I remember when I was first coming down with my major case of the car bug, the Ferrari 360 was the first car I saw that had a paddle shift transmission. While the F1 gearbox was offered in the F355, the 360 was the first model where enough of the kinks had been ironed out to make it a viable alternative to the traditional manual. Technology has come quite a long way since then, and the 360 is no longer on the tip of the technological spear. But once a Ferrari, always a Ferrari, and it still has quite a lot of appeal for buyers on the secondhand market. With this context in mind, I went into my drive in this 360 Modena ready to judge how it stands in our current day and age.
There is something very special about a Ferrari, any Ferrari. In Italy, the Prancing Horse rivals Jesus, as the most displayed likeness around. You have to remember that Ferrari is not just a mere car company, they are also a world renown racing team, and in a recent study, they just topped Apple as having the strongest brand image in the world. They are the only car company to have their own amusement park, and at most auto shows you will see more items of Ferrari clothing being worn than actual Ferrari automobiles.
Cars are, of course, the center of Ferrari’s identity. Traditionally racing cars came first, but these days I would argue road cars are just as important to their brand. When you buy a Ferrari you aren’t just getting a sports car, you are becoming a member of an exclusive club. There is a sense of “we” with Ferraris, like every owner is a part of the team, and everyone else just wants to be. This is why the used market is so important to most enthusiasts of the Prancing Horse. It allows them a far more realistic opportunity to join the club, and live the Ferrari lifestyle they’ve dreamt about for countless years.
Keep in mind that the cheapest new Ferrari costs around $200,000, and someone spending that much is theoretically twice as wealthy as someone who can currently afford a used 360, which costs around 100 grand. Obviously both buyers are quite well off financially, but with the wealth structure the way it is, there are many more people that can swing 100 grand than 200 grand. Buyers looking in the range of a new Porsche 911 can also choose to have a used Ferrari 360 if they wish. So what do you get if you opt for the Ferrari?
Porsches are great cars, but they do sort of blend in these days because everyone, and their brother, has one. A Ferrari 360, by comparison, is still seductively exotic, despite over around a decade old. It was the first Ferrari to set forth their more modern design language, and there are aspects of the F430 and 458 Italia that can clearly be drawn back to the 360. In fact, I have seen many people confuse an F430 for a 360, and vis a versa. The point here is that the 360 still looks very modern here in 2013, so most people wont know it is two generations old. The 360’s Italian sex appeal remains in tact for sure.
The 360 exudes the unmistakable Ferrari flavor, and there is something about the Rossa Corsa paint on the car I drove that makes it seem extra enticing. I know many people think red Ferraris are a bit cliche, but there is a richness to the color, a touch of blue I’ve been told, that sets it off. This is your classic red Ferrari. It comes in other colors, but if you want the full experience, then this is the way to go.
In photos, the 360’s seats seem like they would be soft, and well padded, but when you get settled in them, you find they are actually pretty stiff. They are shaped to hold you in place, and the leather seems so tightly stretched around the frame that there really is no give at all in the material. It isn’t what I’d call uncomfortable, just different than I had thought it would be from pictures. The seats are certainly more elegant, and livable, than the Recaros in an Mitsubishi Evo, but they let you know that the car’s focus is on sport over comfort. This is the fifth Ferrari I’ve driven, and they all have been this way, feeling much harder, and more focused than I had expected.
The fit and finish of the leather and metal is still quite nice, and has held up well over the years. Some of the plastic buttons are a bit faded from wear and tear, but everything still seems to work. Build quality has been a big question mark for Italian cars over the years, but this 360 seems pretty solid overall.
Now, obviously, this is a car from before the huge automotive tech extravaganza. There is no fancy sat-nav, and no, BMW fans, you cannot access your Twitter from here. There is a stereo system, and climate controls, but thats about it for amenities. This thing is all about driving.
Having driven an F430, the first thing I notice before firing up the engine is how basic the steering wheel is….. it’s just a steering wheel, and that is all. There is no Mannetino switch, and no clutter of extra buttons to decipher. This reminded me that the 360 came out right at the beginning of the tech boom, so all of its technologies would be derivatives of the ones I had experienced in more modern Ferraris. This realization set the tone for much of what I found during the rest of my drive.
