As the hairpin bend unwinds, you start squeezing the throttle, and the engine note rises from a creamy bass growl to a screaming contralto howl, underlaid by an increasingly fussy backbeat of cams and valve gear. Where the Ferrari 360 Modena sounded like an overgrown motorcycle, the F430 sings a more melodious, more complex tune. It’s a delicious, utterly intoxicating engine noise, one that encourages you to use every last one of the 8500 revs that are on tap before you finger-flick the paddle shifter back and engage third gear, just like that. The engine blares, and-bang, bang-you upshift into fourth, then briefly into fifth, before getting on the brakes for the approaching right-hander. On roads like these, you don’t miss the manual transmission at all, reveling instead in the way you can drive the car with both feet and delighting in the instant shifts in Race mode. The deep seam of forward thrust, courtesy of a 4.3-liter V-8 with 483 hp and 343 lb-ft of torque, is pretty compelling, too.
You think to yourself, This thing is bloody quick, then nail the left pedal before easing off the brakes to balance the car as you turn in toward the apex. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes have bite and feel and tremendous power, yet their response is so well tuned that left-foot braking seems natural. Hit the left-hand paddle on the steering column twice to go back into third, drive the car through the corner, then floor it again. In contrast to its high-strung predecessor, there are fat gobs of torque available as low as 3500 rpm, so you don’t need to use those shift paddles as much.
The F430 rides the bumpy blacktop on the sinuous mountain roads near Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters amazingly well for a sports car that has nineteen-inch wheels and rubber-band tires. It’s super-stable at all speeds, its only flaw a lack of wheel travel over the sharpest bumps, which occasionally cause the nose to pitch and scrape the underchin spoiler on the deck.
Coming up to another series of hairpin bends, the F430 turns in as eagerly as a kid choosing candy. The steering is so intuitive and so beautifully weighted that placing the car is a cinch, and the chassis is so fluent and poised that it’s easy to dial out incipient understeer with power. Once you’ve switched the traction and stability control off via the steering-wheel-mounted selector, you can even unglue the tail on the exits of these 180-degree bends. The F430 corners flat and true, the fat Bridgestones gripping hard. This is sensory overload, and it’s great.
As you amble gently through a small town, you can switch the transmission into Auto mode and note the vastly improved gearshifts, as well as the different shift patterns as you switch from Race to Sport modes. The optional carbon-fiber bucket seats that save 44 pounds over the standard chairs hold you in nicely, and you realize how natural the driving position is, how good the steering wheel feels in your hands, and how this car is tailored to people who like driving.
The F430 is just about perfect on a road like this. The village recedes in the rearview mirror, you select Race mode, flick the left-hand paddle down twice, and lay rubber. The car is soulful and pure and direct, something you wear as an extension of your body and mind and eyes. It isn’t that small, yet it shrinks around you and seems the right size for these narrow passes, whereas something like a Ford GT or a Lamborghini Murcilago-let alone a Ferrari Enzo or a Mercedes SLR McLaren-would feel big and clumsy. There is no lack of pace, however; Ferrari claims the F430 will sprint from 0 to 62 mph in 4.0 seconds and go on to a top speed “in excess of 196 mph,” which is more than most of us will ever need.
After two hours of maximum attack on these hill roads, you select a friendlier pace for the journey back to Maranello and Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, where you get the chance to wring the F430 out without worrying about cars coming the other way or the proximity of the scenery. As the pace drops, you notice that there’s plenty of head, leg, and elbow room and decide that the carbon-fiber trim on the center console looks pretty good, even if the optional alloy accents you saw earlier look classier. The instrument binnacle, with a tach in either yellow or red, and the dashboard are new, although you spot carryover stalks and power window lifts.
The steering wheel is not only gorgeous to the touch, but it also looks fabulous. There’s a start button on its lower left quadrant and a five-position, anodized-metal switch (the manettino) on the lower right to select the gearshift regime and traction control. Very F1. Ferrari got rid of the lift-up toggle for reverse and replaced it with a simple button, which lives on a slimmer center tunnel. The cabin ambience is businesslike, simple, plain, spare-what you need in a driver’s car, without the plethora of buttons that companies such as Porsche have been introducing lately.
