By on June 5, 2009

Forget, for a moment, that we are behind the wheel of a Ferrari, and possibly the best mid-engined road Ferrari in history at that. Forget the scenery, which is beautiful, and the road, which is slick with rain and therefore rather difficult to forget. Forget the speed, which is, frankly, excessive, and forget the Mustang ahead of you, swelling in your windshield at a that’s-no-moon-it’s-a-space-station pace. Take a moment and listen.

The sound directly behind you is a flat-crank, forty-valve, titanium-connecting-rod vee-eight spinning at over eight thousand revolutions per minute. It’s not a traditional V8 musclecar sound. Instead, you hear a doubled four-cylinder, overdubbed like an Eighties Iron Maiden record to the left and right. It isn’t smooth, and it isn’t melodious, but it is absolutely compelling. There is nothing else like it.

Other cars offer the look, the performance, even the prestige, but none offer the sound. You’re at redline now. Open your senses, let it all come rushing back—the unfettered thrill of operating this peerless car, on this day, at full throttle—and select fifth gear. Gone.

Performance Rentals Incorporated, based in New York and providing service as far as Boston and Washington, D.C., offers seven different fascinating vehicles for daily or weekly rental, including a 750-horsepower supercharged third-gen Viper which they bill as “The fastest car available for rent in North America.” Compared to that Viper, this Ferrari is merely quick, but against unmodified modern cars the decade-old F355 can still hold its own.

The quoted thirteen-seconds-flat quarter-mile time feels easily achievable in this particular example, and the engine revs with a light-flywheel willingness almost unknown in emissions-compliant automobiles. Compared to my Porsche 993, which hails from the same era, the Ferrari pulls with less authority from low revs but easily outpaces the Super Beetle once the tach swings past the “50” mark.

Inside, it’s a thin-pillar retro delight. The metal-gated shifter performs just as one would expect, adding a solid “clank” to each throw, while the steering and brakes are new-car tight and responsive. Visibility is surprisingly good, far better than what one would find in a Corvette or Viper. The fruits of Luca di Montezemolo’s famous dictate to “make this an everyday Ferrari” are evident everywhere, from the easy-to-understand climate controls to the superb amount of shoulder room.

While the F355 traces its stylistic roots to Pininfarina’s 308GTS, the driving position and view from the cockpit are actually far closer to what one would find in the Bertone 308GT4. There, as here, one has a slight sense of sitting at the very forward end of the car, perched over the front wheels and quite close to the road rushing by beneath. It’s the complete antithesis of a front-engined Ferrari and one quickly understands why individual tifosi are rarely fans of both the Dino descendants and Daytona successors.

Most car enthusiasts who have never driven a Ferrari in real life imagine the driving experience provided by the mid-engined Fezzas to be Corvetteish, but the reality is best expressed by the fact that the driver of an F355 cannot stick his left leg straight out without kicking the left front wheelwell. By comparison, a Boxster feels positively cab-backwards.

The majority of the F-car rentals in this country are either tired old 360 Modenas or hyper-expensive F430s, but PRI chose the F355 in keeping with their philosophy of offering “performance-tuned drivers’ cars.” A perforated “Challenge” rear grille hints at the upgraded suspension, brakes, and retuned engine mapping. Every bushing in the suspension is up to spec, every bit of interior trim is freshened to new-car standards, and a reasonably complete, iPod-compatible sound system has been installed.

To be fair, I don’t know if it works, because I didn’t bother to turn it on, and you wouldn’t, either.

The F355 is probably the “best” modern Ferrari in the same way that the Porsche 993 is the “best” modern Porsche. In both cases, technology, usability, and character combine to provide a driving experience which feels suitably flavorful without the annoyances of Bosch K-Jetronic or bias-ply tires.

There’s enough performance on tap here to thrill (or kill) you three times over, it’s so good-looking that it’s virtually impossible to walk away without an oh-so-stereotypical backwards glance, and there’s no SUPER-DSC-ATTESSA-HICAS to save the untalented from their own shortcomings. Really, this is the Ferrari you want to drive, should you drive just one.

PRI’s daily rate for the F355 is just slightly under a thousand dollars a day. I can think of a few other ways for a gearhead to spend that kind of money, from a one-day class at the Mid-Ohio school to a set of Hoosier R6 tires for one’s track car, but the moment the Ferrari’s tach shows eight grand, you’ll forget there were any other choices.

[Performance Rentals Incorporated provided the vehicle tested, insurance and gas]
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47 Comments on “Review: Ferrari F355...”


