Clarkson on: the Ferrari 360 Modena | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September
Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the Ferrari 360 Modena

Published: 18 Sep 1999

The Road Test Editor of Top Gear magazine and I have been friends for more than 20 years. In that time, we've spent every single New Year's Eve in one another's company. We've been on holiday together. We're great friends. But this week, I told him to f**k off and slammed the phone down.

So what's brought this about then? Has he been sleeping with my nine-month-old daughter? Or have I inadvertently urinated in the petrol tank of his motor bicycle?

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Sadly, not. I'm afraid the row is about a car. The Ferrari 360 Modena. Tom says it's motoring nirvana and I say it isn't. Tom says the F1 paddle shi(f)t gearbox doesn't jerk and I say it does. Tom says I can't drive then. And that's when I put the phone down.

Tom thinks I have an agenda and that I'm being controversial simply to make a name for myself. But I'm not. I've read what the road test department has to say and while I respect their opinions, mine differ. And now I'm going to explain why.

First of all, the 360's new 3.6 litre V8 develops 400 brake horsepower and that, I'll admit, is an achievement. I doubt very much, for instance, whether Cilla Black could design an engine which churns out 111 bhp per litre. I know I couldn't.

But if you look at the power to weight ratio, you'll find it's no better than the 355. So, we can deduce from this that the new boy's a bit of a fatty.

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Certainly, it has a double chin and a dumpiness around the arse which wasn't there in the 355. Dare I suggest that in Ferrari's endless quest to keep the signs of age at bay, they've gone a face-lift too far and created Zsa Zsa Gabor in aluminium.

And what's that smile all about? Ferraris are supposed to snout down the road like angry bloodhounds, not cruise into town looking like Jack Nicholson's Joker.

They say they've raised the front end so owners don't graunch it quite so often on pavements and the like but I don't want practicalities sticking their nose into the equation. I want my V8 supercars to hunker down and snort the white lines right off the road.

Same goes for the interior. Yes, it's a good deal more spacious than it was in the 355, and now Tiff has somewhere to put his woods. But I'm not bothered. Just so long as there's enough room for me, and Radio 2,I couldn't care less.

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Then there's the question of comfort. Ferrari has tried to make the 360 as user-friendly as a Porsche 911. That way, owners will actually drive the car, rather than putting it in an armour-plated garage under a carefully-laid ermine dust sheet.

"Ferraris are supposed to snout down the road like angry bloodhounds, not cruise into town looking like Jack Nicholson’s Joker"

And that way, they'll need more services and more spare parts, which is good for Ferrari's bank balance. But look. If you use a car every day, it will cease to become special. In three years, I've only done 5,000 miles in the 355. Each one has been under a blazing sun, on the way to somewhere agreeable and nice.

You've read, I'm sure, that despite the new comfort, the 360 makes a blood-curdling noise as the revs climb round toward the stratospheric red zone. And for sure it does, but the howl you get from a 355 has now gone, and that's a pity. So's the razor-edge sharpness. A 360 in its ‘sport' setting feels exactly the same as the 355 in ‘comfort'. And why, pray, does a 360 have traction control? I thought the whole point of a Ferrari was that you spent your time not only fighting the road but the machine itself.

Wading into battle with a silicone nanny tips the balance too heavily in the driver's favour. It's like putting NATO up against the poor old Serbs. They never stood a chance.

Needless to say, I turned the traction control off within six seconds of starting the engine... and unlocked the key to another problem. When you go past the limit in a 355, it is surprisingly easy to control. But the 360 isn't.

You end up sawing away at the wheel and it's only a matter of time before you nudge one of the gear shifters, making the problem even worse. I'll admit the F1 gearbox works well on down-changes, but it is ferociously jerky on the way up, and it's a nightmare when the rear lets go.

It's like a Psion Organiser. To input a vital piece of information takes well over a minute whereas, carrying out the same task with a pen and paper, you can have the whole thing jotted down and stuck to your wall in what? Five seconds. So why not save yourself six grand and stick to a proper gearbox?

In fact, save yourself thirty grand and buy a used 355 because it is more aggressive than a 360, more lithe, more moreish. Sure, the 360 is user-friendly, but if you want an everyday car, buy a 911. Or an Alfa GTV6.

As a once a month, high days and holidays funster, which is the whole point of a Ferrari, the 355 is still the best car in the world. And if you don't agree, I couldn't give a damn. 

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