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Thu 13 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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A licence to print money

Is the new HGTE handling pack for the Ferrari 599 GTB worth the extra outlay? Ben Oliver thinks it almost makes sense.

A licence to print money
A licence to print money

Is the new HGTE handling pack for the Ferrari 599 GTB worth the extra outlay? Ben Oliver thinks it almost makes sense.

Those of you who think that the 599 GTB doesn't need much improving will be pleased to hear that Ferrari hasn't done much to improve it. With test driver Dario Benuzzi at the wheel, a 599 GTB equipped with the new HGTE package will lap Fiorano precisely 0.6 second faster, an improvement of less than one percent. But other than their invoice being larger, we suspect most buyers will struggle to tell the difference.

In a bizarre bit of post-Esperanto multilingual naming, HGTE stands for Handling Gran Turismo Evoluzione. Ferrari is keen to stress that this is not a hardcore, Scuderia-style makeover.

It's certainly a lot cheaper than the jump from F430 to Scuderia, and the 599's sublime, Enzo-derived, 612bhp F140C V12 is left well alone; it hardly needs more power. Instead, the HGTE package brings tweaks to suspension, gearbox and trim, and is aimed at sharpening the 599 GTB's handling without compromising its grand-touring abilities.

So what do you get? The HGTE rides 10mm lower and the springs are stiffer, by 17 percent at the front and 15 at the back. It runs half a degree more camber and the rear anti-roll bar is 1.5mm thicker. The SCM magneto rheological damping system has been reprogrammed to cut roll and pitch. The F1 Superfast six-speed paddle shift now changes gear in 85 milliseconds rather than 100.

It will downshift automatically when you select the ‘sport' or ‘race' set-up on the steering wheel-mounted manettino, and it will perform multiple downshifts if you hang onto the left paddle. And the exhaust note has been retuned for a little more volume and aggression.But can you actually tell the difference? Well, yes, but only just. The standard 599's natural limits are so high that you'd struggle to reach them on the public road. It has a supernatural resistance to understeer that seems entirely at odds with the broad, flat nose that stretches out in front of you.

The suspension changes and stickier rubber make the HGTE turn in with slightly greater alacrity, but as you'd have to be driving like a berk to unstick the standard car there's little real relevance to how quickly you go.

The extra noise and faster shifts are also best appreciated on the circuit; when a car will do 100kph in 3.7 seconds and is geared for 330kph in sixth, the public road offers few opportunities to get to the 8,400rpm red line.

But when you do the hard, intense metallic howl is a little louder and angrier and the shifts are noticeably faster, going in with enough force to rock your head back and forcing almost no interruption to the flow of power.

There's something absurd and slightly sad about Ferrari's talented and obsessive engineers spending months working on a package of subtle differences that lots of owners will choose but few will have the opportunity to appreciate.

Fact File

Price:$330,000 (est)

Engine:5,999cc 48v V12, 612bhp @ 7,600rpm, 448lb ft @ 5,600rpm

Transmission:Six-speed sequential manual, rear-wheel drive

Performance: 3.7 sec 0-100kph, 330kph, 9.7L/100

Weight:1,692kg