By on December 19, 2014

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It costs $233,509, and it’s genuinely worth the money. That’s the first thing I want you to know about the Ferrari 458 Italia. The second thing is that, once again, I’m driving the wrong 458 for the job.

Ferrari supplied Road&Track with the 458 Speciale for Performance Car Of The Year. This no-radio, flat-carbon-fiber-interior-door-panels, bloody-ear-exhaust variant was an absolute revelation around a track or down a fast two-lane. Yet nobody wanted to actually drive it on the freeway until I showed up and volunteered to do it. I promptly used it in an attempt to pick up a Cobalt-SS-Supercharged-driving nineteen-year-old girl with a Boogie Nights star tattoo visible under the hem of her too-short shorts. Yes, there’s a picture of the interaction, but no, I don’t think TTAC’s management will let me put it up.

The Speciale was a force of nature, an Italian combination of a 308GTB and the first side of Ritual De Lo Habitual. To wring one all the way to fifth gear on a rural road was to become utterly absorbed in the violent noise and scenery-blurring power the 458 Speciale could summon at a fraction of a second’s notice. Yet it was too focused to win the hearts of my fellow road test editors, and my heart had already been lost to the Dodge Viper TA 2.0. (Which brings the Viper-mention ratio in these articles to: three of five. More than once it was suggested that a standard 458 Italia would have fared better in the voting, and I agree with that sentiment even more now than I did at the time.

Fast-forward to late November in Oklahoma, and I’m thinking that the opposite situation has occurred. On Toly Artunoff’s personal playground, on this fast and loose vintage SCCA course, the Speciale would be simply untouchable. Instead, we have the standard 458 Italia, which is less so.

Not that the Italia doesn’t have plenty of the right stuff. It weighs about as much as a Chevrolet Cruze LT but makes 570 horsepower from a direct-injected 4.5L V8. Remember the original Honda S2000 and its claims to displacement-per-liter supremacy? L, as the kids say, OL. It has a dual-clutch transmission that appears to possess no imperfections whatsoever. You cannot confuse or befuddle it no matter what you do, no matter which mode you pick. Want to run it at nine-tenths around the track in “Race” full-auto mode? It will impersonate a Williams Formula One CVT with its hyper-vigilant supply of power to the rear wheels, wobbling the needle ever-so-slightly from well past the “8” mark down to between the six and seven again and again, magically turning this powerful but peaky gasoline engine into a Saturn V booster stage.

In driving rain, with a terrified fifty-year-old woman pedaling the brake and accelerator like a mad church organist? It will flawlessly keep the motor out of peak torque or power, anticipating each herky-jerky shove of a pedal with a shift so prescient a Guild Navigator can’t actually see the Ferrari on-track. (I am so sorry for that.) Never has a rear-wheel-drive sports car been this safe and usable in wet conditions.

Yes, the manettino might have started off as a hideously tacky attempt to tie the perfected F1 cars of the Schumacher era to the decidedly imperfect road cars, but now it works so well that I could tell, with my eyes closed, which mode the 458 was in within seconds of pulling out onto the track. Even the most committed driver really only needs to turn it to “Race”, unless you need to trade the potential of a half-second gain in lap time for the near-certainty of a corrected mistake somewhere in that lap.

You can shift the 458 yourself using the column-mounted paddles, and I occasionally did, but you’d be just as fast letting the car make your decisions for you. It’s never wrong. The idea that a transmission this brilliant is standard equipment in a Ferrari makes me chuckle, because I remember what Ferraris used to be like. Even the 430 comes off like an old Dino compared to this.

Did I mention how spacious it is? Well, it is — six-foot-five drivers can wear a helmet without difficulty. It has as much room as the Audi R8. The seating position feels like it’s on top of the front axle, making the car itself effectively tiny, like a Bugeye Sprite with an extra foot of space between the seats. All drivers of all sizes seem able to fit comfortably. With the power adjustment of the Italia (but not the Speciale) it’s possible for a 4’11” woman to drive the car quickly and confidently. There’s nothing “intuitive” about the controls because they’re very different from what you get in a Lexus ES350 or a Ford Fiesta but once you figure them out it’s no trouble to operate everything from the stereo to the climate control, which also works surprisingly well. After a few days in the car, I was completely Ferrari-competent. Moreover, if you think the steering-wheel-mounted turn signal switches, which work like those in a BMW motorcycle, are silly, wait until you drive a Huracan, which has the same turn-signal operation mechanism as my 1986 Kawasaki Ninja.

The same amount of difference in joy and tossability between the LP560-4 and LP550-2 Gallardos is repeated here, in the Ferrari’s favor. Never has a car this fast with this drivetrain configuration been this easy to drive. After three laps you’re tossing it around like a Miata that just happens to be doing 40-60mph more on every straight. The brakes are heroic. You can do stupid things with it like stomp the power in the middle of the corner and it rewards you with a brilliant slide instead of an unpredictable spin. It just keeps encouraging you to go faster and faster, the steering wheel’s thick rim seemingly connected directly to the road, the engine whooping its very un-American-sounding twin-four-cylinder aria between gears as if it had a KERS system on boost in place of a flywheel.

