To be honest, I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with the Ferrari 599 GTB. When the Autocar
staff put our Top Five together for the Mercedes SL65 AMG road test the other week, nobody suggested that anything other than a 599, even two years after we road-tested it, should snaffle the top spot. It is wonderful.
Still, Ferrari has chosen to make a few choice changes to the 599, available as an option as the HGTE package. It comprises a raft of suspension mods aimed at making the 599 a sharper and keener drive, so the key letter in the pack is H, for Handling. GT stands for, er, GT, and E for Evoluzione.
The changes incorporate stiffer springs (by 17 percent at the front and 15 percent at the rear), which also lower the ride height by 10mm, while there’s a stiffer rear anti-roll bar and a softer compound for Pirelli P Zero tires that otherwise go unchanged, though they do run on front wheels that are half an inch wider than before. There’s also a little extra camber, and revised calibration for the magnetic dampers.
The point? The idea is to reduce pitch and roll, which will increase grip and improve body control.
Power (611hp) and performance claims (including a blistering 0-62mph time of 3.7sec) remain the same as the regular 599, while the HGTE is only marginally faster than a regular version around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. Sixth tenths of a second doesn’t sound like a lot because it isn’t, but outright extra speed isn’t the idea; the aim has been to make the 599 more controllable and exploitable to drive fast.
Wonderful though it is, one of the 599’s characteristics is that it’s no easy machine to drive near its limit. At times you almost feel that it’s calling as many shots as you are. An Aston Martin DBS, even the dynamically weaker Mercedes SL65 AMG, imbibe their drivers with more trust and move more sedately at the point where grip ends and handling begins.
Not, of course, that you can tell the effect of these changes straight away. Get into the HGTE and it feels like pure regular 599. There’s an extra sprinkling of carbon fiber in the cabin, including the shells of the brilliantly supportive new seats, but there’s little inside you couldn’t tick from the options list already. It’s also very manageable, with good visibility and a very refined drivetrain.
Mooch around town and the HGTE 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. This isn’t a Scuderia or GT3 kind of setup; it has a broader spectrum of ability. It doesn’t skip or shimmy or crash.
As I head up to hillside roads around Maranello, there are some crap surfaces and dodgy cambers and, while they’re not as bad as some back-roads, a chassis signed off on these routes will work pretty well in most places. It matches superior body control over the regular 599 with a deftness and delicacy that, say, really fast Porsche 911s (Turbo, GT2) can’t match.
You might expect a big car like the 599 to feel unwieldy, unfriendly and lively up here, at 77in. wide and with a 6.0-liter V12 closer to the front wheels than the back. It is less pointy than a 911, but far more approachable than a big Lamborghini. It’s dead easy to place because you can see the peaks of the front wings, while the transaxle layout means there’s more weight over the back wheels than the fronts, so traction feels more mid- than front-engined.
A DBS would want to kick its tail wide at every hairpin (very amusing, too), but the Ferrari can take more throttle (albeit not as much as a 911 GT2) and when it does break away, it’s sweetly progressive. More confidence-inspiring than before, certainly.
Which you’d prefer – this or a GT2 – is really about personal preference, but while a Porsche’s pace and hardcore, nailed-down focus is compelling, the 599 blends just as much ground-covering ability with what feels to me like a more supple, composed and deftly finessed chassis.
The engine is as wonderful as ever, of course. A few software changes have been made here and there, so the 599 shifts gears more adeptly and emits less carbon dioxide than before. All 599s benefit from this, but only HGTE pack buyers get new exhaust finishers, a matte diffuser, newly styled alloy wheels and a revised grille.
Later in the day we head down to Fiorano, where I’m allowed only three laps. But even in that time the HGTE displays beautiful balance and feels more approachable than a regular 599. The tighter HGTE package also gives you more confidence to stay on the throttle harder, for longer.
At what cost? The HGTE package costs $21,000 over the $302k base price for its extra dose of chassis keenness and shot of controllability, at the expense of precious little. The law of diminishing returns at this level means that that’s not totally relevant. In fact, throw in the interior and exterior changes and it seems pretty reasonable.
Ferrari expects 40 percent of 599 buyers to spring for HGTE. We don’t think they’ll regret it. The HGTE package has done nothing to change the fact that the Ferrari 599 is the best GT/supercar you can buy. If anything, it’s just cemented its place at the top.Words by Matt Prior/Autocar
Photos by Stuart Price/Autocar