News that the 2007 599 GTB Fiorano, Ferrari’s long-awaited replacement for the 575M Maranello, would be based on the same platform as the carmaker’s slightly lumpy-looking 612 Scaglietti, was cause for mild alarm: Would Ferrari simply shorten its four-seater into a two-passenger model?
Nope. Although the Fiorano shares components with the Scaglietti, the two cars feel and look quite different, which is a good thing for the Fiorano. In just two years, Ferrari has freshened its lineup, which now consists of the F430 and F430 Spider at the bottom, the 612 Scaglietti at the top, and the 599 Fiorano solidly in the center.
Ferrari executives say the mandate for the 599 Fiorano was to build a comfortable, front-engine, V-12 coupe that would match Ferrari’s original fire-breathing, mid-engine F40 in performance, just as the original 550 Maranello, when it was conceived in 1993, was intended to trump the Testarossa.
Arguably, that 550 Maranello marked the beginning of the new Ferrari, when the company began to build cars for grown-ups. Ferraris since have been comfortable not only on the racetrack — that’s a given — but also serving as actual transportation without, say, fouling spark plugs or overheating in traffic. The 599 Fiorano is so capable as a daily driver that its prowess on the racetrack comes as a pleasant surprise.
The engine, a 6.0-liter V-12 — or precisely 5,999 cubic centimeters, hence the 599 name — is structurally similar to the one in Ferrari’s $660,000 limited-edition Enzo. Pumping out 620 horsepower, Ferrari bills it as the most powerful 12-cylinder production car it has built, as the company doesn’t consider the Enzo a production model. Nonetheless, the engine in the Fiorano — that part of the name came from the test track next to the factory in Maranello — delivers power in a smooth, linear manner. The engine is not at all peaky and breathless, and it feels as though it’s making power right up to its 8,400 rpm redline. There’s nothing wrong with the 612 Scaglietti’s 5.7-liter V-12, but this is decidedly a better engine.
Though the Fiorano will be offered with a conventional six-speed manual transmission, Ferrari expects only 10 percent of its customers to shift for themselves. The rest will pay extra for a semi-automatic six-speed, now called the F1 SuperFast. That’s no misnomer, as those willing to change gears with the pair of large carbon-fiber paddles mounted behind the steering wheel — shift up on the right paddle, down on the left — will find that shifts can take place in 100 milliseconds.
That’s twice as quick as the Scag-lietti, and only 50 milliseconds slower than Michael Schumacher’s F1 Ferrari. This extra speed comes from a new — and to us laymen, nearly inexplicable — ability for the unit to operate the Fiorano’s twin-disc clutch while the gear is changing, instead of before and after the gear change.
When left in automatic mode, the transmission shifts more smoothly than other Ferrari models equipped with manu-matic, and far better than a similar E-gear unit in the Lamborghini Gallardo. Even left in automatic mode, the transmission takes the engine revs right up to redline before shifting.
Suffice it to say, then, the 599 Fiorano’s powertrain is close to flawless, topped by the expected Ferrari V-12 exhaust note that sounds exactly right. Fortunately, the rest of the car is comparably capable.
The 599 Fiorano was styled by Pininfarina, but in close association with Ferrari’s aerodynamic engineers. Despite the absence of boy-racer wings and spoilers, the 599 Fiorano’s body makes a lot of downforce, aided by a “flying buttress” on each side of the rear window, which is invisible in profile, but up close, is separated from the body to such a degree that you can pass your hand between the outside of the body and the inside of the flying buttress. Given its size, the 599 Fiorano’s design is handsome and modern, but still distinctively Ferrari. One of the few departures from tradition is twin rather than quad taillights, though Ferrari suggests they are a “taillight within a taillight.”
Inside, all the creature comforts are present: an 11-speaker Bose stereo, parking sensors, power heated seats, a rudimentary navigation system and plenty of elbow room. Controls and gauges are all properly placed and easy to use, at least once you have figured out the climate control. As you would expect, leather, aluminum and carbon fiber abound in the cockpit, all painstakingly executed. Trunk space is generous. Ferrari says that when the 599 Fiorano arrives later this year, price will be between $240,000 and $260,000, but a long list of available options could raise that substantially.
The 599 Fiorano’s suspension came as a bit of a surprise when announced at the most recent Geneva auto show. It’s the first non-General Motors use of supplier Delphi’s MagneRide system, originally developed for Cadillac. It’s deceptively simple: Fluid in the dampers, at all four corners, contains tiny metallic particles suspended in liquid. An electromagnet is mounted by the damper’s tube. When the electromagnet is hit with electricity, it attracts the particles and makes the fluid much thicker, thus stiffening the suspension.
Near-instantaneous response of 10 milliseconds means each wheel’s suspension can react properly to, say, a pothole, or all four wheels can react when the car is stuffed into a tight, fast corner. It works well on Cadillacs and on the Chevrolet Corvette, and it works just as well on the 599 Fiorano. Though the system is from Delphi, Ferrari developed its own controller and software.
This newest Ferrari has the company’s most-sophisticated traction control yet, called F1-Trac. It’s adjustable by using the manettino, which sounds like a type of pasta but is actually a dial located beneath the center of the steering wheel.
Those settings are extreme, with an icy-pavement setting at one end, to the complete deactivation of all traction-control systems at the other. In between, there’s a low-grip setting, a sport setting, and a race setting. The ice and low grip selections offered a stunningly smooth ride on rough pavement, but normal driving is likely to be done in sport. Race, designated as a track-only setting, speeds up the gearbox to maximum while keeping the electronic nannies at a minimum, allowing for slight slip-and-slide at the racetrack. Even so, I was surprised at how invasive the traction-control system was even in race, taming the throttle until the car was pointed entirely straight. Ferrari test drivers at the Fiorano track insist that lap speeds in race and with the system turned off are quite close. Perhaps.
The tires on the test car were Pirellis, though the company will use several tire suppliers. Rear wheels are 20-inch; front wheels are 19-inch, but with a 20-inch option. Indeed, there are multiple options available, from painted brake calipers to a carbon-fiber steering wheel with five red LED lights across the top that illuminate progressively as you near shifting speeds. Standard brakes are conventional steel discs. The test car had optional ceramic discs that certainly worked well and were quiet but did not offer much feedback through the pedal.
Indeed, the lack of feedback in general may be my only legitimate complaint with the 599 Fiorano. Steering is slightly numb, and although on paper the 599 Fiorano exceeds everything you would want, the package feels a little uninvolving. Not to the extent of the 612 Scaglietti, but to our tastes, the car is still just a bit mature for a Ferrari.
Obviously, if that’s the extent of our criticism, this is a pretty good car. In a brief interview, Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo said the 599 Fiorano “represents all of our capability. This is the maximum of what we can do.” You can’t ask for more than maximum, can you?
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5699.