What else? Visibility is stellar to the front and acceptable to the back. The ABS seems to cycle faster than what you’d get in a Corvette. It has a starter button on the wheel, while the Gallardo has an old-school twist key. From what I’ve heard, they don’t break much, even under the rigors of supercar-rental life. It’s possible to trail-brake the thing out of shape but you really need to try and even then the front end can be used to catch it like a Viper (DING!) or Mustang.

It’s better than the Gallardo in every single way possible except, perhaps, looks. I can’t get used to the proportions or the snout of the thing. Is it too much to ask to return to the era of good-looking mid-engined Ferraris? Still, I’d rather be stretching out in the Ferrari’s fishbowl than cramping in the Lamborghini’s stylish cabin.

If you can afford one, buy it. If you can afford the Speciale, buy that one instead. This is a new high-water mark in mid-engined street cars. And yet… it’s not the winner, is it?

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46 Comments on “Supercars To Go, Second Place: Ferrari 458 Italia...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    Now it’s getting good…

  • avatar
    John R

    For the thick end of $250k the driving better be what you describe.

    That aside, I think its shape looks exciting. I will agree that it is more feminine relative to the Gallardo, but comely nonetheless.

  • avatar
    Mr Imperial

    Jack-I normally skim over articles of this length with a “TL;DR” attitude-I have thoroughly enjoyed every installment so far in this Supercars To Go series.

    I’ve never seen a homely Ferrari-until the 458 Italia came out. A face only a mother could love :)

    Yes, I did catch the Viper references-that car, in every year/generation/edition/etc, will always bring out the irrational fanboy in me. That car will always be my Scarlett Johansson-even though Christina Hendricks or Sofia Vergara or even Kate Upton might be packing some superior features in some areas-something always brings me back to ScarJo (and the Viper, of course).

    • 0 avatar
      doctorv8

      ” A face only a mother could love :)”

      You, sir, need to take a look at the 1995 F512M to recalibrate your homeliness meter!

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Imperial

        Just googled it….hmmm maybe. That car has a strong 90’s vibe to it….but it is a 1995….very bulky looking, not svelte like modern Ferraris.

        • 0 avatar
          doctorv8

          I suspect you may be too young to associate with the 1985-91 Testarossa, but to take that stylish canvas and desecrate it with the most heinous facelift ever was the low point in Ferrari styling history….the F512M…a TR with Down’s syndrome.

    • 0 avatar
      doctorv8

      The 512TR was already a little diluted from the original gorgeous Pininfarina concept, but it drove far better than the original.

      The ultimate driving Testarossa would be a TR, or better yet, an M, with a reverse facelift courtesy of an older car. HRE makes 18″ lookalikes of the old 16″ stars too. Only a nutjob like me would appreciate that though.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I saw a Testarossa on the road the other day. It was early enough to have the single rear view mirror, and it had about thrice the presence of the Gallardos one sees every week here. I remember seeing another Testarossa in Maine about 20 years ago. It looked like a movie prop compared to the typical Maine-mobile.

        • 0 avatar
          TOTitan

          I take care of a mint 17000 mile 94 512TR for my employer. It is an amazing car and it gets ten times the attention that his new Maserati Granturismo S and Grancabrio do.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    And it’s the right color too! (Grigio Silverstone)
    You can spec a standard Italia with the same CF sport seats as the Speciale. That, plus a tire swap to the new Pirelli Trofeo R’s will get you very, very close to Speciale performance levels without any loss of civility.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I actually am a fan of the 458’s styling after spending some time staring at one parked on the street. It looks purposeful and focused and I find that more appealing than bouffant flourishes.

    Well, I had the order correct except for the R8 – I would have guessed its everyday usability would punt it above the Lambos.

    Also, I’d be interested to know how something relatively attainable, like a Corvette or 2015 Mustang GT, compares to a thoroughbred Italian. Is the Chevy/Stang 80% of the car? 95% of the car? If the badges were swapped, would an ordinary driver have an idea he was driving something 25% as expensive?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    My, my! Our writer is truly a nerd. Muad’dib would be proud.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “I promptly used it in an attempt to pick up a Cobalt-SS-Supercharged-driving nineteen-year-old girl with a Boogie Nights star tattoo visible under the hem of her too-short shorts.”

    At your age (or mine, which is about 5 years younger) I’d be afraid of running into an illegitimate daughter.

    Can’t wait till you start trying to pass your skills on to your son.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    When I dream of driving of driving ferraris and lamboroghinis, I always wonder how the turn signal is operated.

  • avatar
    STRATOS

    Supercars To Go,First place:Porsche GT3.

  • avatar
    dragthemagicpuffin

    “Remember the original Honda S2000 and its claims to displacement-per-liter supremacy?”

    Hmmm…I would think that every car ever made is tied for first place with an even 1:1 displacement-per-liter ratio. :P

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    The 512TR was already a little diluted. The ultimate Testarossa would be a TR, or better yet, an M, with a reverse facelift courtesy of an older car. HRE makes 18″ lookalikes of the old 16″ stars too. Only a nutjob like me would appreciate that though.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    “Remember the original Honda S2000 and its claims to displacement-per-liter supremacy?”

    Even corrected, 126.67 versus the S2000’s 120, 15 years and $200k later…congrats.

    Yeah, I’m a giant S2000 homer, I don’t care. I would trade it for a 458 though. Red/Tan in Spider form, please.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      oh boy…if you didn’t *know* the S2000 was the greatest car ever made and that Jesus hisself is a card-carrying, redline-shifting member of the club, hang around 90 seconds and Chris’ll *tell* ya sumfin!!!

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Hey, for my money there’s no bigger thrill for $15k than an S2000, except maybe a C5 Corvette. And then you’re talking Steak vs. Lobster, no bad choice, just what you’ve got a taste for. But other than the Corvette, there’s nothing better in my book; 986 Boxster? Miata? E36 M3? Pffft.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          It gets harder to maintain that specific output as the motor grows, you know… look at the S2K next to a Kawasaki ZX-11 which was an old bike when the Honda came out.

          I’ve always preferred my 986S to the S2K. More tire, more power, higher limits, and FAR better brakes.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            I like the 986S, but as you’ve admitted, it is far more disposable than the Porsches of old. The S2000 isn’t a 993, but in terms of longevity it’s much closer to a 993 than the 9X6 is. Plenty of guys with 200k+ on theirs, mine sits at 105k and has required almost nothing. Other than that, I’m a street guy, not a track guy, so performance is a wash, the brakes are adequate for the street, and the promise of Miata-like running costs (outside of tires) is appealing to a man of my means.

            And yes, HP/L is a joke of a metric, but that (and max piston speed!) is what us AP1 guys have to cling to :)

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            Gah. I said “s*de”. Blast.

            Boxster good, S2k better.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Motorcycles don’t have to meet the same emissions standards or durability expectations that cars do. Looking at the extreme edge of specific output, current 800 cc GP bikes use 200 cc cylinders to hit about 275 hp/liter while the last 3.0 liter F1 cars were comfortably over 300 hp/liter with 300 cc cylinders. Even the 2.4 liter V8s were over 300 hp/liter until rev limits were imposed.

          • 0 avatar
            hgrunt

            I’ve always wondered why Japanese companies often don’t provide brake ducting to the front brakes…wonder what they’re trading brake cooling for.

          • 0 avatar
            toplessFC3Sman

            Eh, in a lot of ways it gets easier to maintain the specific output with larger engines, as long as the individual cylinder size stays relatively low. As the cylinder count increases, the friction/cylinder goes down (especially in a V configuration since you don’t double the number of main bearings), and the accessory loads, front belt drive, and a lot of that stuff scales with the chassis demands, not with the engine displacement.

            With cylinder size, its a bit of a toss-up; if its a big-bore, short-stroke you can keep the ratio of valve area to displacement the same, so the breathing will be roughly equivalent. You also keep the maximum piston speeds lower with the shorter stroke, so the inertia loads on the reciprocating components don’t increase with cylinder size as much and you can keep a high maximum engine speed. On the other hand, there is a practical limit to this as big-bore, short-stroke engines have much higher heat losses, hurting their efficiency, and they are limited in compression ratio when you have valve cut-outs for overlap & piston sculpting for combustion stability. Also, bigger bore pistons can be more prone to flexing due to inertia, which drives them to be heavier for strength, or much more costly for specialized materials.

        • 0 avatar
          mnm4ever

          Except for a Miata, any other cars in that price range are pretty dated looking and not all that desirable for a variety of reasons.

          The S2K is still gorgeous even after a decade and a half, they could re-introduce it tomorrow and still get another 5+ years out of it without changing a thing. Its classic in a way even the NSX can’t match.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I don’t care either. HP/L is kind of a useless metric.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        hp-hour per gram of fuel used is much more important in a street car. hp/liter only matters because people that make the rules don’t know much about reality. OTOH, I really like engines that can rev to the stratosphere and make more power the faster you spin them.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Looking forward to the next ‘car review’.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The point about sitting on the front axle is key. The seating position is damn near FWD… maybe even more cab forward. In my limited track time with it the overall impression I came away with was that you drive it with the front axle. The brakes are godly too. It’s a really great car.

    I will be honest though, I don’t know that it’s worth the asking price, at least for its dynamics. It didn’t feel like a near 600HP car either.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Doesn’t Ferrari get all nutty if you buy one of their cars or is that just for special models?

    By “nutty” I mean they go into “Paranoid Mom” mode and ask you what you’re going to do with it every day.

  • avatar
    James2

    So much praise and yet… there’s something even better?!?

  • avatar
    Noble713

    Two quick comments:

    1. This series has been a great read. Stuff like this keeps me coming back to TTAC.

    2. Love the Dune reference.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Since these reviews are really for the day dreamer, I’ll have one of these please in red. And a 650S in champagne for my other moods.

    Please. Thankyou.

  • avatar
    CGHill

    Is that the first actual Jane’s Addiction reference ever in these pages?

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