hood, short deck, curvy aluminum body, a power soft top and a removable aluminum hardtop that comes with a storage rack for the garage.

The 5-liter, 394-h.p. V-8, same as in BMW's M5 sedan, comes with only a 6-speed manual that defines "smooth as silk." Most appreciated in such a powerful machine. In power shifting from first to second, you watch the horizon ahead drop a few inches in the windshield as your head is forced back and your body is firmly planted into the leather bucket.

Oh, so alert. Oh, so quick. Little wonder potential buyers are willingly offering well over list for this work of art. The V-8's variable-valve timing optimizes power, torque and fuel efficiency, while minimizing emissions. You can choose between "comfort" and "sport" throttle response, though perhaps "comfort" and "hold on" are better terms.

Neat feature: Turn the ignition key, then push the starter button on the instrument panel to ignite the engine.

The Z8 doesn't shimmy, shake, wiggle or wobble no matter how hard you play. Dynamic stability control is standard. The Z8 also comes with dynamic brake control, which senses and helps regulate brake pressure to each wheel in corners to reduce the chance of skidding. Four-wheel ABS is also standard.

Run-flat tires, capable of taking you 300 miles at speeds up to 50 m.p.h., also are standard. Though run-flats typically have very firm sidewalls that make for rougher than normal ride, the 18-inch speed-rated radials on the Z8 were very pleasant road tires. Being speed rated, you probably would want to switch to winter tires or garage the Z8 at the first sign of snow, however.

For a two-seater, the cabin is very spacious. There's a little stowage on the ledge behind the seats on top of the compartments that hold the navigation (Ferrari's right, you don't need it) and CD systems software.

The Z8 also features a digital, hands-free phone with a "Mayday" function that works with the navigation system to pinpoint the car's location and summon help with the push of a button.

Base price is $128,000. About the only extra charge is $645 for freight and a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax, plus the luxury tax.

There have been reports of some buyers ready, willing and able to spend twice the $128,000--and more--to get one. Maybe because the Z8 comes with a cupholder?

But before enthusiasts get their thongs in a knot when cupholder and high-performance sports car are mentioned in the same breath, the Z8 cupholder clips onto the center console and can be removed.When you buy a Z8, you can take delivery at BMW's Performance Center in Spartanburg, S.C., where you get free entry into BMW's two-day, high-performance driving school, more than a $1,000 value.