Viva Italia: Ferrari 458 Italia

Paul Barshon

After oversleeping the next morning, Wednesday, I munched a chocolate pastry, drank half a cup of coffee, and guaranteed the front desk clerk that I hadn't violated the minibar. Then we loaded photography cases into the deep well between the front wheels of the Italia, which would be ours for most of the remaining distance to Goodwood. The sun shone brightly, and people already bustled up and down the street in the resort town of Megève. (We had only been in the southwestern corner of Switzerland for two hours the previous evening before crossing another unmanned frontier, this one with France.) Sliding into the cockpit trimmed in voluptuous red and black leather, I touched off the direct-injected 4.5-liter V-8. The exhaust note resounded entrancingly off the buildings and slopes. Today's journey would be independent, following an improvised route, starting on a high-country road. Not far along it, we stopped at a handmade sign that proclaimed the availability of goat cheese. I listened to clanking cowbells and twittering birds, meanwhile trying out lines in my notebook to describe the robust sonorities that issued alternately, depending on the driving mode, from the Italia's three tailpipes. For example: how it would sound if Lady Gaga were deposited into a UFC cage match.

Soon afterward the road curved hard, and we beheld the vastness of Mount Blanc, a great Moby Dick of a mountain, endlessly white and imposing. We continued over a divide and entered Albertville, host city of the 1992 Winter Olympics. It was time for fuel. Compared with its predecessor, the F430, the Italia is 13 percent more efficient. Fuel tank capacity is reduced for weight savings, yet overall range increases. We put 17.2 gallons of sans plomb 98 into the car for a startling €95 ($116) and endured the cashier's equally startling taunt: She preferred Corvette to Cavallino. Horses for courses, as the Brits say.

The V-8 features a continuously variable valvetrain and produces 570 hp, helping the Italia fire from 0 to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds. And roads in this part of the Rhône-Alpes afforded the opportunity to fire at will. A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox manages the output as fluidly as Pablo Casals used to modulate the Bach cello suites. To make these instantaneous shifts, my fingertips were positioned on the huge paddle shifters. Heading for a hairpin turn at 110 mph elicited yelps of "Bloody hell!" and "Formula 1!" The exhaust boomed apoplectically through the outer pair of pipes, harrumphed sullenly on downshifts, and crooned with delight when the throttle was picked up in the apex. The enormous carbon-ceramic brake rotors with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers easily quashed forward momentum, and the screeching that was a factor around town in Albertville wasn't noticeable here. The Italia stayed remarkably flat under the hardest cornering I dared attempt, and the fat tires on twenty-inch wheels offered an excess of grip.

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