New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2011 Ferrari 599GTO

Ever notice how anyone driving slower than you is a moron and everyone passing you is a maniac? Funny, me too. That same logic tends to show up in car reviews – any easy-to-tame car is brandished as boring. Worse, if the driver runs out of talent before the car runs out of grip, it’s an evil bastard. The Ferrari 599GTO solves this by being one of the fastest, most perfectly balanced, and most capable cars in the world – and at the same time, its absurdly high limits are totally approachable. It makes good drivers very fast; it makes great drivers set world records.

One particularly impressive record is the GTO’s lap time at Ferrari’s Fiorano racetrack: a full second faster than the Enzo. The GTO is a big, heavy, comfortable grand tourer with a big trunk, automatic climate control, and a dash full of Bose speakers. And it’s faster than an Enzo – a purpose-built supercar?! Wow.

The GTO is the fourth variant of the 599-series V-12 sports car. The first was the base 599GTB Fiorano, which appeared in 2006 with a 5999-cc V-12 engine producing 612 hp. Last year, Ferrari launched an expanded sport package called the 599HGTE – handling gran turismo evolutione. It didn’t offer any more thrust, but dramatic revisions to the suspension gave it perfectly balanced handling with no compromise to comfort or luxury.

Earlier this year, Ferrari announced the 599XX, a track-only monster that was the result of research on aerodynamics and computer-assisted handling systems. The 599XX has crazy things like fans where the trunk once was and alien-looking winglets on the C-pillars to create downforce.

The 599GTO is, in effect, a street-legal version of the XX. Although it doesn’t share the track car’s active aero tricks, it does feature fully revised aerodynamics – wider bumpers and side skirts, new spoilers, diffusers, and underbody channels – all to create significant downforce. It’s about 220 pounds lighter than other 599 models, thanks to aluminum body panels that are twenty percent thinner and dozens of other weight-saving measures.

The GTO’s quad-cam V-12 produces 661 hp thanks to reduced friction, a higher compression ratio, and improved breathing. Whereas the regular 599’s engine feels like it’s running out of breath after its 7600-rpm power peak, the GTO doesn’t. In fact, it makes full power right at the 8400-rpm limiter.

And it makes some pretty beautiful music, too. The regular V-12 has six catalytic converters in a 6-into-2-into-1 exhaust system; the GTO’s uses instead a 6-into-1 setup with only two cats. Combined with dual intake resonance tubes, the engine is eight decibels louder inside the car – the difference between, say, Eartha Kitt whispering at you from across the room and one of those Jersey Shore broads screaming at you inside an elevator. Except the Ferrari sounds glorious – more like a Maranello flat-crank V-8 than the other V-12s, with a smooth, sweet tenor wail at part throttle that becomes a ferocious scream when you put your foot down.

Only one foot is required to drive the GTO, of course, as it comes exclusively with the latest version of Ferrari’s F1 automated transmission. Full-throttle upshifts are over and done in 60 milliseconds; and downshifts are now complete in only a quarter of the time they used to require. It’s better than ever – and it’s also history, as this, sadly, is the last evolution of Ferrari’s single-clutch automated manual.

The GTO’s suspension and chassis changes were made to further reduce understeer – although we felt exactly none of that when sliding the 599HGTE around Fiorano last year. Nevertheless, the GTO rides 0.4 inch lower than the HGTE (which itself is 0.4 inch lower than the 599GTB) and yet still doesn’t scrape on driveways and speed bumps. It still manages to ride comfortably, thanks to second-generation magnetorheological dampers that mechanically adjust their stiffness every ten to fifteen milliseconds. That’s equivalent to every foot traveled at 60 mph.

The 599’s carbon-ceramic Brembo rotors are now gripped by ceramic-compound pads, an industry first. The carbon pads provide a more consistent coefficient of friction and even better fade resistance. Formula 1-derived “doughnuts” cover the leading half of the rotors, supplementing the complex brake-cooling ducts to channel even more air to the brakes. Since the HGTE experienced zero brake fade with the pads literally on fire last year, it’s safe to say that the GTO’s brakes are now unfadeable.

The final big change to the 599GTO concerns its electronics. Specifically, it benefits from the advancements made on the 599XX that integrate all the drive systems – stability control, ABS, traction control, and the dampers. The idea is that the car’s computers should fully understand the complete picture of the vehicle’s dynamics – and rather than just correct a problem, they react preemptively, and in concert, to stop it from happening in the first place. This all happens smoothly enough to be almost completely transparent to the driver.

To demonstrate this, Ferrari brought us to the very fast, very challenging – and very unfamiliar – Mugello circuit. With the manettino in Sport mode and our blood pressures in cardiopulmonary-embolism mode, we attacked the track – with no drama. In Sport, there is simply nothing you can do to upset the car – up to and including turning in like a madman and simultaneously summoning all 670 hp as you’re cresting a hill in the middle of a camber change and running over a goat. The GTO reacts to your requests instantaneously, but only up to its limit. There’s no sudden snap oversteer, corrected by a brutal stability control intervention. There’s no sudden acceleration followed by a lurch or wheel spin, the engine cutting out, and a slow and gradual return to power. No, instead, this Ferrari knows in advance what’s going to happen and makes subtle adjustments – or flat-out denies your power request – and the result is that the car is as smooth as if a pro were at the wheel when you’re doing what amounts to having a grand mal seizure at the controls.

Race mode allows faster progress with just as much bad driving, but still, it’s quite difficult to tell when the systems are stepping in to save your hide. If, on the other hand, your inputs are clean and smooth, you won’t even know there’s a computer watching you – the GTO does exactly what you ask of it. You quickly learn not to look at the speedometer, as the GTO masks its speed like an expert meth dealer – and its chassis is so communicative that you’re immediately comfortable heading to its outrageous limits.

None of the computers remove you from the driving experience; instead, they help you be a better driver. And when you switch them off, you realize that’s the only reason they’re there – they’re not covering up any shortcoming. The GTO is perfect in every racetrack measure, from balance to turn-in, to body control, to the absurd power, and, of course, the indefatigable brakes.

It is no less exhilarating on the street. The GTO does what all 599s do – it combines the instantaneous reactions of a 1000-pound open-wheel racer with the refinement and ride of a well-equipped luxury coupe. And the thrust of a jet fighter. Ferrari still hasn’t managed to match Porsche’s steering or brake feel, but there is simply no faulting the GTO in any other meaningful way.

Ferrari’s engineers seemed a little concerned that perhaps they had gone too far with this grand tourer, but nothing can be further from the truth – the GTO is what the 599 should have been from day one. Any complaints that the 599GTB is too gentlemanly and insufficiently insane have been addressed in full. The GTO does many things better than the regular 599, and not much worse. Importantly, those things that it does better are the very things that make a Ferrari a Ferrari. It’s louder, faster, more expensive, more involving, and more insane – with almost no cost to comfort and elegance. How could that possibly be going too far?

And, gosh, why is everyone on the road such a moron?

Buying Guide
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2011 Ferrari 599

MSRP $310,543 GTB Fiorano Coupe


11 City / 15 Hwy

Horse Power:

620 @ 7600


448 @ 5600