These levels of engineering and design, predictably, lead to a very good car. What was unpredictable was just how good the 458 Italia is. After all, the F430 was already a stellar performer, the car that everyone -- Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin, and others -- tried to emulate. The F430 seemed like the pinnacle of mid-engine sports car design. Surely Ferrari could do little more than nudge the bar a little higher, I thought.
Surely, it turns out, I was wrong. The level of performance and driving pleasure in the 458 Italia is nothing short of extraordinary. First, the steering is exceedingly well tuned. Perfectly weighted. Perfectly precise. Perfectly communicative. Perfect. Divinely perfect. Pivoting the 458 through a hairpin corner can’t help but make you grin, shout, or both. You know exactly where you’re placing the car at all times. It takes only the most minute steering input to produce a corresponding output to the front wheels. And the level of driver confidence that this supercommunicative steering provides is astounding.
There are plenty of other reasons for the lucky person behind the wheel of the 458 Italia to feel like a champ. The car’s structural rigidity, the brilliantly tuned suspension (control arms in front, multi-link setup at the rear), and the superhero brakes also play a part in allowing a competent driver to storm along twisty, narrow, undulating two-lane mountainous roads with a nonchalance that borders on insane. The 458 simply makes it all so easy.
You set the manettino control on the steering wheel to Sport or Race mode, pull back on the right-hand steering-wheel-mounted paddle, and you’re off. If you’re hitting the gas hard, as you naturally will be, somewhere between 2500 and 3000 rpm, the exhaust leaps from a low but steady background murmur to a boomy, bass-heavy beat. It’s the natural accompaniment to the metallic tenor of the V-8 as it races toward the magical 9000-rpm mark. Not paying attention? The gearbox will upshift for you. Approaching a corner? The gearbox seems to know that you are going to decelerate before you even lift your foot from the gas pedal and seamlessly slams down a gear or two before you even start steering into the curve. The engine and gearbox work together so intuitively, it’s very difficult to find yourself without exactly the right amount of power on tap, no matter your speed, your gear, or your steering angle. All you have to do is concentrate on the road ahead: the 458 is your natural, unquestioning ally in your quest for speed and agility.
What’s not to like? Well, Ferrari is going to charge about ten percent more for the 458 Italia when it goes on sale in the United States in June 2010, so you probably can expect about $220,000 as a base price. Some of the interior, which was designed to be very driver-focused, may come off as a little inelegant to some, especially the oddly shaped center protrusion from the instrument panel, which contains two air vents and a central controller for the electronic display that monitors radio, navigation, speedo, and other information. The seats in our test car were nicely supportive and comfortable but seemed perhaps a little narrow for some. And the turn signals mounted on the upper spokes of the steering wheel take some getting used to.
But these are quibbles. Ferrari has, unquestionably, rewritten the rules once again for mid-engine sports cars. Most notably, the Italian carmaker has done so with a naturally aspirated, high-revving V-8 engine at a time when so many other manufacturers are resorting to turbocharging and supercharging to achieve output and performance targets. Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche, and Aston Martin engineers have their work cut out for them.
2010 Ferrari 458 Italia
Base Price (estimated): $220,000
Engine: 4.5-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 563 hp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
L x W x H: 178.2 x 76.3 x 47.8 in
Cargo capacity: 8.1 cu ft
Dry Weight: 3274 lb
Performance (manufacturer figures):
0-62 mph: 3.4 sec
0-124 mph: 10.4 sec
62-0 mph braking: 106.6 ft
Lap time at Fiorano, Ferrari’s track: 1:25
Top speed: 202+ mph