Ben Oliver, Contributor
Ferrari guys are an intensely loyal lot, but fickle, too. They're intensely loyal to the brand, but their current car is soon forgotten when a newer, faster, redder model appears. So while the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano is arguably the best GT car you can buy, there is a certain amount of enthusiasm for something new.
The 2009 Ferrari 599 HGTE is meant to remind us that Ferrari invented red. It's a car with the sports car toughness that has set these cars apart since Enzo first set up shop on a little hill outside Modena, where he had long had an Alfa Romeo dealership.
So while the 2009 Ferrari 599 HGTE is a little bit like one of those special option packages meant to hype sales, it actually has a bit more red in its character than we've seen from Ferrari of late.
Only Pennies More per Month!
Let's start with the name. This is the 2009 Ferrari 599 HGTE, where "H" stands for handling, "GT" stands for Gran Turismo (grand touring) and "E" stands for Evoluzione (evolution). So what we have here is an evolutionary version of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano that represents a handling improvement.
Ferrari is keen to point out that the HGTE package isn't a hard-core, track-focused makeover like the 430 Scuderia. It's also not much more expensive than the standard 599 GTB for a start, some $23,500, which is far less than the price premium that you pay for a 430 Scuderia over an F430.
The 599's magnificent 5,999cc DOHC V12, derived from the Ferrari Enzo's V12 designed by former Formula 1 engine guru Jean-Jacques His, is largely unchanged, rated at 612 horsepower at 7,600 rpm and 448 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. This engine received some useful yet largely unsung changes in 2008, featuring reduced frictional losses and improved engine management that have cut fuel consumption by 15 percent and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions on the European driving cycle by 15 percent.
So what do you get with the awkwardly named Handling Grand Turismo Evoluzione? It's mainly a suspension package, with a few driveline and styling tweaks thrown in. Ferrari wants the 599 to feel a little sharper, only without compromising its credentials as a GT.
To someone who doesn't own a supercar, the idea of handing over the price of a new Mustang for a slightly different suspension setup and some new trim will seem absurd. But since the average buyer of a V12-powered Ferrari typically spends almost exactly the same amount personalizing the color and trim of his car, the HGTE package makes a lot of sense, since it ought to make the 2009 Ferrari 599 better to drive.
You'll notice the new, five-spoke 20-inch wheels, which save a total of 11 pounds. The front wheels are a half inch wider to improve steering response and grip from the front tires. The Pirelli P Zero tires remain the same size as before, 245/45ZR20s in front and 305/35ZR20s in the rear, but the rubber compound is slightly stickier for more cornering grip. To work the tires a little harder in the corners, there's an extra half degree of negative camber as well.
The springs are somewhat stiffer, 17 percent at the front and 15 percent at the rear, and the magnetorheological dampers (American-developed technology, it's worth remembering) have been tuned to reduce roll and pitch. The ride height has been reduced fractionally by 0.4 inch and the rear antiroll bar is fractionally stiffer to maintain the same overall handling balance even with the increased grip from the front tires.
It's not all about the tires, though, as the F1-SuperFast automated manual transmission incorporates a few changes. This unit with its single clutch disc can now change gear in 85 milliseconds instead of 100 milliseconds. It will downshift automatically when you select Sport or Race mode on the manettino control knob mounted on the steering wheel, and it will perform multiple downshifts if you pull and hang onto the left-hand shift paddle on the steering wheel. The V12 sings with a little louder voice as well, thanks to some fiddling with the volume of the exhaust system.
Just so you know that you've spent some money on a very special version of the 2009 Ferrari 599, the cavallino rampante (prancing horse) on the bodywork is made from brushed aluminum, the rear aero diffuser is black and the brake calipers can be had in any of five colors. You're also alerted to the HGTE's identity by the white face of the tachometer, carbon-fiber interior trim and carbon-fiber sport seats with a "Handling HGTE" logo stitched into the suede upholstery. You can also tell people that a new three-layer process is responsible for the radiance of the red paint.
Driving a Red Car
Ferrari claims that the changes to the 599 HGTE produce an 8 percent increase in cornering grip, which translates to a lap time at the Fiorano test track that's 0.6 second quicker. But unless you're a test-driver, you might struggle to tell the difference.
On the road, turn-in and front-end grip both seem slightly improved, but there isn't much wrong with the way the standard 599 slices into bends anyway. That wide, flat, aluminum hood stretched out in front of you and the knowledge that there's a big V12 beneath it both tell you to expect understeer, but the 599 corners like a Lotus Elise and the HGTE package just raises the threshold a little higher. Really, you would need to be driving like a complete moron to find the limits of the HGTE's front-end adhesion on a public road.
When the car is set in Sport mode -- the default setting -- the 599's ride remains unruffled despite the stiffer springs, and there's still a noticeable amount of body roll, although it seems more progressive and controlled than before. In Race mode, the body roll is more tightly contained but it's just too stiff over poor surfaces, jolting the occupants and disrupting the flow of torque to tarmac; save it for the circuit. And when you're in Race mode the gearchanges border on the savage, while the hard, metallic howl of the Ferrari V12 is perhaps 10 percent angrier without being entirely antisocial.
A Real Ferrari
The abilities of the standard 2009 Ferrari 599 GTB are so great that it's hard to approach its limits on the public road, and so -- other than the greater immediacy of the turn-in and slight deterioration in ride quality -- it's even harder to discern the impact of the HGTE package.
The difference is more noticeable on the track. You spend more time around the redline at 8,400 rpm where you can enjoy that new exhaust note. Also you can make more full-throttle gearchanges with all five redline-warning lights illuminated; the novelty of changing gear in less than a tenth of a second never seems to wear off. Moreover, the luxury of disengaging the stability control without fearing for your life lets you exploit the greater composure of the 2009 Ferrari 599 HGTE. It now feels far less like a slightly out-of-place GT car, turning in with impassive directness, cornering flatter and pushing into controlled oversteer without an awkward lurch.
But how many prospective 599 owners will really drive this way? Not many, we suspect, but that won't stop at least 40 percent of them (Ferrari's estimate) from ticking the box on the order sheet and paying the money for the ultimate version of Ferrari's best-ever GT car.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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