So many things in life are over-hyped. Until I had my first time behind the wheel of a 458 Italia, I was afraid driving a Ferrari might be one of those experiences. Perhaps it helped that I first experienced a Ferrari on the 2.11-mile track at GingerMan. GingerMan isn't the most challenging road course in the world, or even in this state, but I've turned hundreds of laps there over the past few years so it's easy to jump into a new car and get to know the vehicle right away. I used my first lap to become familiar with the 458's incredible carbon-ceramic brakes and try to forget the $310,000 sticker price.
I told myself I'd take it easy in the Ferrari, but that's a relative term in a 562-hp supercar. Before I knew it I was topping 140 mph on the back straight and having the time of my life. With all of the advanced electronics on board the 458 Italia is as easy to drive as a Volkswagen GTI. The experience is totally different, but the results are the same: the car turns a novice driver into a star on the track. This will likely upset some enthusiasts who want to experience the crashing of a gated shifter entering and leaving each turn, but the fact is all the tech makes it much easier to prevent a real crash during those turns. Perhaps the experience of an old school Ferrari with a gated shifter and more finicky engine would be more visceral and rewarding, but the experience of a new Ferrari that will run hot laps all day long and never need more attention than adding fuel is amazing.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Y'all are gonna kill me, but if I had to describe the 458 in one word, it would be clinical. The 458 is cold, calculated, and precise -- to the point of being a little charmless. Ferrari's mission is laptimes and speed, speed, speed. Personally, I wish the company would focus on different things (like driver involvement and fun) rather than precision, but I can't much fault this brilliant machine's execution.
Well, a little. I'm still irked that Ferrari refuses to program "automatic" mode for full-throttle kick-down, but I guess you shouldn't be driving a Ferrari in automatic mode anyway (which is why it shouldn't even have that mode). Like other direct-injected Ferraris, the fuel cutoff is abrupt, so cruising at low-load conditions (and even 70 mph in seventh gear is low-load for this monster motor) takes effort to prevent bucking. The exhaust bypass valves work overtime in city driving, opening and closing constantly -- I'd much prefer a driver-selectable override for "always open" or "always closed." And there are just too many buttons on the steering wheel.
And while I'm kvetching, the steering is incredibly fast and unrivaled in its precision and immediacy. But it's also completely numb and significantly overboosted. The sounds coming from the tailpipe are no longer music; they're noise. Insane, maniacal, violent noise. Amazing? Yes. Beautiful? No.
The dual-clutch transmission is pretty good, as far as automatics go. But pulling a paddle in a Ferrari is no more special than pulling a paddle in a Honda Fit. If you ignore the speed, the beauty, and the Ferrari factor, and just pay attention to how the 458 drives, you'd have a hard time convincing me that a Porsche Boxster isn't more fun.
But ignore the driver-car factor for a second, and concentrate on what Ferrari actually set out to achieve -- performance -- and the 458 is just absurdly amazingly mind-blowingly awesome. The brakes will rip your face off -- if it somehow managed to stay attached during acceleration. Handling balance is unlike anything else on this planet -- neutral neutral neutral. (For the record, the 458 will understeer at low speeds, but that's easily fixed with bags of power oversteer.) There is no bushing compliance or wallow or anything -- the 458 feels like a go-kart. Actually, it feels more like a go-kart than most go-karts do.
Except that the suspension copes even with Ann Arbor's miserable roads. The seats aren't cushy, but somehow are comfortable for hour-long trips. The leather and stitching are gorgeous. The steering wheel's rim is perfection in your hands. Nothing revs like a flat-crank V-8. And nothing takes your breath away like a Ferrari. Forget what I said, it's perfect.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor