The Ferrari 599 offers mind-blowing pace and handling. Quite possibly the best Ferrari of its generation

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The last time Ferrari launched a two-seat, front-engined V12 Berlinetta like the 599 GTB, it was a reminder that the company doesn’t always make exceptional motor cars. The 2002 575M Maranello took a dynamic step backwards from the car it replaced, the 550 Maranello.

Ferrari didn’t take kindly to the 575's poor reception, and it would seem that those frustrations were channelled into the design of this car. 

The 599 shows Ferrari is still able to build a cracking all-rounder

The 599 GTB Fiorano presents a dazzling set of numbers. Its exalted price isn’t so extraordinary in the face of its obvious competition, but few people expected Ferrari to give the car over 600bhp. In doing so, it has produced a sporting GT with the potential to outperform many even more exclusive machines. 

In theory, it is possible to trace the 599's heritage to the very first front-engined Ferrari road car, but in truth its lineage begins with the legendary 250 GT SWB and Lusso of the 1960s.

Fast, dramatic machines with impossibly long bonnets continued as Ferrari flagships through the 275GTB and Daytona until the company chose a mid-engined format for its range-topping 12-cylinder road cars from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s.

The 550 Maranello signalled the return of the big V12 Ferrari with a long bonnet and nothing behind the driver but luggage and 100 litres of unleaded. We loved it. 

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Ferrari 599 rear diffuser

Ferrari has used much more advanced underpinnings for the 599 than with its 550 and 575M predecessors. The tubular steel chassis of those cars has been replaced by an all-aluminium chassis to bring vastly improved stiffness and reduced mass. The fuel tank now sits within a longer wheelbase, bringing a lower polar moment of inertia and centre of gravity. 

The Enzo’s 5999cc V12 was then reformatted for this GT application and the following numbers were settled upon: 612bhp at 7600rpm (it can spin to 8400rpm if required) and 448lb ft of torque at 5600rpm. In the context of a 1690kg claimed kerb weight, that gives the 599 a power-to-weight ratio of 362bhp per tonne, so far beyond the 291 offered by its predecessor that you could rightly conclude that this new car occupies an entirely new category. Let’s christen it ‘super GT’. 

Beautiful fuel filler caps are a Ferrari speciality, but despite having the usual lump of chrome, the flap under which it sits is attached to the body by a nasty hinge

As ever, Ferrari is keen to remind us how much technology has been gleaned from its F1 studies. The 599 is available with a paddle-shift gearbox, using the latest super-fast shift software. In the fastest setting, just 100 milliseconds elapse between clutch disengaging and fully engaging the next gear. The 599 has significant underbody aerodynamic aids, which bring a claimed 160kg of downforce at 186mph. 

The car uses magnetorheological semi-active dampers, so-called because when a magnetic field is applied to the liquid within the damper reservoir, its viscosity changes almost instantly. This function, along with the gearshift speed and the traction and stability control parameters, is controlled by a button on the steering wheel. 

The 599 can also be specified with optional carbon-ceramic brakes, measuring 398mm at the front and 360mm at the rear.


Ferrari 599 dashboard

Deliberately driver-centric, the 599’s cabin is a gran turismo benchmark for its sense of style and innovation. But Ferrari deserves special praise for not allowing style to compromise its efficiency as a workplace. 

The seating position is electrically adjustable, the only fault being that some will want the wheel higher than it goes. 

Starter button a gimmick because you still need a key

The seat itself pinches the mid-section perfectly. Ahead is an instrument binnacle consisting of a simply expressed analogue speedometer and revcounter and an electronic display for every other function. This is a compelling mixture of arcade-game fantasy, irritating folly and genuinely useful information. However, as a gesture to the past and a glimpse at the future it works very well. 

Two large carbonfibre paddles (part of the £7k interior carbon pack) sit behind the three-spoke wheel. They are fixed to the steering column. The wheel itself follows contemporary Ferrari thinking with a starter button, optional shift lights recessed into the upper rim and the magnetic damper controls to the bottom right. 

Storage space is fine, with flexible leather door bins, a usable glovebox and a decent tray in the centre console. Some will bemoan the lack of a double-DIN-sized sat-nav screen, but we think the small hi-fi (with flap to cover it) and simple rotary climate control dials suit the cabin well. 

As in all Ferraris, the leather somehow feels and smells more expensive than it does in any other car. Boot space is adequate, and the rear shelf can have a small golf bag lashed to it, should you fancy a round. 


Ferrari 599 GTB Fioriano

There are the quick cars – those that nip below 10 seconds to 100mph, such as the Lamborghini Gallardo. Then there are the very quick cars, which post 0-100mph times beginning with an eight. But anything under eight seconds belongs to an elite group, and in gaining such membership, the Ferrari 599 has shaken the establishment like nothing in the past 20 years. Its 7.4sec average matches the time we recorded for the Pagani Zonda S. Rest to 60mph takes just 3.7sec. 