Fire the ignition, and that Italian V8 bursts to life with a throaty bark. These smaller displacement V8s don’t rumble like the larger ones. Their character is very different, both aurally and dynamically. Whereas the 6.2L V8 in a Camaro SS feels like a blunt instrument, the 3.6L in this 360 feels like a precision tool. There is a refinement, a delicacy to the way it responds, that makes it unique.
The other Ferraris I’ve sampled felt the same way, and it is this precision feel from the motor that I would say is one of the fundamental characteristics of a Ferrari. When on the move, the throttle response is razor sharp, sensitive even to minute adjustments from your right foot. Then there is the sound that erupts from the engine as it charges toward 8500rpm. It howls violently with a symphony of induction and exhaust notes that will send chills down your spine every time. The noise evokes a childish sort of excitement that makes you feel like you are flying down the Mulsanne Straight with reckless abandon. Its sound alone makes for an intoxicating experience, but throw in the actual speed of the 360, and it becomes something truly special.
Lets get the obvious out of the way, this Ferrari is still quite rapid by today’s standards. Sure, it may not be on the level of the newest supercars, but it is right on par with a Porsche 991 Carrera S or an Audi R8 4.2. It makes its power high up in the rev range, so you really need to wind it out, but when you do, the speed piles on rapidly. Being thrown back in your seat harder, and harder as the revs climb, with the engine screaming is a purely orgasmic experience. The 360 just feels like was built for speed, and it does that job quite well.
Corners are even more important than straights in terms of lap times, and Ferrari knows this better than anyone. The 360’s focus on speed continues when the road bends. Its mid-engine layout helps give it fantastic handling. Most of the weight is over the rear wheels, so the front end is light and nimble, and there is lots of traction for powering hard out of corners. There is some understeer at the limit, but it is very progressive, making it easy to balance the car near the edge. The 360 just feels so agile and confident going through corners. Its handling surely matches its power.
From the driver’s seat, that delicate, connected sensation continues. The 360 is hyper responsive to steering inputs, and the chassis sends loads of information to the driver, letting you know what is going on at the tires. The steering itself is on the lighter side, but there is a great amount of feedback that comes through.
Everything about the 360 feels razor sharp. You feel connected to the car in an organic way, as if the car has become a physical part of you. You react to the road, and the car’s response is instantaneous. It’s like there is a telepathic connection between man and machine. In the same way your hand responds to signals from your brain, a Ferrari responds to your inputs; it is literally that crisp. Every Ferrari I have tried so far has been like this, and the 360 fits the bill…. in most ways.
The F1 gearbox
If there was one weakness of the 360 I drove it would be the F1 gearbox. This was largely the fault of Exotic Rides Mexico’s new policy where you have to drive the car in automatic mode (I don’t think I will be driving any more of their paddle shift cars if they keep that up). However, the gearbox itself also felt a bit crude compared to the newer ones I’ve experienced. The fact is that the 360 came at a time when paddle shift transmissions were still emerging, and in that regard it does show its age fairly significantly. The shifts took a little too long, and were a bit clunky. Not something you want in a car where everything else is so insanely responsive.
The transmission programming for the automatic mode was plainly horrible on the track. This car is meant to be shifted manually, and it felt like auto mode was really only meant for slow town driving. I’ve driven a Ferrari California in auto mode on a racetrack, and I am happy to report that it worked far better than this 360 did. In the 360, the transmission wouldn’t downshift into the right gear unless I slowed down a lot more than I needed to. I tried to carry some speed through the last corner, onto the main straight, but every time I did, the car stayed in 4th gear… giving about as much acceleration as my Miata would. If I slowed down to nearly a stop, then it would give me second gear and I would catapult down the straight like a madman. Overall, it was just so crude in the way it worked, and it detracted from the experience a lot.
The remedy to all of these problems I had?… buy a 360 with a manual.
That brings me to a point about this car. Everything else about it is phenomenal, and it all goes back through decades of Ferrari road car development. Like most of the “cutting edge” cars of the late 90s-early 2000s, all of that technology is now considered crude. While impressive back in the day, it is more of a determent for people looking on the secondhand market. If you forgo the flappy paddles, and find a 360 equipped with a beautiful, classically Italian, manual transmission with a metal gate, all of these issues just vanish.
