Friday, January 25, 2008

Ferrari 599 Review

2007 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti Coupe

Four-Seater Ferrari
This large and luxurious four-seat coupe is one of the fastest, most exclusive four-seaters around.

by Jim Gorzelany and Matthew de Paula

Larger and lighter than the 456M it replaced, the four-seat 612 Scaglietti is Ferrari’s most expensive model and the first to boast a chassis and body made entirely of aluminum. This is said to cut the vehicle’s weight by about 40 percent — versus a standard steel setup — and allow exceptional rigidity for a more refined ride and improved handling over the model it replaced.

The 612 Scaglietti carries over unchanged for 2006. Its engine and drivetrain are in the tradition of classic Ferraris: a large, twelve-cylinder up front driving the rear wheels. A version of the 5.7-liter V12 engine that is in the two-seat 575M Marinello puts out a landscape-blurring 540 hp and enables the 612 Scaglietti to reach 62 mph in 4.2 seconds with the standard six-speed manual transmission. The car can reach a top speed of 199 mph.

With a fuel-economy rating of just 10 mpg city/17 mpg highway, the car is subject to a federal gas-guzzler tax.

The understated styling is courtesy of famed Italian design house Pininfarina, which has a long history of designing Ferraris.

The engine is mounted entirely behind the front axle, and the transmission is in the rear of the car for optimum weight distribution (46/54 percent weight distribution front-to-rear with a driver onboard). This allows superior handling.

An optional sequential-manual “F1” six-speed transmission offers manual gear changes with paddles mounted behind the steering wheel — right paddle for upshifts, left paddle for downshifts — or can be left in automatic mode. A sport mode allows better acceleration by holding gears longer so that the engine can rev all the way to redline.

An adaptive suspension varies its calibration according to road conditions, firming up during spirited driving and softening over rough roads. A sport setting stiffens the suspension for the most spirited driving. Likewise, the car’s stability and traction control systems have a sport mode that allows more freedom to drive aggressively before intervening.

As befits its lightweight underpinnings, the 612 Scaglietti’s 2+2 interior is trimmed in aluminum, with impeccably handcrafted leather upholstery throughout. The contoured front sport seats are power-adjustable with a unique headrest design that can be raised and lowered electrically in conjunction with the seatbelt. The rear seat is large enough for two adults to be comfortable on short trips, and the trunk will fit several pieces of luggage.

The instrument panel features large, legible dials and a small screen to the left that displays ancillary information such as engine and oil temperature, or trip information like the number of miles driven. A head unit by Becker is clunky and slow and spoils an otherwise good sound system featuring Bose speakers. Even more odd, though, is the fact that the optional navigation system doesn't come with a color screen. Rudimentary line drawings of roads and intersections — no maps — are displayed on the small dot-matrix screen of the Becker head-unit. Fortunately, directions can be announced by a computerized voice.

Like most exotic cars, the 612 Scaglietti can be customized with any exterior color and interior trim of a client's choosing. Options include a full-size spare tire, special 19-inch wheels, run-flat tires, parking sensors and custom-fitted, six-piece leather luggage designed by Pininfarina. Pricing for these was not available.

Jaguar XK-Series Review

2008 Jaguar XK-Series XK Convertible

The Jaguar E-Type or XKE is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, iconic cars of all time. Introduced in 1961, it has been lusted after ever since, appearing on teenage boys' bedroom walls, grown men's garages and in movies like the "Austin Powers" series, where it served as the international man of mystery's Shaguar. More than three decades since the XKE went to cat heaven, its spirit lives on in a new breed of sleek Jaguar coupes and convertibles. The latest Jaguar XK-Series maintains classic design cues like the oval grille, but adds a thoroughly modern all-aluminum body and high-tech features designed to better defend Britain against German competition.

After 22 years of the unloved Jaguar XJS, the XK name and spirit were revived in the late '90s with the stunning XK8 coupe and convertible. Powered by an all-new 290-horsepower V8, it was quick and capable of keeping up with the best of the sub-$100,000 luxury coupe rivals of the time. As its 10-year life wore on, however, the competition predictably began to surpass the XK8 and the high-performance XKR in terms of refinement and comfort.