The 599's overall statistics are most extraordinary in the context of its usability. Within this is an engine of staggering character and civility. It is as mechanically refined as the best luxury car V12 installations. It also pulls from idle to 8400rpm with no perceptible peaks or troughs. 

The 599's overall statistics are most extraordinary in the context of its usability

The transmission isn’t entirely successful, though. Full-speed upshifts in sport and race mode are impressive, but it doesn’t always match engine and gear speed perfectly on the way down. 

The fixed Manettino settings – which translate roughly into snow, winter, sport and race – hamper the car’s ability in the UK. It is suggested that sport mode is best for everyday driving; this gives the fastest gearshifts, the middle of three damper settings and allows some slip before the stability/traction control system shuts the throttle or brakes an individual wheel. 

Two years after the 599’s launch, Ferrari introduced a more hardcore ‘HGTE’ model, which stands for Handling Grand Tourer Evoluzione. The HGTE pack brought stiffer springs, lower ride, revised calibration on the magnetic dampers and added around £14k to the list price. 

An even more rarefied example, the 599XX, joined the range in 2009. The £1.2m special was all but rebuilt into a project car, using F1 technology, to make it 10 seconds faster around the Italian maker’s famous Fiorano test track than an Enzo and was not road legal. Only 29 were made. 

Following the unveiling of the exclusive XX, Ferrari released the 671bhp 599 GTO. Exceptional as the rather more race-car-like GTO is, we’d opt for the HGTE as a happier medium between touring comfort and still epic performance.


Ferrari 599 hard cornering

The problem with the Ferrari's Manettino settings for the 599 is that the damping is too firm in sport mode, so you switch to winter mode, only to find the gearchange sluggish. 

Winter is the preferred setting for British roads. The car has excellent wheel travel, roll angles are well controlled and the steering – though pretty lifeless – is accurate. Its cruising credentials are excellent, although significant amounts of suspension and tyre noise do filter into the cabin at speed. 

The GTO is far more focussed than the GTB, but loses some GT charm

There's not a lot wrong with the way the regular Ferrari 599 goes down the road, but the thinking behind the HGTE pack is still sound. The idea is to reduce pitch and roll, increase grip and traction, and generally make the car more controllable and exploitable to drive fast. Some comfort will inevitably be lost, and likewise some tyre life, but Ferrari reckons the 599 has some of each to spare.

Mooch around town in the 599 HGTE and it does feel mildly less supple than a regular 599, though it retains an ability to shrug off surface imperfections better than most high-powered GTs or supercars. Yes, on the worst B-roads it jiggles you around in the (fabulously supportive) driver's seat a little more than is ideal, but that's the worst of it.

The HGTE's set-up is stiffer than a regular 599's, but it still doesn't skip or shimmy. It adds an extra dose of keenness and controllability to the 599 at the expense of what seems like precious little. It's a finely judged package, and a fabulous one even in the UK. Were we lucky enough to be speccing up a 599, we’d certainly tick the HGTE box. 

And if you can stretch to the GTO? Well, it is rather firmer even than the HGTE, and it shimmies a little where the regular car would float across bad surfaces, with the lightly weighted steering tugging at your fingers. But it does feel like it has race-car levels of body stiffness as the pay-off for that. 



Ferrari 599

If you need us to reassure you about the running costs of a Ferrari 599 GTB, you shouldn’t buy one. 

But at least running this V12 Ferrari shouldn’t be a nightmare; the days of annual engine-out belt changes are gone and modern electronics have reduced the 575M’s ludicrous tally of ECUs to something more manageable. 

Few will enter 599 ownership unaware of the vast running costs

Still, you can expect all the usual costs involved with running a V12 supercar. Tyres, servicing, fuel… all of it will cost what to most of us would be a small fortune, but to those who can afford the car these are likely to be justifiable costs. 

They are not out of the ordinary for such a vehicle. 

Depreciation is also very respectable. Prices for the earliest examples have only dared to dip below £100k just as the 599’s successor is announced

And with such a highly acclaimed car as this – one that has rightfully become a highlight in the recent history of Ferrari – it’s unlikely that prices will ever slide into the realms of everyday affordability.


5 star Ferrari 599 GTB Fioriano

There are faster cars on sale, more expensive and more glamorous machines, but the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano is currently the most complete GT ever conceived.

It marries glamour and grace with a set of driving credentials only hampered by Ferrari’s decision to combine the chassis electronics into fixed groupings

A piece of brilliance. Fab engine, nice inside, sweet ride/handling.

Otherwise it is blessed with an exceptional engine and a fine cabin from which to control all that power, packaged in a body that is lighter than its predecessor’s

Unlike the few other machines with similarly explosive performance, the 599 feels entirely amenable to everyday use. Visibility is good, and it even has reversing sensors. 

But a V12 Ferrari should be defined by the way it drives and, putting aside those damper issues, the GTB Fiorano is a car that questions the need to reach any further up the supercar ladder. 

The 575M blind alley is now forgotten; long live the superb 599

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Ferrari 599 2006-2012 First drives