While we'd recommend anyone buying the Ferrari 575M Maranello be on excellent terms with her limitations as a driver, the truth is that unless you do something deeply stupid, there is virtually no way you can get into trouble driving this car; it's that good.
On the flipside, even the most capable driver will likely never find the 575's limits on public roads. This fabulous and gravely expensive toy is nearly guaranteed to be a better car than you are a driver. That is what the Italian sportscar company was aiming at, and that's where it got, with scant regard for your limitations or anyone else's.
Happily, this does not mean that the car is difficult or risky to drive, the way many great cars of the past have been. No, the 575M Maranello will graciously adapt itself to your abilities and isn't likely to embarrass you.
We learned this during solid sessions on the roads around the small city of Maranello, Italy (from whence the car gets its name), and then later on the test track Ferrari uses to develop, test and set up its F1 cars. Not one of the members of the group of North American journalists (which included some real duffers) managed to put a wheel wrong during the entire event. No gravel was crushed, no grass was abused, no egos were bruised.
That's quite an accomplishment from a car whose speedometer goes past 200 mph and is built to corner and brake at Grand Prix speeds. Any vehicle sold today can easily do 1.5 times this country's maximum posted speed limit, and a lot of them can do 2.0 times the maximum. There are even a few that are good for 2.5 times, but approaching 3.0 times is a very small club indeed, numbering maybe one or two.
The hard truth is that even people who have $216,000 for the base car (5.75-liter V12 and six-speed manual) or $226,000 (for the six-speed F1 automatic) still have to obey the speed limits.
But as long as their friends and, better, their enemies know from stories like this how fabulous the 575M is, they should be satisfied. Owning a Rembrandt is enough for most people, they don't always have to be winning contests with Picasso owners to keep them happy.
It would be a shame, however, if the people who were willing to wait two or more years for one of these cars never took it out for a shakedown. It really is a remarkable and wonderful experience to drive a car this fabulous at a great rate of speed.
It gives you goose bumps to be at the controls of something this accomplished, since its skill somehow transfers to you. It takes a unique car to make you better at a physical skill. You can play golf with Tiger Woods' golf clubs but it's not likely to make you shoot a lower score. Buying a Ferrari 575M Maranello will make you a better driver.
To a degree that surprised many of us, the latest Ferrari is also a singularly accommodating car. Previous models and the typical supercar used to beat their occupants up a little, as if a good portion of discomfort was part of the price you had to pay to be in a fabulous performance machine, but that requirement is gone.
You could easily drive this car from Florida to California and not need therapeutic massages at the end of the trip. It's comfortable, roomy, quiet and well-appointed.
Our only comment about the interior involved the tach and speedo gauges. Normally, car companies go to all kinds of lengths to position those gauges so that their respective needles remain above 45 degrees during normal driving. But at regular driving speeds, the 575M's tach and speedo needles are, shall we say, flaccid. It gave one the oddest feeling that you weren't going fast, even though you absolutely were. Perhaps it's a Freudian thing.
Other than that minor quibble, there's precious little negative to say about the 575M. We can report that some of the racing geeks who were with us on the program thought various versions of the F1 transmission weren't that slick, but they could be wrong or the cars could be showing the effects of casual encounters with hot-shoe auto journalists from around the globe. It's not likely you'd notice it in the real world.
What will count in the real world is a 0-to-60 time of around 4 seconds with the F1 transmission while using a special combination of events, including left foot-braking and right foot-revving. This is 0.2 seconds faster than the 550, and is plenty quick in this class of car. This is accomplished through a 48-valve engine developing 515 hp at 7,250 rpm and 440 pound-feet of torque at 5,250 rpm.
The driver can choose between "sporty" and "relaxed" driving styles with the new F1 paddles, with the principal benefits being a quicker gear change coupled with the control of the damping when gears are selected.
Road-holding is improved in the 575M by the use of a new adaptive suspension system that independently controls damping at all four wheels. The system selects what it considers to be the best suspension tune for any condition. Drivers are given two choices: Sport, which is selected for a sportier ride and improved traction, and Comfort, which gives a more comfortable ride and absorbs most road bumps. In addition, electronic traction control can be set between Normal and Sport to curtail the level of electronic "nanny-ness."
The latest tires make less rolling noise and are said to last longer while also performing better in wet conditions. There's also a new optional tire on 19-inch wheels, which is "suitable for more extreme performance with improved lateral and longitudinal grip." The 575M Maranello is now fitted with tire pressure sensors, allowing the tire pressure to be checked while the car is on the move.
If they really want to have a car that no one else has, 575M Maranello buyers can use Carrozzeria Scaglietti to get their own styling and equipment levels that alter the functionality of the vehicle to suit their personal tastes. On this front, there are racing and track options (such as seats with four-point seatbelts), exterior changes and colors, unique treatments of the interior, and a choice of materials and equipment. As with anything wearing a prancing horse, bring money.
While driving the car quickly can remind you of your limitations, owning and driving it in the real world can effectively remind you of your success. Which begs the question: "Can a quarter-million dollar car ever truly be a good deal?" Drive a 575M and you'll know that the answer is yes.