For 2007, the Jaguar XK ditched the "8" in its name and dusted off several layers of old-school Jaguar heritage to reveal an all-new, more modern coupe and convertible. Sharing components with the XJ sedan's aluminum structure, the XK is lighter and more rigid -- actually 50 percent stiffer -- than the old XK8, Jag says. Its interior is a drastic departure from the typical Jaguar look, with a modern dashboard design featuring a more intuitive control layout. The biggest interior change is the availability of alloy trim in lieu of wood – although some may argue that a Jag without wood is like Tom Selleck without the mustache.

Current Jaguar XK-Series

The new Jaguar XK and supercharged XKR are available as a two-door coupe and convertible. The standard XK comes with a 4.2-liter V8 churning out 300 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque, while the XKR's supercharged version of the same engine pumps out 420 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque. Both models come standard with a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for automanual control. Jaguar's old "J-gate" shifter has finally been replaced with a new design that could perhaps be called a Backwards L Gate or Upside-Down 7 Gate.

The XKR adds sportier interior trim, 19-inch wheels (versus 18s), a firmer suspension, retuned steering, larger front brakes and exterior modifications like an aluminum mesh grille. The XK's standard stability control program is reprogrammed for the XKR to allow the driver more leeway and the option of shutting it off completely.

In road tests and reviews, we've found the regular Jaguar XK to be a little disappointing in terms of acceleration; the coupe's 0-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds is about a second slower than some competitors' times. Both XKR models are expectedly much quicker, going from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. When driving calls for something other than a straight line, both XKs display impressive composure through high-speed sweeping turns. On tighter roads, though, they lack a nimble feel. One final aspect to consider before a purchase would be reliability. In the three XKs we drove, we discovered electrical gremlins involving the touchscreen interface that operates navigation, stereo and climate functions.

Past Jaguar XK models

They say cats have nine lives and quite appropriately, it takes a long time for Jaguar coupes and roadsters to die. The XKE survived from 1961-'74 before being replaced by the very different XJS, which languished in mediocrity for 22 years before being mercifully put out of its misery. By comparison, the 10-year-old XK8 was practically a kitten when it was replaced by today's XK.

The 1997 Jaguar XK8 debuted in coupe and convertible body styles, with the XKR arriving in 2000. The standard 290-hp 4.0-liter engine was Jaguar's first-ever V8 and only the fourth all-new engine in its history. We were impressed with its low-end torque and found that it accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. We also thought it was "a hoot to drive" with effortless acceleration, precise steering and a supple suspension.

Inside, the XK8 featured a classic Jaguar look with lots of Connolly leather and walnut trim. Although it began to look antiquated later in life with unintuitive controls and subpar materials, in the retro-crazed late '90s, it was certifiably chic. The car's cramped interior dimensions and small trunk were never in style, however.

In 2003, the Jaguar XK-Series engine was upgraded to 294 hp and 303 lb-ft of torque (from 284 lb-ft), sending the coupe from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds – which is better than the current model. That year also saw a new six-speed automatic and more than 900 other mostly minor changes, none of which touched the still-attractive sheet metal. After that, the XK8 prowled about through 2006 without any significant updates.

The high-performance XKR featured a supercharged version of the 4.0-liter V8, making 370 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph in the coupe was accomplished in 5.1 seconds. The 2003 revisions also applied to the XKR, including a power boost to 390 hp and 399 lb-ft of torque.

Prior to the XK8, Jaguar offered the XJS coupe and convertible. The latter appeared in 1989, replacing the odd "Cabriolet" model, which featured a Jeep Wrangler-esque retractable roof that maintained the window frames. By 1990, a 262-hp 5.3-liter V12 was the standard engine. It was briefly replaced in 1993 by a 4.0-liter inline-6 making only 219 hp, but a new 278-hp, 6.0-liter V12 emerged in 1994 to complement the standard six-cylinder. A four-speed automatic replaced the ancient GM TH400 three-speed auto in 1993. In 1992, a new head- and taillight design debuted.

The XJS was actually heavier than today's XK, making it all the more slow, ponderous to drive and generally undesirable. Also, with its 1970s-era interior and Jaguar's notoriously poor reliability from this era, used-car shoppers should avoid the XJS as if it were a rabid cat in heat.