Now that Ferrari unveiled the Spider version of its exceptional 458 Italia at Frankfurt Auto Show last month, the gentlemen from Turin don’t want you to forget all about the original. So Ferrari invited Charlie Meadows to fly to the car’s birthplace in Modena and testdrive the car named after the country from which it sprang… Ladies & gentlemen, Viva La Italia…
So how exactly do you describe the feeling of gripping the steering wheel of the Ferrari 458 Italia, and with the push of the throttle powering the car through a tight, sunlit corner only miles from its birthplace in Maranello? Riding the foothills just outside of Modena, you pass perfectly aligned rows of pear and apple trees blushing in full glory, and as you push the gas peddle to the carpet the flowering orchards turn into white and yellow impressionist blurs, all lost in peripheral vision. Following the 2-lane road dipping down to the banks of the Panaro River, the V8 engine hits a pitch-perfect Ferrari growl as you launch into a series of tight switchbacks, which the Italia negotiates with paper-cutting sharpness. The handling is absurd; the 458 responds to your commands in a symphonic coordination of superb steering, taut suspension and precise transmission unlike almost any other car on the road, marrying the performance and tightness of a Porsche Turbo with the comfort and joy of nothing short of the recently released Lamborghini Aventador. But in all fairness, that’s a V12 — the Italia straddles a much more humble V8 powerplant. You can offer words like “thrilling”, “exhilaration” and “jaw-dropping”, but they will fall hollow and tinny, like pebbles thrown into the crashing surf of the Adriatic.
Because the Ferrari 458 Italia is Ferrari’s most modern, balanced sportscar ever created. The Prancing Stallion used to be known as an unapologetic manufacturer of street-legal racecars — a Formula One prodigy fit for creating suitable chassis for its ruthless engines and little else. Well, the 458 signals that times have changed.
Hit the Jump to continue reading our Unlocked Testdrive of the Ferrari 458 Italia…
“To put things in perspective, that 0-to-62 clip is faster than Ferrari’s own vaunted Enzo. To wit: hold on fucking tight…”
Ferrari’s first entirely new clean-sheet revision, the 458 is from the tires up a categorically new point of reference from its predecessor the F430 Modena. Starting with its fully aluminum chassis — the first of its kind for Ferrari — this super-light and rigid all-aluminum spaceframe body structure is then wrapped in an ultra-thin aluminum body shell; its hood, roof, and doors are an alloy constructed only 1.0 mm thick. Yes it’s still 100 pounds heavier than the F430 but you won’t feel it, in large part due to its 4.5 liter V8 that generates 562 horsepower — a whopping 80 horses more than its F430 predecessor. And although on paper a variation of the Ferrari California’s engine, the 458’s V8 gains .2 L of displacement and 112 horsepower. The 32-valve mill redlines at a howling 9000 rpm with 398 lb-ft of torque, hitting 0-to-62 mph in less than 3.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 202 mph. To put things in perspective, that 0-to-62 clip is faster than Ferrari’s own vaunted Enzo. To wit: hold on fucking tight.
Beyond nominally sharing the same engine, the 458 also shares its paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission (DCT) with the California. Sort of. Like the engine, the F1-inspired DCT has been tweaked into an entirely different beast for the Italia, tuning the gearbox into a coiled spring of perfection. The shifts are spotless, instant. The Italia is also the first Ferrari to be designed exclusively with a DCT gearbox in mind — there will be no manual available. Sadly, this heralds the future of Ferrari from this point forth. And while purists will groan and whine about the lack of a manual option, statistics show their complaints are baseless. Less than 5% of Ferraris sold in 2009 were manual, a stark evidence of the technology’s obsolescence. And why not? When you have at your fingertips a dual-clutch gearbox as incredibly fast, smooth, and responsive as the Italia’s, why ever take your hands off the wheel to shift a stick.
There are many other leaps in technology involved in the Italia, such as a 30% improvement on emissions due mostly to decreases in internal engine friction. Or its stalk-less steering column, with all controls (blinkers, wipers, high beams, etc) replaced on the wheel itself. Or its direct injection — the first of its kind for a Ferrari V8. But in the end, what is most important to note about the Italia is not the technology it pioneers (as stunning as it is), nor its progress in emissions and mileage (as admirable as they may be). What is most unforgettable about the Italia is its sheer beauty. For the Pininfarina-penned Ferrari 458 is a “tribute to Italy,” as explained by Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo, and it needs to earn its moniker. It is the Italia, after all, and as good as it looks on printed paper and shining pixel you will not be able to truly grasp its elegance until you see it parked before you. Or better still, until you hear its engine approaching from a quarter-mile away, and then you see it zip by in a Matrix-like internal slow motion shot. Or even better yet, until you see its swooping hood through the windshield, with your hands wrapped tightly around its leather steering wheel, engine roaring triumphantly behind your ears, lined rows of pear and apple trees blurring by you in streaks of white and yellow, and the corners of your mouth touching your ears. Only then will you know the beauty. Viva Italia.