MAY 02nd 2013

Ferrari 458: Can Ferrari move the game on again?

The entry-level Ferrari that’s faster than an F40

Five hundred and sixty two brake horsepower. That’s how many ponies Ferrari manages to squeeze out of the 4.5-litre V8 that sits behind you in the 458 Italia. Putting that into perspective that’s 84bhp more than the iconic Ferrari F40 put out – the 458 doing so without the help of turbocharging. So the 458 Italia is fast, quite ludicrously so, is able to reach 62mph in just 3.4 seconds on its way to its 202mph maximum speed. Yet for all its monumental potential it’s the sophistication it offers that is so remarkable.

Supercars used to be recalcitrant, awkward machines that needed a firm, skilled hand to deliver anything like their quoted performance figures. At best they were difficult, worst, downright appalling to drive. The 458 is none of that, it’s such an easy car to drive you really could throw the keys at a someone who’s just torn up their L plates and they could reasonably be expected to drive it. The paddleshift transmission and two pedal set-up might cause scratched heads after a three-pedal and gear sticked Corsa, but there’s no untoward histrionics, driveline shunt or peculiarities that need to be driven around as some payoff for the massive performance. The 458 Italia is an absolute cinch in traffic.

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That’s remarkable, but what’s really incredible is when you escape the traffic and find some interesting roads. That 4.5-litre engine is a masterpiece. Sure, it might deliver its maximum power at a stratospheric 9000rpm, but the intensity with which it punches from low revs is phenomenal. The temptation is to have it singing up by the red paint on the rev-counter’s dial though, as the noise it makes is pure aural heaven, the heady mix of howling, shrieking V8 and metallic crackle and rasp from the three exhausts out back is about as good as it gets. It’ll matter little that you can’t see the speedometer among the rather poorly-judged instrumentation, as at anything above two tenths this car is already in the realms of the illegal.

It’s not all engine though, as for all its mighty accelerative ability the 458 is defined just as much by its chassis. Ferrari’s harping on about F1 technology rings absolutely true in this car, the F1 derived F1-Trac traction control and electronically controlled differential give the 458 almost supernatural ability to use its power, it finding grip and exploiting its massive output almost regardless of the road’s surface. The magnetic damping system no doubt helps, it giving the aluminium-bodied 458 ride with remarkable compliance and control – even when set to its stiffest setting.

All those systems can be dialled – literally – to your preferences via the steering wheel-mounted Manettino, allowing the 458 to be set from mild to wild, its upper leave-it-all-to-you-everything-off setting it remains remarkably exploitable, and benign at and above its limits of grip and traction. Massive braking power is a given, the carbon ceramic discs offering repeatable retardation and decent pedal feel. It’s the steering though that you really need to recalibrate for. It’s fast, quicker and hugely incisive, the instantaneous response to input at the nicely weighted wheel being unlike anything else. Little wonder Ferrari worked so hard with its controls to ensure you rarely – if ever – need to take your hands from the steering wheel.

All that matters though are the two big paddles which deliver the promise of ever greater performance. The 7-speed transmission is super-quick, the lack of a proper manual transmission not missed here – you’d never be able to keep up. Much like Ferrari’s competition, the 458 Italia not just changing the game, but making it entirely its own.

Top speed: 202mph
0-62mph: 3.4sec
Engine: 4.5-litre V8
Power/weight: 380bhp/tonne
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, rwd
Wheels: 8.5 x 18 front, 10.5 x 18 rear
Tyres: 235/35 R20 front, 295/35 R20 rear
Power: 562bhp at 9000rpm
Torque: 387lb ft at 1300 to 4500rpm
Economy: 20.6mpg
CO2: 307g/km
Price: £178,491
On sale date: Now

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