Ask an average car fan about Ferrari’s most significant models, and they’ll probably mention the company’s recent mid-engined supercars like the F40. But to a true Ferrari fan, it’s the front-engined GT cars, like the legendary 275 GTB, that are the most memorable. And today, after almost two decades of producing only mid-engined cars, Ferrari is now prominently featuring front-engined grand touring models, like the 456GT. But can today’s Ferrari GTs fully live up to the past?
Those are questions that may take decades to answer. For right now, however, fans of Italian GT cars are simply thankful to have them back in the Maranello stable. Like its predecessors, the 456GT follows a time-honored Ferrari formula. A potent, front-mounted V12 engine driving the rear wheels. Which is topped by body panels from the celebrated Italian design house of Pininfarina.
Unlike its predecessors, however, it lacks many of the sensuous curves for which ancestors like the 250 GTO were so rightly admired. More dramatic but still sexy, the hand-formed fenders of the 456GT are clearly the product of modern wind tunnel engineering. The results of which include a Formula-1 style air extractor, to keep the rear end anchored to the pavement. No doubt a necessary feature for a car with a claimed top speed of over 186 miles-per-hour. Overall the look may not be classic Ferrari GT, but it sure is exciting.
Happily, that classic look has been retained inside the 456GT. Acres of fine leather swaddle a cockpit that could only come from Italy. The dash is extremely stylish, and laid out in that very Italian manner that some appreciate, and some find to be infuriating. The chrome-rimmed gauges in the upper pod are large and readable. While the additional units in the center dash are wisely angled towards the driver.
Climb aboard, and you find yourself in very firm, leather-covered bucket seats, which have a safety belt integrated into the seatback itself, and 5-way power adjustments. Most controls, like those of the stereo, recline on the transmission tunnel. They’re easy-to-use, once you get used to them. The un-classic automatic climate controls are set too far back for easy use, but this is balanced by a super-simple design. It’s pure Ferrari. You either love it or want to leave it.
What many Ferrari buyers will no doubt love about the 456GT is the rear seat, which finally allows them to scare more than one person with their driving. As long as they aren’t too tall, that is. And being able to take a reasonable amount of luggage along in the spacious trunk is a rare plus for a Ferrari. But despite their appeal to the terminally fashionable, what Ferraris have always really been about is driving.
To move their latest real GT car along, Ferrari naturally went with a V12 engine. In this case, a 5.5-liter 48-valve, dual-overhead-cam V12. One that makes a very appropriate 436 horsepower, and 398 pound-feet of torque. Which gallops to the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual transmission in the 456 GT, or our GTA test car’s 4-speed automatic. And is reined in on loose surfaces or during bad weather by a standard traction control system. Again, not classic Ferrari GT, but very welcomed.
Sprinting down any straight is instant gratification. We call O to 60 in only 5.4 seconds rapid acceleration. Once out of the rougher low revs, this V12 engine pulls like a freight train! Especially impressive is the thick, stump-pulling mid-range.
Even more impressive is the double wishbone suspension with its electronically adjustable shock absorbers. Lateral grip is astounding, and there’s very little of the heavy front plow or body roll found in many big front-engined GTs. In fact, the 456GT approaches the near-neutral feel of many mid-engined cars. It’s a superbly balanced machine. Just what we expect from Ferrari. There is a price, however. The ride is very harsh, jolting you hard over big bumps like a race car.
A more positive race car attribute is the ABS-equipped disc brake system. Rapid deceleration is the rule here, with tons of pedal feel.
So, the 456GT is a classic, if fully modernized, Italian Grand Tourer. An uncompromising driver’s car, rear seat or not. But timid drivers, or check writers, need not apply because the 456GT will set you back a heart-stopping $224,800. Opt for the Automatic equipped 456 GTA, and the price rises to $229,950.
Whether the Ferrari 456GT will be remembered with the same passion as its classic predecessors is a question that will need more time than we have here to answer. But as to whether it’s a car that we at MotorWeek will have fond memories of driving for a long time to come, our answer is a classic single syllable…Yes!
Engine: 5.5-Liter 48-valve Dohc V12
Torque: 398 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.4 Seconds