With the lowly Corvette ZR1 and a fresh Porsche 911 Turbo yapping at its hooves, the prancing horse rises to the asphalt-kicking cause. Ferrari’s 458 Italia not only eclipses the performance of every challenger save the Bugatti Veyron, it lifts the normally-aspirated bar to heights that will probably never be topped.
Unless you just exited a Chilean mine shaft, you already know the technological strides: more piston displacement, higher revs, a rich assortment of weight-saving measures, and a more efficient means of converting combustion energy into forward momentum. Specifically, a 9000-rpm redline giving 562 horsepower from 4.5-liters of flat-crank V-8, reduced internal friction and windage losses, more elaborate induction tuning. Thanks to lighter-gauge aluminum body panels and a sprinkling of carbon-fiber composites, the 458’s curb weight is held to 3400 pounds, less than 100 pounds more than the F430. From the tip of its charming nose to the end of its three-pipe tail, contacting air molecules are gently coaxed into yielding maximum down force with minimal drag.
The most effective and controversial player on the 458 Italia’s performance team is a 7-speed dual-clutch Getrag transmission. What you gain is automatic, impeccable off-the-line performance. Punch the pedals and buttons in proper sequence and you leave the launch pad like an Ares rocket. But instead of smoke and fire from melting tire tread, you get optimum thrust achieved by perfectly regulated engine throttling and clutch engagement. The feeling is pure horizontigo — a rush that feels like stepping into an elevator shaft twisted 90 degrees. Confirmation: our Vbox test equipment recorded a peak acceleration reading of 0.96g, a record during Automobile’s first decade of car testing.
The clutch pedal and shift lever are the sacrificial lambs. No mortal, not even a gifted quarter-mile pro, can match the computerized acceleration optimization provided by the 458’s launch control. So, instead of burdening the driver with three pedals and one stick, Ferrari has reassigned bug out responsibility to electronic servo systems. Those whose manly stature is threatened by the 458’s automatic transmission should buy a Lamborghini.
Demonstrating a fit of pure-Italian logic, Ferrari dispatched us to a compact test track in England to give the 458 spurs. The Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) facility near Birmingham offered a rough cornering pad, a one-mile-long straightaway, and a few moments of dry pavement between wind and rain squalls. We used the opportunity to utmost advantage to record these chart-topping performance figures:
1/4-mile 10.9sec @ 134 mph
Peak g 0.96
30-70mph passing 4.2sec
Peak g 1.18
SPEED IN GEARS
What’s more impressive than the super-short stopping distance is the 458’s willingness to repeat that feat over and over without a hint of fade. The Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, which seem to eat heat for breakfast, keep coming back for more, the faster and the hotter the better. If the left downshift paddle is held back while the brake pedal is depressed, the 458 is programmed to provide multiple throttle blips and down shifts aimed at efficiently shedding velocity before turning into a bend.
Understeer awaits those who crowd the cornering limits. Alternatively, a well timed jab of the throttle in synch with a jerk of the steering wheel will swing the tail out if and when a showy drift is desired.
What makes the 458 Italia worth every penny of its $230,275 base price? It goes far beyond world-beating performance to include the sexiest hips this side of Shakira. Rear-view mirrors full of curved metal and engine induction plumbing. A sound track too richly raucous to be filtered by turbos or mufflers. The grownup’s Game Boy that also serves as the steering wheel. Seats that grasp your glutes just right and a tachometer the size of Big Ben.
No less than ten prancing horses displayed inside and out tell the world there’s no bull here.