Driven: 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia

Mark Bramley

In a nod toward market reality, the 458 Italia will not be offered with a manual transmission. Instead, it gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic supplied by Getrag and configured for this application. Purists can howl all they want, but the people who actually buy Ferraris have voted: the take rate for traditional manuals has been just this side of zero. The 458 also gets a new, faster-responding version of the electronic limited-slip differential that debuted on the F430. And in what we can only conclude is an offensive maneuver against burgeoning competitors, Ferrari made the 458 Italia's carbon-ceramic brake system standard-as with all of its U.S. models-rather than charging the price of a bathroom remodel for them. Ferrari also uses a technique it calls Pre-Fill to activate the pistons in the brake calipers whenever electronic sensors detect that the driver is decelerating. The F430 had a similar system, but it was mechanically controlled, and the pads actually came into light contact with the discs, which added drag.

In the eternal quest to shed pounds wherever possible, Ferrari's structural engineers borrowed techniques from the aeronautical industry for the 458's aluminum-spaceframe construction and aluminum bodywork. A new alloy allowed them to make the roof, doors, and hood panels a wispy 1.0-mm (0.04-inch) thick, and a new die-casting process was employed for the door frames.

Ferrari's own developments from racing informed the aerodynamic design of the 458, starting with the front winglets in the lower air dams, which deflect nearly an inch at speeds above 125 mph to generate downforce and channel air to the front-mounted radiators. The small vents just inboard from the headlight clusters admit air, which then exits through vents near the front wheels to create downforce. The large apertures aft of the side windows are the source of air for the engine, while the ducts ahead of the rear wheels direct air into the glass-covered engine compartment. Intakes at the top rear of the car serve to cool the clutch and gearbox heat exchangers near the left and right taillights, respectively. The horsepower rating is actually a bit misleading: at extremely high speeds, Ferrari acknowledges that the ram-air effect contributes about 5 hp to the engine's 562-hp total output.

The 458 Italia's cabin is a mixture of old and new. The caramel-colored leather on the seats, the upper dash, and the door panels in our test car was classic Ferrari, taut and beautifully stitched yet supple and rich to the hand; the seats themselves are firm and supportive. Hides also stretch across the engine-compartment wall's padded panel and the adjoining parcel shelf behind the seats, which is big enough for a couple of briefcases. (The front trunk is surprisingly capacious, at 8.1 cubic feet.)

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