Ferrari dream machine full of character
ENOUGH of the misery. Let's whoosh in the new year with a bit of dreaming.
The vivid red Ferrari you see here is the new 458 Italia, writes John Simister. It replaces the F430, and it shares the concept of its two most recent ancestors (F430 and 360 Modena) in having a mid-mounted, very powerful and very loud V8 engine in an aluminium chassis and body. But apart from the casting of its cylinder block, it's an entirely new car.
It looks fabulous, with a functional, unadorned purity that comes from the way aerodynamics dictate the shape. Those intriguing winglets in each front air-intake are anchored at their inner ends only, so they can deflect at speed to divert excess air away from the radiators and under the car to increase downforce. At maximum speed (323kmh) there's around a third of a tonne of this.
Some speed, that. Of minimal use to most of us, but somehow uplifting as an idea. More readily experienced is the extraordinary acceleration, a thrust of the sort that gives you no time to get your bearings and reconfigure your internal organs. The claim is under 3.4 seconds to 100kmh, 10.4 seconds to twice that speed.
This is an engine that has the hard-edged, snorting sound of an old-school rally car at low speeds before the exhaust bypasses open into the two outer pipes and the full bellow is unleashed.
And then there's the new seven-speed sequential gearbox, now a double-clutch unit derived from that of the Ferrari California. Ferrari's previous paddle-shift transmission brought a pause in acceleration with each upshift. The new one not only eradicates the pause, but adds a momentary increase in acceleration from the rotational momentum of the engine as the engagement of the higher gear pulls the crankshaft speed down.
But this is not the seamless, creamy-smooth shifting of which a doubleclutcher is theoretically capable. There's more drama if the shift feels more “mechanical”, so Ferrari has deliberately roughed up the shift action a bit.
A new steering-wheel design brings almost every hand-operated driving control within its orbit, including thumb-operated indicator buttons. Behind it is the tidiest dashboard yet seen in a Ferrari.
Driven with the verve for which it is made, the Ferrari feels invincible. Its steering responds much more quickly than an F430's, but it doesn't feel remotely twitchy because the rear suspension helps to keep the response measured and progressive. It just feels compact, instantly flickable and amazingly supple, given how flat it stays in fast corners. Adaptive dampers are why, which set themselves more firmly when you flick the manettino switch to ‘race’ mode or above, but you can manually return them to suppleness if the surface is bumpy.
In race mode, you can really explore the 458's limits, knowing that the latest electronic differential and its digital conversations with the F1-Trac system are helping you all the way.
Turn the traction control off and the tail slithers more readily, but still the Ferrari stays on your side because now the E-Diff is working a little harder. Turn the stability system off as well and you're on your own.
This can be the fiercest mainstream Ferrari ever if you want it to be, but it's also one of the easiest to drive. It's an extraordinary, irresistible, combination of attributes. The perfect New Year dream machine? For me, at least, that remains in the realms of the theoretical. But we can all dream, can't we?