Here’s a little secret that we Ferrari-enamored car testers don’t like to dwell on: Ferrari’s V8-engined cars haven’t always been very fast. More than once, I’ve been in the middle of a V8 Ferrari’s quarter-mile run and found myself with time enough to have a little conversation with that tiny prancing horse on the yellow steering wheel badge.
“So, little horsey, are those all the prancing ponies you’ve got to show me?” Of course, the little black stallion just stares back, front hooves frozen in the air, as if to say, “Guess so.”
A modern, 84-grand Nissan GT-R could probably blow the doors off of virtually every V8-powered car Maranello has ever made – with the possible exception of the $272,000 430 Scuderia.
However, the new 4.5-liter V8-engined Ferrari 458 Italia is an entirely different matter. With its engine a scant 0.2 liters larger than the 430 Suderia’s 4.3 liters, power rises from a measly 503 horsepower (I’m kidding, I’m kidding) to a “that’s-more-like-it” 557. Angle your right foot toward the carpet and those Italian stallions immediately disrupt any notion that you’ll have time to talk to a steering wheel emblem. Because? Because your noggen just bounced off the headrest, and your eyes are struggling to refocus.
Squeeze the finger-shiftable 7-speed dual-clutch transmission’s trigger and, bang, there’s another rap on the back of your head. Shift again and you’re rapped again. And again, and again, until you run out of gears. This is a seriously fast Ferrari – regardless of cylinder count.
Spin the engine to redline, and you’ll find the tach needle pointing to a dizzying 9,000 rpm – yes, 9,000. Fortunately, you won’t need cat-like reactions to know when to shift. Just watch the available Formula One-style, easy-to-see shift lights atop the steering wheel rim, just like the ones Fernando Alonso looks at. Another Formula One influence is the steering wheel’s “mannetino.” This basically means “little lever,” a switch that allows you to select from five chassis- stability settings, ranging from, “Dear neophyte, how about I hold your hand?” to “OK, Mario, I’m trusting you won’t put both of us into that guard rail!” Suggestion: Stick with the lowest setting. And buy a couple of days at a decent driving school before messing with the mannetino.
Given that the car’s name includes “Italia,” it’s no surprise the 458 is packed with serious style – inside and out. Your eyes can judge for themselves, but I think we have one of Pininfarina’s better efforts here, particularly when you consider the car’s overall reptilian stance and how its rear is punctuated by those cylinder taillights. The exaggerated headlights – with their mascara of little LEDs stringing way up the fenders – might not age as well. But I certainly appreciate the functionality of the cantilevered wings set into the air opening. As speed climbs above 125 mph, the rising aerodynamic down-force they produce bends them down slightly, partially covering the openings to the radiators, reducing overall drag. Clever.
And as fast as the Italia is in a straight line, the car’s handling is at least as sublime. Helped by “magnetorheological” shock absorbers – meaning the Ferrari’s suspension adapts almost instantly to road conditions – the Italia seems to corner the instant you think about it – before the wheel’s even turned. It’s the sort of visceral immediacy that V8-powered Ferraris have long provided. Only now, Maranello has supplied the frightening speed to match it.
Kim Reynolds is technical editor of Motor Trend magazine.
Who should drive this car: Preferably those who’ve had a recent EKG certifying that the heart is up for sustained periods of elevated beating. That and – well – a spare $225,000 or so.
How it drives: The 458 Italia traces your cornering predilections like a laser beam, accelerates like a jet fighter, and looks exactly how a Ferrari should look. What’s not to love?
MPG (city/highway): 12/18
Cost (base price): $225,000; requires a $2,000 destination charge
Comparable: Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8 5.2 FSI, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG