Ferrari 458 Italia Review

By: Jesse Taylor

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Road Test: Ferrari 458 Italia. Team red goes hard-core

Ferrari 458 Italia Review
Ferrari 458 Italia

 

Ferrari 458 Italia

The twin-turbo F40 is often cited as the greatest Ferrari ever, and sometimes the greatest car. Period. Developed in just 18 months, it was a brutal riposte to the audacity of Porsche upstaging Maranello with its technological tour de force, the 959. But in the 23 years between the launch of the F40 and the 2010 release of the 458 Italia, Ferrari has become a lot better at forward planning.

Details of the McLaren MP4-12C emerged during the development phase of the 458 Italia and Ferrari engineers obviously decided that the best defence was attack. The 458 is a stunning technological achievement and it jumps at least two generations over the F430 which it replaces.

As I thumb the start button for the first time, the Ferrari minder leans into the cabin and acknowledges that with the addition to the range of the softer California, the company decided the 458 could become more hardcore. Edging the Italia into pre-dawn Sydney traffic, I expect to fight a highly-strung supercar in my battle to escape to quieter roads.

The biggest challenge for the first few kilometres is not the ground-scraping stance (it never touched its nose over speed humps or driveways all day) or poor visibility (very good for this type of car and not something to worry about once you're familiar with the 1937mm width). Instead, it's remembering that the turn indicators are buttons on the very busy steering wheel, not a column stalk. The relatively large wheel also accommodates the start button and manettino to switch between ever-more-aggressive modes for gearbox, suspension and traction control/electronic stability control. Given the state of Australian roads, thankfully you can adjust suspension stiffness independent of the gearbox and safety-net modes.

With 419kW, the Italia's 4.5-litre V8 is just a single kilowatt shy of the monster 6.2-litre V8 in the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG (the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 in the world). The relatively small-capacity V8 feels inertia-free, spinning to its 9000rpm ceiling without any harshness. The mid-range is strong enough that you could short shift at 6500rpm and still see off most other performance cars. But to deny yourself of those last truly amazing 2500 revs would be sacrilege!

The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a brilliant partner to the engine and goes a long way to explaining why Ferrari no longer offers a traditional manual (which for many is also sacrilege). Left in auto, the dual-clutch plucks the highest possible gear immediately to aid economy. Shifted manually, the 'box can be blindingly fast, at least when you've dialled up the manettino to race mode and beyond. The smoothness of the gearbox tends to lull you into thinking it's not that fast, but you'd be wrong.

The ride quality is stunning for a supercar wearing 20-inch wheels (with 235/35ZR20 front rubber and fat 295/35R20 rears), and that compliance gives you confidence to really lean on the 458 into corners. You can feel the tyres and suspension load without fear that a mid-corner bump could spit you into the shrubs.

With just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, you'd expect the Ferrari to be a darty, tramlining nightmare but after one corner the ultra-sharp steering becomes second nature. While undeniably fast and accurate, the steering is not as tactile as that of a 911 GT3 RS. The Porsche has beaten the 458 in several overseas comparison tests because the Ferrari lacks that final nth degree of tactility. My drive of the Ferrari came just days after an 1800km blast in the GT3 RS 4.0 and that car is more involving, with vastly better steering feel. It's also true that the GT3 RS 4.0 is just about as extreme as a car gets while still wearing number plates.

Meanwhile, the Ferrari could be your daily driver. While the Italia may lack RS levels of involvement, foreign press has cited the McLaren's relative lack of intimacy for its repeated losses to the Ferrari.

The F40 may be the last car Enzo Ferrari personally signed off, but he'd love the 458.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

FERRARI 458 ITALIA

 

ENGINE: 4499cc V8, DOHC, 32v

POWER: 419kW @ 9000rpm

TORQUE: 540Nm @ 6000rpm

WEIGHT: 1380kg

GEARBOX: 6-speed manual

0-100km/h: 3.3sec (claimed)

TOP SPEED: 325km/h (claimed)

PRICE: $526,950

 

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