What you are left with will surely be a sublime example of driving nirvana. Sure your shifts may take a little longer than the crude F1 box’s, but it is you who is executing them, so you are never left waiting. Also, the 360’s performance is nowhere near that of an 458 or even an F430. They both sort of need a paddle shift gearbox just to keep pace with of the rest of the car’s performance. The 360, on the other hand, is much less crazy. It still has staggering performance, but again, it is much less rooted in technology than its successors. So overall, a manual transmission is probably a better fit to get the best experience from the car.
In the market
The effective price range for 360s seems to be $70k to $110k, any more, and you are being ripped off, any less, and you are probably buying a dog. And really only spend six figures for the most pristine example you can find, because most of them just aren’t worth it.
Shopping for a used Ferrari is tricky because maintenance costs are stratospheric, so buying a lemon could really hurt. In fact, the best cars to buy are the ones which have been driven regularly, and not the shiny ones with delivery miles on them. One reason is that a Ferrari is a machine, and a machine needs to be broken in before it will function properly. People want to drive these cars hard, and thrashing a car that hasn’t yet been broken in is just asking for problems. The second reason is that cars which have been driven will have had any issues that came up dealt with. Obviously you don’t want an insanely high mileage car, but 10-30k on the clock with a solid maintenance history is about right. You want a car that has had at least 1000 miles per year put on it. Ferraris are known to be quite reliable cars when they are driven regularly and well maintained, but the fact that many owners never drive them does mean there will be a higher proportion of lemons out there. Be careful, make sure you do your homework, and definitely have the car checked out by a Ferrari mechanic before you make a purchase.
Going back to 360s with manual transmissions, in addition to offering a better driving experience, I fully believe that they will hold their value much better than F1 equipped cars, long term. My reasoning behind this is that Ferrari has since abandoned manual gearboxes, and the 360 was the last models where they were widely used. Sure, there are a handful of manual F430s, but honestly, the F430 is actually better with the F1 gearbox, which is why demand for manuals dropped off so sharply. As I said before, F1 equipped 360s are very clunky, especially compared to the paddle shift gearboxes in brand new Porsche 911s and Audi R8s, which can be had for the same price. I think the paddle shift 360s will keep depreciating, but the manual 360s will level off, or even appreciate in value. This is because the 360 will be one of the most modern Ferraris you can get with a proper manual, and driving purists will covet them greatly (Similar to how Porsche 993s have appreciated, being the most modern of the air-cooled Porsches).
If it were me buying in this market, I’d seek out a manual 360 spider with around 15,000 miles on her, and aim to pay less than 100 grand. It’s very do-able.
The Ferrari 360 may not be a the benchmark of the supercar segment anymore, and it may be a bit dated in some regards, but it is still unmistakably a Ferrari. Raw speed can be had cheaply, simply by strapping a big turbo to any car out there. A few weeks ago, Top Gear showed us how even a “cheaply modified Mitsubishi” can outrun some of the most modern supercarsat a drag strip. Speed alone is clearly not what you pay for in a supercar. What your money does get you is an unparalleled experience, both in terms of the driving dynamics, and lifestyle. The 360 Modena still gives you all of that, along with some very solid performance, for half the price of a brand new Ferrari California.
The 360 has the instantaneous, telepathic response in the way it drives, and it will still turn just as many heads as a 458 Italia. Speed wise it is on par with new cars in its price range, and it really won’t be blown away by a California either. Like all great Italian cars, the 360 speaks to your heart, and purchasing one will be an emotional decision. Objectively, buying a new Porsche Carrera S or Audi R8, is a safer, and, by most counts, better decision. But that is the thing with Italian cars, it becomes like a romance. Owning a Ferrari is like dating a supermodel, she’s hot and she knows it, so high maintenance is a given. There will be sacrifices to make, both financially and otherwise, but it in the end, it’s all totally worth it when you gaze at her beauty, and then she takes you for a wild ride.
WoM Score: Ferrari 360 Modena (used)
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(1) Practicality(1): 1
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score: 8/10
PS: If you’re near Cancun, Mexico, and you want to try out this Lotus, or a host of other exotics, for yourself, then check out Exotic Rides Mexico. Their track is great fun, and they also have other experiences available to suit your need for speed.
Rolling shots taken by Santiago Heyser