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Ferrari 456M

Can there be any road vehicle quite as magical as a Ferrari? The name is synonymous with speed and sleek automotive shapes, with exclusivity and legendary race victories.

To anyone who has a pinch of gasoline running through their veins, a chance to drive a Ferrari is a chance to fulfill a fantasy.

The 456M GT is something of a Ferrari for the person with a family. It has four seats instead of the traditional two, and comes equipped with the same conveniences -- air, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power door locks, power seats -- as a Lincoln. Standard is a five-speed manual transmission, but a four-speed automatic is optional.

The 456M GT has a 436-horsepower 5.5-liter V-12 engine that can propel the 3,800-pound coupe to 186 mph, according to the factory. On the streets of Coral Gables I didn't achieve half that, honest, officer.

The engine is mounted in front, like Ferraris were when the late Enzo Ferrari built his first sports car 50 years ago. Other modern Ferraris, like the 355 and the F-50, mount their engines behind the driver, where engineering data says it provides the best weight distribution.

The M in the model designation stands for "Modificata," with designates this Ferrari as an update on the original car, which debuted in 1993. The modifications that come with the M designation are many, including a lighter, carbon fiber hood and changes to the engine electronic management system that makes the V-12 run smoother at low speeds.

Get into the 456M GT and the first thing you notice is the beating of your heart. If it's not racing, get out and go to the Suzuki dealer down the street; a Ferrari is not for you.

Pop it into gear and the Ferrari moves away smoothly. Keep a light pressure on the pedal, and it's as easy as driving a Honda. Stab the gas pedal and it's a little like the Millennium Falcon going to light speed.

The 456M GT has an electronically controlled suspension that can be put in normal or sport modes, with as many as 17 different shock settings for the computer to choose from. I've driven cars with similar systems, but the Ferrari is the only car where changing from normal to sport made me aware of nearly every pebble in the road, the type of instant communication a driver wants in a performance car.

This car has a list price of about $225,000. The cheapest Ferrari, the V-8 355, lists for about $128,000. The 550 Maranello costs $204,000, and limited edition Ferraris, like the race-bred F50, can cost upward of $350,000.


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