  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i’d like to see a further review of the 360 and 430

    my feeling is they are increasing capacity and of course, power and torque but they are making the motor sound more and more gruff and lower

    not the high shrieking scream you get from the 355

  • avatar
    Sabastian

    I really wish TTAC did more articles like this one.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    probably not a lot of high end rentals want to give someone car gratis for a flogging

    but hey, it’s Jack Baruth right? he’s wrote the epic 4 part tome “Maximum Street Speed”

    it would be a privilege in that case

  • avatar

    As the former owner of a F355B, I can only say RENT! Seven grand for a week? Ten? Cheap at twice the price.

    The car was an endless financial sinkhole. I ended call myself a Ferrari visitor, rather than an owner.

    I’ve yet to drive anything that sounds better. Or spins more quickly.

    Sebastian

    Six more to follow.

  • avatar
    drifter

    Is that photo of the steering wheel from Kia Rio?

  • avatar

    @RF

    So, is the stereotype true–Ferraris are high-strung garage queens, while Porsches are reliable everyday cars?

    Seems like every iteration of the “low end” prancer (F355, F360, etc.) has been hailed as the new “everyday” Ferrari.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    One of the saddest days of my life is when I won a gift cert for a rental at a place like this and couldn’t fit in anything they had save for Mercedes SL or Hummer H1.

    I did get seat time—because I fit—in an NSX a few later. That’s about as close as I’ll get to a car like this.

    Questions/points:
    * Why the gated shifter? The (very) few times I’ve used these I found them really aggravating.
    * “SUPER-DSC-ATTESSA-HICAS”? HICAS was actually kind of interesting once they made it electric instead of hydraulic. I’ll give on the rest, though.
    * “the reality is best expressed by the fact that the driver of an F355 cannot stick his left leg straight out without kicking the left front wheelwell” That’s what got me, and it bugged me even more that these kind of livability issues were a kind of badge of honour at Ferrari and Lamborghini. That it took Honda—Honda!—to show that a car like this didn’t have to be a compromise is kind of telling.

  • avatar

    @drifter

    How many Kia Rio’s have a 200mph speedo with the needle at 110mph and the tach on 7500 with an 8500 redline?

    Anyways,
    I drive a 2nd gen MR2 so I can pretend to have all the near death thrills and spins of a Ferrari, but without any of the power and the lovely sound of a lawn tractor.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the reason he likens it to a Kia Rio wheel is half way during the 355 life cycle Ferrari introduced a steering wheel airbag but like most manufacturers of that age, the wheel was an ugly puffed up looking thing

    they had not yet learned how to make aesthetic looking wheel airbag bosses

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Great piece Jack, The F355 is my favorite Ferrari, although i have never driven one yet, if given a choice it would be my first and the one i would buy if ever i want to buy one. the noise is just incredible.
    however i think the wail of the 360′s V8 is a bit more enticing and pleasurable. and the 430 is the worst sounding V8 powered Ferrari i can think of.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Ah a poster car. Never gave them much consideration after the day I began totalling up the true cost of ownership. Decided to buy a nice house instead… VBG!

    Yes, the MR2 is a good substitute. Still on my list of cars to own.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Funny about this car is that The Mitsubishi Evolution X FQ edition can beat this car.

    Ferrari is only good on Race Tracks but for a daily driver forget it not worth it. 10 mph a gallon or less.

    I feel comfortable having my Matchbox collection of tiny Ferraris

    By the way comparing this Ferrari with your LITTLE CARS is ridiculous.

    This car is louder than having a SRI,Header,cat back exhaust,muffler without a silencer combined.

    Sport cars are Loud.

  • avatar

    There’s an old dude around here who has one and does his weekend errands in it during the summer.
    Quite a neat car to see in person.

    He usually has like 3 interviewers waiting by the time he gets out of Blockbuster.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Hmm, “flat crank”. Interesting topic.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    @RF,

    I don’t care what you say. I will have this car.

  • avatar

    guyincognito

    And it will have you.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Author: willman: He usually has like 3 interviewers waiting by the time he gets out of Blockbuster.

    Oh hell, I had that interview problem with my old ’49 Chevy pickup truck at a mere fraction of the cost of a Ferrari tuneup… VBG! EVERYBODY here had a pickup truck like that or their “daddy” did when they were a kid. Couldn’t got for milk without meeting somebody. This truck was 99% original, well used but the paint still had a shine.

    And fast? Well, that old 216 CI straight six was anything but fast! However it gave the same thrill of speed at 40 mph – and no speeding tickets! 50 mph made me feel like I was at death’s door!

    The Ferrari makes a nice poster car. Curvy female type crawling over it with nature’s assests on display. I don’t want one though. The Ferrari I mean…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I’d like to hear the sound of the engine. Farago once put a youtube video for we to masturbate over it.

    If it sounds like the 348 I heard years ago when I was still in the university… ummm…

    How much is one of those used? Should be kinda “affordable”

  • avatar
    DanyloS

    Fun review. With more car reviews upcomming again hopefully, maybe we can get a comparison between the 355 and a front engined V12 Ferrari. (fingers crossed for a 575M Superamerica love that flipover glass roof)

  • avatar
    pista

    Did anyone see that 2CV Fourgonnette bodied F355 at Jalopnik?

    Sounds brilliant.

  • avatar

    @psarhjinian: The gated shifter is an artifact of days gone by, when shift effort for these kinds of cars was very, very high and it was helpful to have the absolutely positive guidance. With the light-shifting F355, it’s an affectation, but a delightful one.

    Also, the driving position is an artifact of the packaging, and the footwell is large enough that it’s not a problem. The NSX sits the driver a little farther back, and visibility is not quite as good.

    @Stingray: It’s possible to buy one for fifty or sixty grand:

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1998-FERRARI-355-GTB-BARCHETTA-RED-BERLINETTA_W0QQitemZ220422591087QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUS_Cars_Trucks?hash=item335235d26f&_trksid=p4506.c0.m245&_trkparms=65%3A12|39%3A1|72%3A317|240%3A1318

    To get that car up to the standard of PRI’s car, it would probably cost you $20K in parts and $15-20K in service/updates. And, as Robert notes, the cost will run away from you faster than you can run to keep up.

    And, if anybody out there has a front-engined Ferrari they’d like to have reviewed here at TTAC, I am your huckleberry. Call the boss.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    This one’s a classic…the F355 is one of my favorite Ferraris. When the 360 first came out, I disliked it because I thought it looked like something penned out of Cool World, and warmed up to it after a year. However, neither the 360 or the 430 have the F355′s raw sound or it’s distinctive and sensual Italian lines.

    If I rented, I wouldn’t know what to do with it for a day.

  • avatar
    solo84

    Easily one of my favorites from Ferrari.

    What did it for me?

    When it screamed through San Francisco piloted by Cage in The Rock. Never took a liking to yellow cars until then.

  • avatar
    red60r

    A have a brief recording of a 355-F1 with Capristo bypass “Muffler”, if someone will tell me how to post/link it up.

  • avatar
    ccd2

    The F355 is the principal player in my fondest automotive memory. It was back when the F355 was a current model and I was brought along on a visit to a person who had the money to indulge his automotive fantasies. We ended up deciding to go to lunch someplace just outside of town. My friend and the owner of the toys rode in a NSX, I followed in his F355.

    It was a beautiful summer day and the owner decided to test either my nerve or my driving skills. He took off in his NSX. I didn’t know the name or location of the restaurant (not to mention this was the South and I am black): I had no choice but to follow suit.

    We roared down the highway at over 100 mph in the middle of the day. He never came close to losing me and I felt safer and more in control of that ferrari at 100 than most cars at 50. Best drive of my life. If I was going before the proverbial firing squad and had one last wish, one of my thoughts would be of driving this car on a bright, warm summer day.

    That said, I wouldn’t want to own one. The maintenance costs are obscene. The owner told me how bottoming out the car at a dip in his driveway entrance cost $3000 to fix. But I wouldn’t mind having a friend who lent me the keys from time to time.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    @Jack Baruth

    I thought they were less expensive… in the 25-30K range.

    That car is among the few Ferrari I like, being the others the F40, 288GTO and the 512TR.

    I can’t even can dream now with such money…

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    I’ve been on a crappy vacation or two at $1K/day. This $1K/day could never be crappy.

    What I want to know is this: Will a rental F355 experience ruin my future/present performance (G35, RX8, used BMW-3) ownership experience?

    Or will I be driven to work that much harder? (Open a part time meth lab?)

    Or will I just say f*** driving anything? And go back to a used Exploder?

  • avatar
    red60r

    @Stingray:
    Video and sound (very brief) at
    http://picasaweb.google.com/goldgeezers/Ferrari355#

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    I was killing some time drooling over the inventory at an exotic car store in Silicon Valley, and mentioned to the owner that I thought prices on F355′s were starting to seem reasonable (they were in the $70′s then, $50′s now). He agreed that for the price you got an amazing looking amazing driving car, but strongly cautioned against buying one. He said that the purchase price was just the down payment, the real money would be in repairs and maintenance, and that both would come early and often. And this from a guy with three F355′s on the lot. Not good.

  • avatar

    @NoSubstitute: That’s why the purchase price of any Porsche 928 is known as a “transfer tax”. The real price comes later :)

  • avatar
    V6

    the 355 & 456 are my favourite recent ferraris, styling wise they have all been downhill since then

  • avatar
    powermd

    I did some ‘research’ online to figure out the true cost of ownership of a typical late model Ferrari, just to see how bad it really is. On average maintenance works out to about $2-3/mile over 40-50K miles of driving. Major expenses came every 7.5K-15K miles. The ‘minor’ expenses every few thousand miles were not so minor- usually a ‘few’ thousand dollars.

