2008 Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano and 2008 Aston Martin DBS - Running Scared

Don Sherman
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Mark Bramley

If the DBS is the strapping male of this set, the Ferrari Fiorano leans toward the feminine side. Its steering and brake actions are both lighter to the touch. While the Aston's brakes are purely force sensitive, a common racing characteristic, the 599's stopping power is proportional to a blend of pedal pressure and travel. The difficulty of getting brake applications exactly right is eased by the lack of clutching responsibilities. Clicking a carbon-fiber paddle to downshift for a bend and upshift as the revs mount on exit is also notably easier than rowing a shifter, pumping a clutch pedal, and nudging the throttle. The minor gripe we have is that the paddles are attached to the column instead of to the steering wheel - in tight hairpins, your grip must be disrupted to click a shift.

Even though it's a few pounds heavier than the Aston, the Ferrari moves with a ballerina's agility. Turning toward an apex is more thought than effort. Gentle steering touches and subtle throttle adjustments tighten the cornering line on demand. Adding throttle when exiting a bend kills understeer without sliding the tail so wide that you have to add emergency opposite lock. The stability system always seems to vote in favor of more speed. The only item on our wish list is additional steering feedback to provide a more accurate impression of when the front tires are about to slide.

Shifting was optional in these sports cars, because both have the cubic inches and the flexibility to move you smartly without fretting over the tach reading. In the Ferrari, at least 90 percent of peak torque is available from 3300 to 8200 rpm. The Aston delivers 93 percent or more of its maximum shove between 3000 and 6700 rpm. Using both second and third gears shot us up the velocity register so rapidly that we began relying on third alone to moderate the speed and noise being inflicted on this normally peaceful part of Italy.

To gauge pace in a more clinical manner, we used an airstrip located on the opposite side of Maranello for instrumented testing. Exploiting an automatic launch-control system not available on U.S. models, the Ferrari bolted to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds without a whiff of wheel spin and through the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds. (The only quicker car that Automobile Magazine has tested is the much lighter Porsche Carrera GT.) With ample tire smoke available on demand, the Aston posted acceleration figures 0.6 second slower to 60 mph and exactly one second behind the Ferrari in the quarter mile. The pecking order was the same in braking. The sub-1.0-g cornering limits we measured were lower than we expected, because testing space was restricted and the surface available for the cornering procedure wasn't up to our normal standards.

Back on our road-race route, we homed in on each car's chassis rhythm. Aston uses Bilstein five-position adjustable dampers to maintain taut reflexes and to keep body motion under strict control. There's also a track mode with even firmer damping. Noordeloos and other journalists who attended the DBS's launch reported float over road swells, apparently prompting a revision to firmer normal-mode damper calibrations. Our gripe was not with the dampers but instead with the springs, which felt stiff enough for the Baja 1000. Traversing rippled pavement at high speeds induced annoying vertical oscillations that the dampers ignored.

Ferrari uses electronically controlled magnetic dampers that impressively handled the full range of road conditions we encountered. Ride motions were always supple, every wheel maintained a sure footing, and the suspension never crashed into its stops. In chassis tuning, the Ferrari reigns supreme.

The manettino switch, which lets you step through five different operating modes with coordinated adjustments to the stability control, shift speed, and damper action, is another Ferrari strength. While the middle Sport setting is perfect for dry-road entertainment, two additional steps in the conservative direction for slippery surfaces and two that offer wilder track-day behavior are laudable bragging points. That said, Noordeloos longed for the ability to speed up the shifts without altering the suspension's suppleness, a feature Ferrari incorporated in the 430 Scuderia.

Beyond the driver-controlled adjustments, each car changes character with speed in a distinctive way. The Aston maintains its stiff upper lip whether you're cruising or challenging your driving skills. Noordeloos aptly described it as half American muscle car, half racetrack refugee, with a dollop of polished aluminum, carbon fiber, and custom-tailored leather to round off the sharp edges. The Ferrari sweeps through broader emotional extremes - soft and sweet now, hard and fast when provoked - revealing the wild Italian temptress within. The amazing thing is how the 599GTB is able to embrace every situation with an astute blend of confidence and competence.

This time, Tazio Nuvolari came home second. The Aston Martin DBS put up a fierce fight, reinforcing our certainty that the current owners of this treasured brand are on a brilliant track to the future. But when the race ended at Porretta, it was the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano that earned our bouquet for its remarkable combination of speed, poise, and versatility. Years of shrewd tuning and regular infusions of advanced technology have evolved the classic V-12 Ferrari into the best grand tourer big bucks can buy.

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