Ferrari, on the other hand, really pushes the envelope with each new model and its V8 line-up is practically unrecognisable from the entry-level Ferraris of even a decade ago. The 1970s 308 gave way to the 328 and they were some of the most beautiful cars ever produced. Then along came the unfortunate 348 which soon morphed into the F355 – a car many pronounce as one of the greatest driving machines ever produced but one I never really gelled with.
After that, the V8 Ferrari was the 360 Modena, which was a quantum leap in so many ways and that, in turn, gave way to the less beautiful but better in every respect F430. Ungainly looks aside, the F430 was an incredible piece of kit and was far and away the company’s best seller but, in true Ferrari tradition, the one that replaces it dramatically changes everything once again. Say hello to the 458 Italia – on paper, at least, the best Ferrari of all time.
With a heritage like Ferrari’s, you don’t make those sorts of statements if you don’t mean them. So many classic models, so many dreams and aspirations tied up in them – every Ferrari, even a rubbish one, is something a bit special. But just look at this thing. Even if you don’t think it’s beautiful (the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned), you can’t deny it looks incredible. Far from being an evolution of the F430, this is a unique piece of work and instantly identifiable for what it is.
It might be all-new but there are certain similarities between it and its ancestors. It still has a screaming, flat-plane crank V8 sat amidships and, err, that’s about it really. This car has been designed with a clean sheet of paper and exhibits Ferrari’s technical prowess as much as its engineering brilliance. It used to be said that to owned an Italian supercar you needed to have a mechanic at home. Nowadays you’d need to have a computer scientist – just consider some of the tech hidden beneath its designer Pininfarina suit.
It actively uses the air around it to increase performance. There are deformable blades inside the nose section that flex at speed to send he air directly underneath the car. Engine and transmission coolers increase their efficiency by flowing it through their matrices and sending it back through the car’s tail to make it more aerodynamic. There are engine bay vents that employ the high pressure air within the wheel arches to help cooling duties and, despite the lack of visible spoilers, downforce at the 458’s 325km/h top speed is 360kg. This is a very clever car and laps Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in just one minute and 25 seconds – the same time as an Enzo.
The 4.5-litre engine is a reworked version of the V8 found in Ferrari’s ‘GT’ car, the California but here it revs like a superbike all the way to a heady 9000rpm. It produces a frankly astonishing 419kW (up 52kW over the F430), which equates to 93.2kW per litre – something that would have made a car undriveable on a public highway not that long ago. And this masterpiece of an engine is mated to a seven-speed Getrag dual clutch transmission. If you want a manual tranny look elsewhere because this is the first Ferrari where it isn’t available, even as an extra cost option.
Opening the driver’s door, you’re greeted by the wonderful aroma of beautifully supple leather and here, too, the 458 moves the game on from previous models. The cabin’s layout is elegant and sophisticated, although still doesn’t seem that well screwed together. The seats themselves are extremely comfortable but, on first encounter, confusion rapidly sets in. Where are the indicator and wiper stalks? Ah, they’re not required because these controls are housed on the steering wheel, along with the headlamp controls. Pointless.
The central, yellow rev counter is flanked by two displays which are confusing and, if you opt to use the (extremely expensive option) satellite navigation system, the speedo reading disappears. In a car this rapid, you’re better off sticking to a TomTom – at least that way you’ll know how badly you’re breaking the law before you’re pulled over for a quiet word.
To start it, turn the key and prod the red starter button. Then do what those voices inside your head are instructing you to do: rev it like hell. When you do, you suddenly realise what your ears were made for. Sure, the cacophony that erupts from the trio of exhaust pipes is all managed by an electronic brain but what a racket it makes. It growls and roars like a fire breathing monster and instantly you grin like a naughty child. Best rev it some more then.
You can drive the 458 at pedestrian speeds without any histrionics – it’s smooth and docile at low revs but that inner child constantly looks for every opportunity to open the taps so, before the noise police arrive, head for the open road where this thoroughbred can be let of the leash. The engine revs incredibly freely. Every millimetre of throttle travel produces an instantaneous result and, even with all the electronic stability aids switched on, a stab of the loud pedal sends the back end trying to swing wide before the computers regain decorum. Switch off the stability system entirely (via the steering wheel, as if you had to ask) at your peril – this thing is seriously lively.
Find a road long and empty enough and the 458 simply demolishes it. The torque curve is incredibly flat, meaning it will pull and pull all the way up to the red line no matter which of the seven speeds you’re in. Gear changes are lightspeed quick but you can still tell what’s going on, unlike with, say, Porsche’s PDK transmission. It still feels mechanical, rather than computerised and, to be honest, once you get used to it, you’d never hanker for a traditional stick shift.
It’s astonishingly fast; that almost goes without saying. But for it to feel so much quicker than the F430 is a massive achievement. The steering is quick, too, with just two turns lock-to-lock – something you’ll be glad of when fumbling for those ancillary controls because it’s rare for the wheel to be in any position other than dead centre. It’s comfortable and refined on the move thanks to its comprehensively overhauled and redesigned suspension and the carbon ceramic brakes wind things down with almost contemptuous ease. But it’s the sound that leaves the most lasting impression – a nape-tingling yell that will never leave you. Who the hell wants to listen to the radio when that symphony is thrashing away just behind your head? It’s epic.
All things considered, the 458 is a huge step forward for the V8 Ferrari. One of the greatest cars I have ever driven is the 430 Scuderia; a car I seriously thought they’d never better but I was wrong because the 458 is actually faster and more useable. It looks better too and feels infinitely more modern. The thought of a 458 Scuderia is enough to have me breaking out in a sweat.
There is talk of Ferrari doing away with V8s in the future, using smaller engines with turbo power but the 458’s drivetrain and chassis should last for at least another decade before that happens. Time to start saving then; time to start selling everything you own to join the fortunate few who will have one of these parked in their garage.