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"What is that annoying noise?" I found myself thinking just after firing up the new Ferrari 612 Scaglietti's 534-horsepower aluminum V12. No, it wasn't the engine note, which was as sonorous as anything to roll out of the Modena factory over the past 50 years. And it certainly wasn't the nine-speaker Bose sound system, which easily creates the most compelling audio waves to ever bounce off of Ferrari's handcrafted leather and brushed aluminum interior surfaces.
As my head swiveled toward the gauge cluster I saw a bright red light indicating that my seatbelt wasn't fastened. One short "click" later and the incessant "BEEP-BEEP-BEEP" stopped. I don't recall a Ferrari product ever being so insistent on seatbelt protocol, but what I quickly learned during my time with the 612 was that it's not like any previous prancing horse.
For example, I'm not aware of any previous Ferrari offering dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable head rests, a reverse-sensing warning system or automatic headlights that can be adjusted for ambient light sensitivity. In fact, the level of customizable features on this Grand Touring model, all via steering wheel buttons, was almost BMW-like -- but without the aggravating user interface. Unlike the iDrive system, this one utilizes an intuitive design that had me checking tire pressure, changing the LCD monitor brightness and resetting the trip odometer in seconds...all without cracking the owner's manual.
By using small buttons on the steering wheel hub, along with even smaller (but effective) buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes, the advanced personalization system on the 612 can almost go unnoticed. It certainly doesn't mar Ferrari's traditionally minimalist interior design with buttons and switches cluttering every square inch of the dash and center stack. And while our test vehicle wasn't outfitted with the optional satellite navigation or Bluetooth communication systems, these same steering-wheel buttons could readily control them as well.
Yes, it's clear that Ferrari has upped its game in the GT segment, at least in terms of luxury amenities and high-tech features. But it seems sacrilegious to call the 612 a great GT just because it has an audio system that can compensate for cabin noise. No, for this car to be great it mustn't trade in its Cavallino heritage for 21st-century amenities.
And as we entered triple-digit speeds with absolute confidence (as well as minimal cabin noise for the audio system to deal with), we rejoiced in our confirmation of the 612 as more than just a collection of high-tech gadgetry. Beyond the slightest hint of wind noise there was only a deep thrum emanating from the V12's exhaust system as the car tracked effortlessly over California's expansion-jointed highways. Even with the active suspension set to "Sport" mode, the 612 dispatched road irregularities with ease, all the while maintaining the direct connection between driver and road surface we've come to expect from Ferrari.
Steering effort is lighter than on the F430 or 575M, but perfectly suited for this market segment -- and clearly better than anything the competition has to offer. It's this light-but-intuitive steering, along with the car's nimble nature that had us double-checking the 4,100-pound curb weight. In this market only Aston Martin's DB9 is lighter (by about 100 pounds), but the Aston's heavier steering and "mere" 450 hp keeps it from outmaneuvering the 612 when the road gets twisty.
If we had our druthers we'd ask for more low-end grunt from the 612's 5.7-liter V12. Peak torque is 434 pound-feet, but it occurs at a heady 5,250 rpm. By contrast the Bentley Continental GT offers 479 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm and the Mercedes-Benz CL600 cranks out 590 lb-ft at a mere 1,800 revs. And while the DB9 musters just 420 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm, 80 percent of that twisting power is available at 1,500 rpm.
That's not to say the 612 won't answer the call when leaning on the loud pedal. Though this is the largest Ferrari ever produced, it can still sprint to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds before hitting a top speed of nearly 200 mph, according to Ferrari. Judicious use of the F1 paddle shifters on our test car kept the engine in its sweet zone (4,000-plus rpm) for the duration of our driving loop. And after an hour of listening to the power plant emit its 4,000-to-7,500-rpm siren song, you realize there may be a method to Ferrari's madness. Injecting more torque into its engines would mean less time spent at the top of the tach -- a very bad thing indeed.
If there was an aspect to the 612 we couldn't get used to it was the car's exterior styling. This is a highly personal area, and as such we can't make any official declarations, but at the very least we feel the car is highly derivative. The front end has shades of Porsche, while the roofline suggests a lineage to the mid-'90s Nissan 300ZX. One editor summed up his opinion of the 612's styling this way: "I know they're trying to create a full-fledged, four-person GT, but maybe Ferraris just aren't supposed to be this big." The large size does provide for adequate hip-, head- and shoulder room in the rear seat, but legroom is still tight if front occupants are anywhere near 6 feet tall.
Still, getting worked up about rear-seat legroom is like whining about the passenger window not being one-touch up, or questioning the $260,000 MSRP that could buy two CL600s. These items matter on some level, but it's not a level potential buyers for this car are familiar with. They want a passionate GT that makes all the right sounds while performing all the right moves, price be damned. For them there is no competition for the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti.