Tuesday 21 July 2009

First Drive: 2010 Ferrari 599GTB HGTE

 2010 Ferrari 599GTB HGTE
Ferraris aren't cars. They're rolling, metal-and-glass celebrities, photographed and obsessed over by millions of fans around the world. Any mortal who learns that you've just driven one--including the customs officer I encountered when I returned home from Italy--gets the vapors. Indeed, when Ferraristi spot any activity whatsoever through the hallowed gates of Ferrari's Fiorano test track near Maranello, Italy, they jump around as if an espresso had just been spilled in their laps.

So, stop the presses: the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano receives an optional sport package called the HGTE, or Handling Gran Turismo Evoluzione, for the 2010 model year. You might think that ordering a Ferrari with a $30,000 sport pack is the equivalent of ordering a Frigidaire with a cold package. But remember, this is a Ferrari--every little detail counts. Ferrari engineers have found some room for improvement in the three years since the V-12-powered coupe's debut, which couldn't have been an easy task - dynamically, there was nothing wrong with the original car. The HGTE package isn't as comprehensive as the Scuderia treatment that the mid-engine F430 gets - it includes no additional horsepower and no weight reductions. Instead, the goal was simply to better achieve the basic 599's target - to combine the handling of a mid-engine sports car with the passenger comfort of a front-engine grand tourer.

The HGTE is distinguished, visually, by redesigned exhaust outlets framing a matte black (instead of gray) diffuser, new twenty-inch wheels, and the choice of two grilles - one similar to the regular 599's, but with wider slats, or an optional black mesh grille. Inside, the HGTE comes standard with full carbon-fiber treatment, and the seats--the same supportive thrones as in the normal 599--have Alcantara inserts and are embroidered with a "Handling GTE" logo. The tachometer face is white rather than yellow, and the exterior color of our test car was a new, as-yet-unnamed, deep red that will be available, at least initially, only on the HGTE.

Most of the HGTE's changes are under the skin. This 599 sits 0.4 inch lower and rides on stiffer springs. The front wheels grow in width by half an inch, and the rear antiroll bar is marginally thicker. When the manettino is in one of the high-performance modes, recalibrated dampers give a slightly firmer ride. The changes seem subtle on paper, but Ferrari claims a 36 percent reduction in dynamic roll and similarly dramatic decreases in static roll stiffness and pitch resilience. Say what? Uh, suffice it to say that the HGTE provides better body control and more lateral grip with far less understeer.


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