Well, I’ve waited for what seems an eternity to get my hands on the Ferrari 458 Italia, and all I can say is, boy, was it worth it! Speed, agility, comfort, refinement, all-round usability and high-speed nonchalance… Other supercars will undeniably offer you some, or even most of these attributes – Audi’s glorious R8 V10 perhaps coming closest to encapsulating the entire boiling in one enthralling package.
However nothing, but nothing I’ve ever driven combines so many of these desirables with such an outrageous, no-holds-barred, Blue Riband, twenty one gun salute, supersonic fly-past sense of occasion.
Ferrari 458: Anthony ffrench-Constant’s review
Not even £12,800 worth of ‘Special Request’ radioactive horse pee-yellow paint topped off with a roof finished in a £6720 smear of grey, er… grey on the specimen I drove can disguise the fact that Turinese master carrozzeria Pininfarina is clearly back on top of his game. In the flesh, from every angle, the 458’s couture is, quite simply, delicious.
Clever too. With a requirement to channel vast gouts of cooling air to twin front engine radiators, rear gearbox and clutch radiators, the engine bay itself and those massive carbon-ceramic brake discs, it’s something of a surprise to find any bodywork left at all.
Yet, somehow, this design manages to combine those diverse cooling requirements with seriously trick, F1-inspired aerodynamics which harness the passing hurricane (as well as escaping hot air) to generate 140kg of downforce at 125mph (to which I can attest) and a whopping 360kg at the Ferrari’s 202mph top speed (to which I cannot) in a shape so relentlessly pretty it just makes you want to burst out cheering.
Inside the Ferrari 458 Italia
Nor is this sense of occasion remotely dampened as you climb aboard. Toddler-thrilling gullwing or scissor doors the 458 may lack, but what’s the point of a bawdy burlesque show if you follow up the opening number with all the ocular excitement of a half-time interval fire curtain? Too many cars in this bracket still rely on group parts-bin pilfering for switchgear and instrumentation. Indeed, Ferrari itself has been guilty of more than a whiff of fiddlesome Fiat imports in the past…
Not any more. Though now sadly lacking the once trademark, open-gated, snicker-snack gearlever, the 458’s cockpit still rises handsomely to the occasion with an entirely bespoke, stitched leather, Alcantara and carbon fibre-clad layout. It focuses on a wok-sized yellow rev counter flanked by twin multi-information screens and a superbly crafted steering wheel on which you’ll find everything else you need.
By which, in the absence of column stalkage, I do mean everything; from indicators and headlamp, wiper and suspension controls to the start button and the manettino switch via which you may tinker with vehicle dynamics.
Though this is a fabulously focused environment I would, in truth, probably forego the expensive, optional carbonfibre trim in favour of standard aluminium finishes, which just lift the cabin a welcome notch above the chthonic. I’d also pass on the optional £4961 racing seats, which are, clearly, not designed for the gentleman of the fuller figure and, for me, mar an otherwise perfect driving position.
Over the shoulder, a sheet of glass separates you from that which much of the fuss is about; a spectacular 4499cc V8 which has been fettled to within an inch of its life to disgorge 562bhp at an astonishingly mellifluous 9000rpm and 398lb ft of torque, without so much as a whiff of superfluous supercharging or wildly threshing turbochargers.
A Ferrari Enzo would be proud of
Enzo Ferrari himself used to say that you bought his engine and got the rest of the car for free. And this sentiment has never been more joyously celebrated than in the 458 Italia. This magnificent powerplant will fling the Ferrari at the horizon with such outrageous, marble-out-of-a-catapult enthusiasm that 62mph comes up in just 3.4 seconds and – more importantly because that’s where you’ll invariably find yourself before you know it – 124mph in only 10.4sec.
Now, bearing Enzo’s remark in mind, I’m of a mind to mention the irritation of a rattle emanating from behind the dashboard, but this was only audible when the car cruises, relatively benignly, with exhaust baffles shut. Even moderately stout throttle applications open all the windows, and what begins as an enthusiastic bwaaaaaaa rapidly builds to an all-consuming wail which, no other road car currently revving to 9000rpm, you simply won’t sample anywhere else.
Loud it is. Loud enough to obviate passenger chat, consign rattles to aural oblivion and certainly loud enough to make the £3410 premium sound system optioned on my specimen utterly superfluous. Why spend that extra dosh when the whole shooting match is very much a premium sound system in its own right?
The Ferrari from the passenger seat
If you wish to know how rapid this car truly is, ask a passenger. A certain number of trips round the bay are an obligatory side effect of weekend Ferrari ownership in my business, complete with a tsunami of pleasant, predictable notes-and-queries chatter. At the first proper dab of the throttle, however, only one of two things ever happens; it either all goes extremely quiet for the duration, or that glorious sound track is somewhat embellished by an entirely inadvertent stream of invective brusque enough to make a docker blush.
One day, I’m going to hunt out the American bible-belt pastor who erected a large sign in front of his church which read ‘Shouting ‘Oh God’ on a Sunday morning is NOT the same as going to church’, strap him into the passenger seat of a 458, and see if he’ll change his mind…
It’s hard to communicate just how readily, and precisely, this car responds to even modest applications of throttle; just how blisteringly, relentlessly fast it actually is. Suffice it say, I drove with, erm, intent for three solid days before I felt entirely comfortable with the occasional dollop of full throttle.
Ease of use, practicality… the list goes on
Not, you understand, because the 458 is hard to drive… Anything but. Early Ferrari paddle shift transmissions were imported piecemeal, and not always a happy marriage with the powerplant. This seven-speed, dual-clutch offering has been tailor-made to Ferrari’s specification, and is so absurdly easy to use, so smooth and fast in operation, and so hard to catch out, that it makes an instant hero of anyone who flexes their fingers round the helm.
But when it comes to anything other than straight line antics, heroics quite simply come down to the question of how brave a pair of pants you don that morning…
The nice lady from Ferrari who walked me round the car suggested that, for our lumpen boulevards, I leave the suspension in what is rather quaintly flagged as the ‘bumpy road’ setting… It’s been said that Morgan drivers can run over a coin and tell whether it’s showing heads or tails. Well, 458 drivers can certainly mow down a slice of toast and tell whether it landed jam side up…
But I’ve no complaints because, despite an ability to tackle corners far faster that this particular driver can actually comprehend, let alone keep up with, the ride proves remarkably supple and fluid at all times.
Lob in hilariously accurate, willing steering that communicates even the most minute detail of road surface information with fish-wife verbosity, and you have the most engaging driving experience I can yet recall. Bar none.
The only slight snag is that, as my confidence in the car’s seemingly boundless abilities grew, I discovered an ever diminishing need to slow down for minor irritations such as other traffic and… well, corners, and found myself driving faster, and faster, and faster in this utterly intoxicating machine.
Granted, £256,487 is a considerable chunk of money to spend on a car. Then again, an hilarious £83,306 of that constituted optional extras on the car I drove. You can actually enjoy exactly the same face-bending, premium sound system-obliterating experience for just £178,491.
That’s still a bundle of dosh, but, I guarantee, try this car for yourself and you’ll be more sorely tempted to find it than you could ever imagine. Best avoid the passenger seat, though.