Ferrari 360 Modena F1

The Ferrari 360 Modena isn't a car. Not really. Not in the traditional sense. Cars are about transportation, get to grandma's house, haul home the groceries, they're a necessity, like food. But the Ferrari 360 Modena F1 has little to do with transportation, little to do with necessity. It's a pleasure machine, pure and simple. A toy.

Oh sure, it'll get you to granny's, quickly in fact, it's just not the reason why you own such a machine. You own a Ferrari 360 Modena F1 because you want to. Because you can. Because women will like you if you do.

Still, the Ferrari 360 Modena F1 is as close to a real car, a traditional car, a usable car, as the storied Italian car maker has ever produced. For the first time Ferrari addressed such things as interior space, basic ergonomics and overall comfort, not to mention our test car's automatic transmission, which makes this the first of the brand's mid-engined supercars that can truly be driven everyday.

The Ferrari 360 comes in two bodystyles; Berlinetta (hardtop) and Spider (convertible).

Both are offered with a either a conventional 6-speed manual or a trick semi-automatic 6-speed transmission. Cars with the semi-automatic gearbox, like our Berlinetta test car, get their own model designation, F1, because shifting is controlled with two paddles mounted on the steering column similar to those used by Michael Schumacher in his Formula 1 race car.

A long list of standard features including the ubiquitous air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors. Leather seats and an AM/FM stereo with CD player are also standard. Standard safety equipment includes ABS, traction control and dual airbags.Options are limited to exterior and interior colors.

This car stops traffic. Although its rounded lines abandon such traditional Ferrari styling cues as the chrome egg crate grille, passersby don't seem to mind. The two large air intakes on the 360's slopping nose drew rave reviews from admirers of all ages.

Also absent are the pop-up headlamps worn by all of the 360 Modena's predecessors, which have included the 308 (made famous by Tom Selleck on Magnum P.I.). Replacing pop-up headlamps are glass-covered headlamp clusters, which arch back to the Ferrari's of the late 1950s.

As you look rearward, past the 360's shapely mirrors, sleek door handles and menacing air intakes, you reach the car's most striking feature, its glass covered engine. One look down through that large glass hatch at the Ferrari-badged V8, and it's obvious that this is a special car.

Out back are traditional Ferrari taillights, and four exhaust pipes shoved through holes shaped to mimic the car's front air intakes. Nice touch. And of course, as it should be, there's a rather large chrome prancing horse smack dab in the middle of it all.

As attractive and sexy as it is, every part of the 360's exterior, even its undercarriage, has an aerodynamic purpose. The car's sweeping lines and unique flat bottom are the result of 5000 hours of wind tunnel testing. It's a shape that works with the wind to actually suck the car down to the road the faster the car is driven.

Low and wide the 360 rides on racy, lightweight five-spoke alloy wheels and 18-inch tires. Look past those wheels and you'll find huge cross-drilled racecar-style disc brakes with the Ferrari name riding along on the brake calipers. Another terrific detail.

Interior Features

The 360 is easily the most comfortable and user friendly mid-engine Ferrari ever.

The wide door sills of its predecessor are history, but the 360 sits very low to the ground, so some leg muscle is needed to get behind the wheel.

Once in, you're surrounded by the finest materials we've ever seen in an automobile. The leather, which covers everything, is top notch. The console, door panels and dash are polished aluminum. And the plastics used for the switches and air conditioning vents are heavy to the touch. Even the toggle switches that control things like the trunk latch and the defogger require a heavy hand to operate. Everything about this car says quality, nothing feels loose or flimsy.

The seats are firm, but comfortable and supportive. They feature adjustments, albeit manual, for lumbar and the width of those big bolsters, so just about anyone can get cozy. Behind the seats is some storage space, which Ferrari says will fit a golf bag, and a net for small items like maps or the latest issue of Forbes.

Ahead of the driver is a fat racecar-like steering wheel and a well laid out gauge cluster that's easy to read with a 10,000-rpm tachometer front and center. Only the gas gauge, which goes from full to empty rather rapidly, is a bit hidden behind the wheel. We like the green night lighting of the dials.

Driving Impressions

The Ferrari 360 Modena F1 is one of the fastest cars you can buy with an automatic transmission. This car will blast from a standstill to 60 mph in a tick over 4 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at over 112 mph. There are only a few cars on the market, besides other Ferraris, that accelerate quicker.

During our days with the car we never approached such velocities, but we did explore the Ferrari's off-the-line punch, which will strain your neck muscles, and sampled its handling around many mountain roads.

It only takes a few corners to realize that the fishtailing tendencies of its predecessors are history and the 360 Modena is one of the finest handling cars ever built. Thanks to its tuned aerodynamics, four-wheel independent suspension, ABS brakes and excellent traction control system.

Such roadholding is usually at the expense of ride comfort. Not in this case. The 360's around town ride, while firm, doesn't shake your eyeballs loose, even over rough pavement. Don't misunderstand, this is no Cadillac.

The semi-automatic gearbox makes changing gears completely fool proof. The transmission is controlled with two paddles behind the steering wheel. You pull the one on the right if you want an upshift, the one on the left for a downshift. It's really that simple. You don't even have to take your foot off the gas and there's digital readout to tell you what gear you've just chosen. And second, it has a full automatic mode, which proved precious in heavy traffic.

Once you're comfortable with the whole paddle thing, you can click off upshifts with the flick of a finger, even with the engine wailing away at 8500 rpm. Fun? Like Disneyland. It's as close to racing Formula 1 as we'll ever get.

If things get out of hand, the 360's brakes are at the ready. Stopping distances from 60 or 80 mph are among the shortest in the world. The ABS system works perfectly, and the 360's brake pedal never gets soft even after miles of abuse.

Steering is just as impressive. It's quick but never darty, with an effort level that doesn't require the arm strength of Arnold, and the road feel is incredible. It's as if the driver's hands are directly connected to the front tires.