25 Greatest Cars of All Time: Driver's Cars

Sam Smith
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Charlie Magee

Ferrari F430

The F430's allure begins with the sound. Thanks to its flat-plane crankshaft, which spreads the exhaust pulses evenly in each cylinder bank, the F430's 479-hp, 4.3-liter V-8 emits a high-pitched wail unlike anything this side of a Formula 1 engine. If I were to successfully render the F430 sound track in onomatopoeia, this magazine would explode into flames right in your hands. So I won't. But I can tell you that in literal terms, it sounds something like a pair of straight-piped Hayabusas drag-racing through the Sydney Opera House.

Adding to the aural drama, there are a pair of vacuum-actuated muffler bypass flaps in the exhaust, one for each set of pipes, and trying to drive an F430 without triggering the flaps is like trying to get Macho Man Randy Savage to use his indoor voice. So, that's the first addictive part of the F430 experience--that burbling, snarling, caterwauling motor gorging itself on 8500-rpm atmosphere binges just abaft your shoulder blades.

I could fill this entire space rhapsodizing about that engine, but let's move on to the F1 sequential manual transmission. You can still choose a traditional gated manual, but to me that seems like ordering an Apple iPhone and demanding a monochrome green screen. The rest of the car is cutting-edge, intended to emulate the Formula 1 experience, and the F1 transmission furthers the illusion that even when you're trundling along with a herd of Chevy Malibus on the expressway, you're really Felipe Massa fending off Fernando Alonso at Monaco. Dive into a corner, let the optional carbon-ceramic brakes hang you against your seatbelt, and the F1 transmission will crack off downshifts as fast as your left hand can pull the paddle (blipping the throttle for perfect rev-matching all the way).

Of course, we are talking about a driver's car here, and the chassis figures into that discussion every bit as much as the powertrain. On that front, the F430 isn't just mid-engined--it's extremely mid-engined. As in, if you stand at the back bumper and pop the engine cover, you'd practically need to climb into the engine bay before you could lay a hand on the motor. And then, once you take a closer look at said hunk of mass, you notice that those red intakes are perched atop towering velocity stacks, and the actual engine block is so low that the F430's center of gravity must be somewhere in Middle Earth.

The flip side of the F430's proportions is that it puts very little sheetmetal in front of the driver, so your perspective on the world is as if you've strapped a saddle on a tiger's nose--it's all sinew and anger behind you, rapidly approaching world ahead. Grip is, of course, stupendous, but what really causes passengers to reflexively adopt a crash position is the turn-in--if the rubber profile of the F430's front sidewalls were any thinner, it'd be for sale in a truck-stop vending machine.

The glory of the F430 is that it marries high technology with primitive sensory stimulation, when too often tech sublimates tactility. Sure, the F430 sports dry-sump lubrication, adjustable traction and stability control, and a gee-whiz automated gearbox, but all that gear is subtle shading, background to the primary brushstrokes of noise, poise, and undiluted, visceral feedback. As fast as it is, the F430 enjoys instant-classic status not because of its horsepower number or skid-pad grip, but because it epitomizes Ferrari's understanding that driving pleasure is about more than speed. Ezra Dyer

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