Ferrari made its name with front-engine V-12 sports/GT cars. True, the midship-V-8 series has become superb, and Scuderia Ferrari's racing efforts have counted for something. But the signature Ferrari has been a fast, elegant, express-tourer with a silky 12-cylinder engine under a great, long hood, from the original road versions of the 166 in 1948 through the storied line of Superfast, Superamerica, GTO, Lusso (prettiest ever!), 275GTB (no, prettier still!), and Daytona. That makes the 575M Maranello the current heir to the grandest Ferrari tradition.
First appearing in 1996 as the 550, this car blended history and tradition with thoroughly modern technology and shattering performance. A 5474cc V-12 tuned for 485 horsepower could shove the hefty (almost 3800 pounds) GT to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds and claw on up to 194. Its Pininfarina sheetmetal looked clean, taut, classic, and graceful, and it offered a driving experience that was at once elegant and brutal, stirring and refined.
Last year, the 575M Modificata turned up the heat even more. Now with 5748cc and 508 horsepower, Ferrari's big front-engine luxo-sport casts an even bigger shadow. And the paddle-shifted six-speed F1 gearbox makes any driver feel more heroic. A new active-damping suspension provides a plush casual-driving ride, but serves up firm, positive control when you toss the car around with intensity--exactly what the 575's character and speed potential call for.
Yet the restraint and polish are still there. Maybe too much so. Nice as the lines are, they're content to whisper, rather than shout, that this car is special. Particularly in the conservative blue of our test car, it does not induce many citizens to pay extra attention. Worse, the engine note has been muffled down to a muted whoosh. Where's the prancing horse on its nose and that passionate shriek that should be the battle cry of any car with 12 cylinders under the hood? We hear a sport exhaust option is in the works as is a larger, more aggressive wheel and tire package.
None of that matters much, of course. The 575M is a wondrous device: beautiful to look at, thrilling to drive, and arousing just to be near. Worth a quarter of a million bucks? Absolutely.
This large, torquey, and ultra-smooth DOHC alloy V-12 gets the job done--though we wish we could hear even more of its music.
A central tach dominates Ferrari's revised dash; the F1 shifter paddles are visible just behind the steering wheel. Everything that isn't metal is covered in supple, handstitched leather.
It's the talent that goes beyond 40-yard-dash times. The spirit that can't be captured by any objective measure.
Take Ferrari. As any slide-rule smart aleck will tell you, the performance of most Ferraris hardly justifies their prices. Especially these days, when a Z06 Corvette can prance alongside the Italian pony for about what the Ferrari owner drops on a year's supply of Chateau Margaux.
But while the Chevy's at the levee, the Ferrari motors on a higher existential plane.
Part of that mystique has to do with price. For example, the new 575M Maranello starts just above $225,000 with its Formula 1-style transmission. For too many owners of exotic cars, that's precisely the point.
But there's more to it. Lose the designer baggage, and the Ferrari reveals a specialness based not on dirty lira or dry statistics but on its uniquely Italian style, sound and sensation.
The front-engined V-12 Maranello has a markedly different character from Ferrari's 360 Modena, a difference that is partly explained by the cars' layout. The 360's eight cylinders sit behind the driver and passenger. The 360 is amped, attention-prone, eager to flex its abs along Florida's South Beach. For all its brilliance, it's also a car few would care to drive day in and day out.
The Maranello is also designed for time-bending travel -- top speed is 202 mph -- but not at the expense of ride comfort and space for people and luggage. Its lines are racy yet unobtrusive, a well-bred beauty with no need to shout. Its closest competitor is the Aston Martin Vanquish, not rageful exotics like the Lamborghini Murcielago. The Maranello also costs a good $50,000 more than the 360.
A useful trunk and generous parcel shelf behind the seats -- matched and fitted luggage available, of course -- make the Maranello as practical a tourer as any two-seater can be. On a wonderful drive from New York to New England in our deep-blue Maranello, the 27.7-gallon fuel tank was another reminder of its long-haul inclinations. Its 13-mpg economy was an equally good reminder of its powerful thirst.
And, as with every other V-12 Ferrari I've driven, the Maranello instantly stirred up its classic GT cocktail: One part relaxation, two parts exhilaration, with a blushing cherry garnish from all the admiring stares you collect along the way. For 2003, the Maranello received a subtle facelift and more notable upgrades in aerodynamics, power and technology.
The larger 5.75-liter V-12 pumps out 515 horsepower and 434 lb.-ft. of torque, allowing a 0-60 mph dash in 4.2 seconds. Of course, the engine's uncanny howl to its 7,600-rpm peak remains one of Ferrari's most inimitable features. Just don't get too seduced by the 12-cylinder aria above 7,000 rpm, because that means you warped past any legal speed some time ago. Yet at cruising speeds, the big engine burbles along in serene style.
An adaptive road-sensing suspension adjusts the ride height and shock damping in two driver-selectable modes: "Comfort" for a softer ride, "Sport" for flatter handling and maximum traction.
At more than 3,800 pounds, the Maranello is a hefty plate of pasta, about 600 pounds heavier than a Corvette or 360 Modena. Yet the Ferrari never feels ponderous, though it can't quite match the reflexes of its 360 stablemate. Steering and brakes seem heavy at first. But that sensation fades within minutes, and you remember the Ferrari's priority is handling at ultra-high speeds, where the Maranello delivers magnificent control few cars can match.
The brakes, featuring an upgraded ABS system, slightly reduced pedal effort and new pad material for better cooling, haul this big GT down again and again with no hint of fade. With perfect 50/50 weight distribution, good outward visibility and a forgiving nature, the car is a joy to drive fast -- far less intimidating than your average supercar.
Our test Maranello was equipped with the F1-style gearbox that lets you toggle through speeds via twin paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. There's no clutch pedal.
Again, moving to Sport mode ups the ante with speedier shifts and more aggressive shift points. In tandem with the stability control system, you're also allowed more tire spin and vehicle rotation before the electronics rein you in.
This retuned version of the F1 transmission was far superior to the balky version in the Maserati Spyder. I took to driving exclusively in Sport, where the box shifted like lightning and matched revs beautifully on downshifts, accompanied by a sweet automated blip of the throttle.
The roomy-for-two interior mixed gorgeous styling and purposeful controls with just a few of the quirks that remind you this is an Italian Job. The audio system looks and sounds like a so-so aftermarket installation. The handbrake is awkwardly placed along the driver's doorsill, and its warning light stayed on even when the brake was off.
Of course, no one buys a Ferrari for its intimate ways with Fleetwood Mac, but there's no reason a quarter-million-dollar car shouldn't include top-shelf audio.
Then again, that may be a quibble that never enters the blissful sphere of an actual Ferrari buyer. Again, if a Ferrari were only about bang-for-the-buck, even the fattest of cats would drive Corvettes or Vipers instead. Yes, you can buy five Corvettes for the price of a Maranello -- but why would you need five 'Vettes if you could afford a Ferrari?
Those who scoff, "That car costs more than a house" are always imagining their own bungalow, not the address of someone pulling $1 million a year. To that person, even a $200,000 car squares with a $50,000-a-year guy dropping $10,000 on a used Taurus.
So enough math. How much is a Ferrari really worth? To the happy few who get a 575M Maranello, exactly what they paid for it.