The driver faces the usual huge central tachometer, with the 9000-rpm redline clearly labeled. It's flanked by two digital display screens. When you enter the car, the left screen says "458 Italia" and the right one says "Ferrari." Very cool. Once you're underway, the right screen defaults to an analog-style image of a speedometer but also is used for the navigation system and the radio, while the left screen's role is to provide details of the dynamic parameters controlled by the manettino, to show a lap timer, or to display temperature gauges and the like. There's no center stack but instead an oddly shaped protrusion from the upper dash, canted toward the driver, with a volume knob and a control knob for the right-hand screen. If it sounds confusing, it is, but Ferrari claims that it's all part of making the 458's cabin intensely driver-focused. "In the 458," says chief test driver Raffaele De Simone, in explaining the layout, "the driver takes the main role, whereas the California is to share with another person." Indeed. About all a passenger could possibly operate are the climate controls, which are accessible and logical.
The big, easy-to-grab steering-column-mounted paddles flank a racing-style, flat-bottomed steering wheel with a dizzying array of controls mounted on it. In addition to the red starter button, you've got the manettino switch, the high/low-beam switch for the headlights, the windshield-wiper controls, and, believe it or not, push buttons for the turn signals. Those definitely take some getting used to. There are no steering-column stalks whatsoever.
The starting process is familiar: turn the key, hit the red starter button, and the V-8 springs to life with a metallic rasp. It's instantly identifiable as a Ferrari eight-cylinder. As was the case with all recent Ferraris with the F1 automated-manual transmission, you put your foot on the brake and pull back on both paddles to select neutral. To choose the automatic mode, push the large button labeled Auto in the console astride the center tunnel (next to it is R for reverse, and to the left of that is the button for the standard launch control). Or simply pull back on the right paddle to select first gear; the left paddle is solely for downshifting.
Such light and delicate actions, these flicks of your fingers, but they produce such potent and violent reactions. In first gear, the 458 leaps forward with the frenetic energy of a Ducati MotoGP bike as the engine races toward its redline. Will it be your pinky or your index finger that, in the blink of an eye, makes contact again with the paddle? It doesn't matter: now you're in second gear, and the greens and browns of the Emilia-Romagna autumn are blurring the side windows. Another digit relaxes its grip; another flick; another gear, instantly obtained; and the ripping and shattering of the V-8 resumes as the tach needle swings upward again.