    The prices these cars go for now look awfully attractive, but $20-30K to drive 10K miles? I don’t think so.
    Renting makes sooooooooooo much more sense, and I’d likely enjoy the car more that way, since I’d be highly motivated to get the most out of it.

    Back in the late 90′s, before I had ever driven a ‘cool’ car, I rented a BMW M roadster for a day. It cost me about $250, and was the best 24 hours of my life up to that point!! I drove the hell out of that car, it was so much fun.

    I’m thinking about getting a sports car soon, and right now the Porsche Cayman S is high on my list, I just wish it had a little more oomph, and perhaps a drop top.

  • avatar
    Theodore Buxton

    1993 RX-7 with LS1 swap=better than this car

  • avatar
    ccd2

    powermd:

    A Cayman with a drop top is the Boxster. If you want more power, get the Boxster S. Can’t imagine you need more than the power the Cayman S or Boxster S has, given that the car is relatively light.

  • avatar
    commando1

    “1993 RX-7 with LS1 swap=better than this car”
    I’m eagerly waiting for the rotary on my ’04 RX8 to go belly up.
    I’m thinking LS-9, though…..

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    I’d have a 355 over the 360 or 430 any day. I have once seen, and heard, F355 Challenge accelerate on a small sprint circuit in a small town. I was about 3m away. Massive grin.

    Around here i see maybe one Ferrari per year, and this years quota was filled yesterday when i saw a red California in a parking garage at the mall. Stayed for a smoke and waited for it to start and drive away but it was really disappointing. Even in a concrete parking garage. Barely heard a thing. It did look nicer than in pictures though.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    Here’s the best video i’ve found for those who want a sound sample of an F355

  • avatar
    Accords

    Hmmm

    Man…
    I dont know If im getting old or stuff is changin around me..

    But a 355 / 360 going back to testarossa.. are far more interesting to look at and covet, than what Ferrari is making now.

    Specially with the California and the paddle shifter / auto they have going into the cars.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    The bonus with this car is that you can pull up to every riced out RX-7 with an LS engine swap and say “Ferrari. More than you can afford, pal.”

  • avatar

    God I love Ferraris. One of the only brands where previous generations are just as good as current ones. The current ones are faster, of course, but that’s not all there is to it.

    I’ve driven an F430 (and freaking loved it,) and ridden around a track in a 360 Spider (my all-time favorite.) I’d love to take out a 355 some time. $1K seems a bit steep for that car though, given its purchase price.

    You can drive an F430 (along with a few other supercars) for a few hours for only $300 with Supercar Sensation if you live in or around NC. Totally worth that price.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    “The bonus with this car is that you can pull up to every riced out RX-7 with an LS engine swap and say “Ferrari. More than you can afford, pal.””

    Just before the RX-7 walks over the Ferrari in the subsequent drag race…accompanied by laughter and a bearly audible “loooooser…”

  • avatar

    “Just before the RX-7 walks over the Ferrari in the subsequent drag race…accompanied by laughter and a bearly audible “loooooser…””

    You can still pull a decent amount of tail in a Prancing Horse.

    You’d have to be really lucky to do that with a Japanese/American hybrid bastard machine. :D

  • avatar
    JJ

    I used to like the F355′s design but I have to say it lost a little bit of it’s appeal to me over the years.

    The exterior looks a bit ‘plastic’ next to a 360. And too many others have copied the taillights over the years. Of course the 360 has these as well, but they are a little squared of in those if you look closely…somehow, it all looks better on the 360 if you ask me.

    Also, being European, I’m inclined to like the GTB more than the GTS and the Spider…

  • avatar
    Saracen

    Yes, an Evo FQ is faster. And so is an RX-7 with an LS1 swap. But better? You really think either would be more pleasurable to drive?!

    You clearly don’t get it. Otherwise you wouldn’t be comparing a Ferrari with modified japanese rattleboxes.

    I’ve driven a 360 Spyder. I’ve had that flat-crank V8 screaming in my left ear at over eight grand. I totally get it.

  • avatar
    Equis

    This has to be one of my favorite cars of all time.

    I don’t care about its faults (assuming you consider them faults), I will take the F355 over most anything else.

  • avatar

    Excellent article!

    I know that there are faster cars but you are right in the fact that just the prestige of driving such a stunning car is much better.

  • avatar
    Angainor

    What a fugly car. Built for people with so much money they can afford to drive crap. In 10 years the only ones of these that will be left will be ones with flux capacitors installed in them.


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