Michael Booth with the Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano

A slumbering ogre on the road

Would suit: Beth Ditto
Price: £171,825
Performance: 205 mph 0-60 3.7 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 13.2 mpg
Further info: www.ferrari.co.uk

As I never tire of writing, it's been a while since Ferrari built a car that made you sigh dreamily instead of making a sharp sucking sound, but after 20 years of cars sculpted by wind tunnels and computer programmes, their grisly scoops and vents, splitters and spoilers declaring a functional tyranny that brooked no quarter to notions of beauty or style, they have come up with the new 599GTB Fiorano, which is at least "almost beautiful depending on where you're standing".

That said, the 599 (the engine is 5,999cc) GTB Fiorano is still no 275GTB, 250GT or 308GTB (sorry about that, but conversations about Ferraris do tend to sound like a washing-machine repair man's shopping list). It is gigantic for starters which means that, as with the Matterhorn or Beth Ditto, it is best appreciated from a distance or in photographs. In the flesh you end up lingering on details like the ugly headlamp innards or the Nissan 350Z-style pointy roof.

In motion, things are rather more triumphant. On the move, the lines flow more pleasingly, while sitting inside, you dribble slightly at the sexy blend of carbon fibre and tan leather.

You turn the key and press a juicy red button on the steering wheel. The instruments spring to life. The engine – up ahead but still within the front axle making this, technically, a front-mid-engined layout – settles down to a contented but distant burble.

The Fiorano has tons of new technology up its exhaust, like the magnetorheological suspension filled with some kind of space-age liquid whose viscosity is changed in an instant by an electrical charge. It means the shock absorbers can react four times faster than usual, but I found the Fiorano strangely bouncy at low speed. I suspect the Fiorano would be far more at home on its namesake test track. There you could gorge on its technological smorgasbord; you could stretch the engine to the outer limits of its rev zone; and stamp on the ceramic brakes a femtosecond before the apex of every curve. But on the roads, you can never come remotely close to experiencing the possibilities of life in Ferrari's ultimate road car. Instead you bounce along at 60mph, the engine a slumbering ogre; the steering strangely numb; the gears clunking jerkily from cog to cog on the auto setting: all that technology left twiddling its thumbs. I'd imagine the frustration at having spent six times an average person's annual wage (with another £20k easily dropped on extras) on a car that can do 205mph would be intolerable. Although many Fiorano owners might be content that their golf clubs fit in the boot and the roof doesn't mess with their hair product.

Then again, some of us spend thousands of pounds on stereo systems that could make our ears bleed and watches that can function at the bottom of the Marianus Trench, so why not a car that can almost triple the speed limit? A Ferrari that can do all three is surely only a matter of time.

It's a classic: Ferrari 308GTB

Was this the last truly beautiful Ferrari prior to the arrival of the not-too-bad-if-you-squint 599? The 308GTB was launched as Ferrari's " budget" offering in 1975, replacing the sexy little Dino. Initially the 308 was built in fibreglass, at that time a material usually reserved for kit cars and boats, but they reverted to steel in 1977 (naturally these fibreglass cars are much sought-after these days) for which many owners have surely had reason to curse Ferrari as they watched their cars slowly disintegrate due to rust. A targa roof version – named the GTS and made famous by the TV show 'Magnum PI' – followed as did the now largely forgotten 208 (produced with a 2.0 litre engine, but still a V8, intended to circumvent Italian tax laws of the period). The 208 was embarrassingly slow but did little to dent the success of the 308, of which they made 12,000 examples. In 1985 the 308 was replaced by the 328 – essentially the same car, though not quite as lithe and luscious.

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