At Fiorano, you park in the small paddock, step out, and admire the bright yellow Ferrari on its optional Challenge Stradale wheels. Yes, admire rather than ogle: like the Modena, the F430 is striking yet hardly beautiful. Think Cate Blanchett rather than Charlize Theron.
Although more than 70 percent of the car’s components are new, it doesn’t look that different from the 360. Ferrari cites the Sharknose 156 F1 car from 1961 as inspiration for the huge nostrils at the front and the 250LM and 196/246SP sports cars from the early 1960s for the intakes over the rear fenders, but the styling is truly dictated by aerodynamic function rather than form. The combination of a new nose, revised engine intakes, a larger rear venturi, and a more pronounced tail spoiler has increased downforce compared with the 360. There is a total of 617 pounds at 186 mph, an improvement of 187 pounds over the 360; at 124 mph, the change is 99 pounds. The drag coefficient of 0.33 is the same.
The basics of the car are unchanged, too. The F430 uses an aluminum spaceframe chassis that is 10 percent heavier than the 360’s, but it also has 20 percent better torsional stiffness and is 8 percent better in bending. Ferrari says that improved crash performance is the reason for the extra weight. Overall, the car is 132 pounds heavier than the 360, but the power-to-weight ratio has improved from 7.1 pounds per horsepower to 6.2, thanks to the new, larger engine. Some castings on this 4.3-liter, DOHC, 32-valve V-8 are shared with the Maserati Coupe’s, such as the block, but most of it is bespoke, including a single-plane crank. The engine has all the goodies you’d expect, including variable valve timing on intake and exhaust, a dry-sump oil system to lower the crank center line, and a variable intake manifold. (See Techtonics sidebar.) The twin-plate clutch is smaller to minimize inertia (for faster shifting) and to help reduce powertrain height. The F1-style transmission is expected to account for more than 80 percent of sales, but traditionalists can opt for a six-speed manual.
Like the 360, the F430 has all-around aluminum-control-arm suspension, with adaptive dampers that have a stiffer setting in Sport and Race modes. The standard cast-iron Brembo disc brakes incorporate molybdenum for better energy and heat dissipation and are acted on by four-piston calipers all around. The optional (for about $14,000!) ceramic-composite brakes are 1.2 inches bigger up front and 0.8 inch bigger at the back, with six-pot front calipers.
All of this makes the F430 an awesome track car. Ferrari says it is three seconds faster than the 360 around Fiorano and only two seconds slower than the Enzo. The F430 isn’t as edgy as the outgoing Challenge Stradale, but it requires skill to get the most out of it, especially with stability control turned off. With the electronics engaged in Race mode, there’s a bit of oversteer, but when you turn them off, you can hang the tail out to dry-although it will snap away from you at big drift angles. The chassis is minutely adjustable on the throttle, which makes it very entertaining.
The car is so chuckable and nimble that you can fool yourself into trying to drive it as if it were a formula car, at which point it will start plowing. No, it’s better to set the car up well in advance and drive through the corners under power, steering it on the throttle. The brakes are fantastic on track, as is the paddle shifter. It is certainly fast: you see 8000 rpm in fifth on Fiorano’s longish main straight, which equates to 141 mph, some 15 mph more than we achieved in a Modena. You know you’re traveling quickly when you hit the brakes prior to the first, tight right-hander and the inside tire squeals as the ABS kicks in. A lap of Fiorano is addictive and brilliant fun, but your exuberance is tempered by the knowledge that this car can bite.
The F430 is sensational. It isn’t as fast in a straight line as some of its competitors (such as the Ford GT), but the blend of drivability, excitement, immediacy, and purity is unmatched.
It sings to you and embodies everything we love about Italian cars. When it goes on sale in March, it will cost about six percent more than the current 360 Modena, so you’re looking at $170,000 for the manual-transmission car-hardly a bargain. Still, Porsche has got to do something really special with the next Turbo to match this car, and it is doubtful that it will be nearly as soulful.