Test Driven: Ferrari 458 Italia (10/10)

Ferrari 458 Italia at Exotics Racing
Ferrari 458 Italia at Exotics Racing

The pursuit of perfection is a perilous road, but it is a way of life at Ferrari. Some of the greatest cars of all time have come through that famous red gate at Maranello, each new model a further refinement from the last. There have, of course, been mistakes over the years, but all are lessons well learned. No matter what sort of cars you may prefer, there is no denying that it is Ferrari who sets the bar for the supercar standard. That is why every time a new car comes out of Maranello, everyone else is immediately gunning for it, adjusting their own lineups as needed.

The 458 Italia may in fact be the most challenged Ferrari model in recent memory. Porsche, Lamborghini, Mercedes, and, of course, McLaren all seemed to respond immediately to the Italia’s launch with new models, all aimed to take some of the wind out of its sails. While their efforts have certainly yielded some fantastic cars, the 458 still wound up being “the car to have” among the world’s elite — most of whom can afford multiple such cars anyway.

So what is it about the 458 that is so enticing? There are plenty of awesome cars out there to choose from, why is it that the prancing horse always seems to be galloping ahead?

Appearance

Ferrari 458 Italia

Appearances are a major factor in many Ferrari purchases, and the Italia might be the best looking Ferrari in years. While its predecessor, the F430, was certainly quite a looker, the 458‘s shape seems cleaner and more sculpturesque. I’ve always thought the best looking Italian cars are those based on a simple, beautiful shape. The Italia seems a return to that direction when compared with the more complex designs of the F430, Enzo, and 360.

I remember the first time I saw a 458 in person. My family and I were in New York and we visited the Ferrari showroom there. I went right for the 599 GTO they had, but my mom was immediately drawn to the stunning white 458 Italia sitting at the other end of the room. She was completely wowed by the look of the car, the white paint helping to show of the it’s sexy Italian shape.

I’ve since heard other women express the same sentiments on the car, so gentlemen, if it is women you wish to attract, this may be a good bet. Girls usually don’t know much about cars, so having one that looks good is often far more important to them than rarity or performance.

Ferrari 458 Italia Exhaust Pipes Ferrari 458 Italia

As for everyone else who sees you in your 458, expect the same hatred you get in any other Ferrari. You see, owning a Ferrari makes you a part of an exclusive club, a club that many people want to be a part of, but can’t. Ferrari was recently found to be the world’s strongest brand, yes even more than Apple, and its brand is based entirely on envy. That is how they are able to sell so many no-car-related products. Those who can buy the cars do so, and all of the wannabes go and buy their overpriced jeans, perfume, hats, shirts, and toilet bowl lids instead.

Ferrari is one of the few brands in the world that can act like their shit doesn’t stink, and actually have such behavior boost their brand image. When Abercrombe & Fitch goes and says “no fat people”, there is heavy media backlash. However, when Ferrari says “no poor people”, all anyone can really do is shrug their shoulders, and go buy a Ferrari shirt to try and make people think they drive a real Ferrari. It’s genius.

Inside

Ferrari 458 Italia Interior Ferrari 458 Italia Interior

The interior of the Italia was a major bonus for me. This is the sixth Ferrari I’ve had the privilege to pilot, and it’s certainly the nicest in terms of fit and finish. The Italia still has that hard, screwed together well, sort of feeling when you climb in, but the overall ergonomic design has been hugely improved over previous models. The seats seemed to contour perfectly to my body, hugging me “just so” in all the right places, and the whole cabin clearly was designed around the driver.

Ferrari 458 Italia Interior Ferrari 458 Italia

The Italia makes it clear that it is a very modern car. Most of the controls work via buttons on the steering wheel, and screens in the gauge cluster. It can seem a little bit cluttered at first, but it becomes very convenient when you get used to it. There is no more hunting for the right button on the dashboard while you’re driving on the highway because most of the systems work through the same three buttons, and two knobs, on the center console.

Ferrari 458 Italia Steering Wheel Ferrari 458 Italia Rev Counter

In terms of practicality, the Italia is actually quite good for a supercar. Like most of its rivals, it only seats two, but its trunk is quite deep, even rivaling that of a Porsche 911 I’d say. Considering many supercars are used for weekend getaways, it is always nice to have enough space for some duffle bags.

The Drive

Ferrari 458 Italia on the track at Exotics Racing
Ferrari 458 Italia on the track at Exotics Racing

When you’re a kid, you look at a supercar and imagine how perfect it must be to drive. At that age, the world is filled with wonder, and surely something that looks as incredible as a Ferrari must also be perfect in every other way. In reality, most supercars fall short of this idealized perfection, but not the 458 Italia. Ferrari really has gotten every single aspect of the 458 to work perfectly in synch with the car as a whole. It drives just as great as it looks, and if it isn’t perfection, it is damn close.

Obviously I now need to back up my claim, because “perfect” is a very vague and subjective term. The trait that has stood out in every Ferrari I have experienced has always been a telepathic connection between me and that car. It doesn’t feel like I’m driving, so much as thinking my way around the track. In the same way I can move my arm by thinking, I am able to move the car.

This telepathic connection is achieved by making every aspect of the car respond instantaneously to the driver’s inputs, but also in a manner which is very precise. Such precision takes a lot of fine tuning to get it right, and in a very real way, the 458 is a development of all Ferraris that came before it.

Ferrari 458 Italia Ferrari 458 Italia

Understandably, this theme of hyper-responsive precision runs through all of the controls of the car.

  • Steering is extremely quick, 2 turns lock to lock. Minute adjustments from your hands are all you need to get through most corners. You also feel very well connected to what is happening at the front tires, giving you the ability to react quickly at speed.
  • The suspension is nice and taught, with almost no body roll. The whole car seems to respond to steering inputs with no delay whatsoever from the suspension getting set.
  • The brakes and throttle both react noticeably the moment you touch their respective pedals. The precision comes in that when you push each pedal a little harder, you get  the increase in acceleration or braking force that you were expecting.
  • The dual clutch gearbox is nothing short of phenomenal. Shifts literally happen the instant you pull the paddle, and the whole system works seamlessly at both slow and fast paces. This is surely the biggest improvement over previous Ferrari models.

The crispness of the controls does wonders to set off the extreme dynamics of the car.   The brutal acceleration is all but uninterrupted, as you shift into the next gear, with just a small, satisfying jolt accompanying the sudden change of tone emanating from the engine. When you turn in to a corner, the car just immediately sets in, carrying an unbelievable pace. Then it’s back on the gas hard to fling yourself onto the next straight. You don’t feel like you’re driving so much as you’re reacting.

Ferrari 458 Italia 4.5L V8 Engine Ferrari 458 Italia 4.5L V8 Engine

The Italia is propelled by a 4.5L V8 making 562hp at an unbelievably orgasmic 9000rpm. It is un-aided by any sort of supercharging, and has one of the highest specific outputs available in any production car, at 125hp per liter. There is also decent mid-range pull thanks to a well tuned torque curve. The maximum 398ft/lbs doesn’t hit until 6000rpm, but you get a healthy percentage of that by around 3000rpm. The result is a very rev-happy supercar that is also pretty easy to drive in a relaxed fashion on the road — if driving a Ferrari slow is your kind of thing.

As you might expect, the 458 Italia’s performance figures are mighty impressive. The following is Road & Track’s data: 0-60 in 3 seconds flat, 0-100 in 6.7 seconds, the 1/4 mile in 11.0 sec @ 128mph, Braking 60-0 in 112ft, a slalom speed of 73.4mph, and 1.0 lateral Gs of grip on the skidpad. Ferrari says the Italia’s top speed is in excess of 202mph, and Youtube videos do well enough to confirm it.

What you don’t get from the numbers, though, is a sense for the complete experience of driving the car. The ferocious howl of that V8 as it charges toward 9000rpm, then the drop in tone after a shift, and then charge happens all over again. All the while you are being hurled forward at an ever more alarming rate, your surroundings turning into mix-colored blur.

While all that power makes for an exhilarating thrill ride, the speed only represents a fraction of what makes the Italia so great. Even if it had half the horsepower, with all of its handling abilities, crisp driving dynamics and that epic soundtrack, it would still be a phenomenal sportscar.

Is this a pinnacle?

Ferrari 458 Italia

This brings me to a point. Ferrari has really nailed it with every aspect of this car. In the F430, and especially the 360, the gearbox was in need of refinement, but I think this new dual clutch has done the trick. In fact, I would say that the 458 Italia is probably the first Ferrari in which a traditional manual transmission would be completely out of place. Many purists argue against the death of the manual, and I am among them for certain types of cars. But for a supercar like this, where all-out pace is the final word, a manual transmission would be a sort of Achilles Heel to the performance. This car has been designed around its powertrain, and to lose those crisp shifts would compromise the the entire experience.

Raw speed and horsepower come cheap. It is the experience that you pay the huge money for in a supercar. As I said, this car would still be incredible if it had half of its 562hp, but similarly, I don’t think it could be made too much better by adding horsepower.

As a driving experience, as a Ferrari, I have to wonder if the 458 Italia has reached a sort of maximum level. Sure, future models will be faster, both in speed and cornering pace. More power is easy to come by, and technology will improve handling and braking to levels now thought impossible. But as far as the driving experience goes, which makes a Ferrari a Ferrari, I’m not sure the Italia will be bettered.

The simple truth is you cannot improve the responsiveness of a car that already does things instantaneously. Ferrari could find a way to cut the gearshift times in half, but you would never be able to notice the difference from the driver seat. The steering could be made a little tighter, but it would make the car excessively nervous on the road and would compromise the turning radius. That would really just make the car worse because the Italia already has about the tightest steering desirable in a road car. As far as the telepathic experience of a Ferrari is concerned, I’m not sure there is much room for improvement.

Dollars and sense

Ferrari 458 Italia

The list price for a Ferrari 458 Italia is around $225,000, but I don’t think anyone has ever actually paid that much. Most 458s will wind up around $280,000, with all of the options you want. That said I have heard there is still quite a waiting list, so showroom 458s will often go for well over $300,000. Either way, that is a hell of a lot of money. If you’ve got it to spend, you know it, and if you don’t have it to spend, you probably know it even more.

As I said, the 458 Italia is a supercar that will meet all of your childhood expectations. There are tons of options if you’re able to seriously look in this price range, including having an entire collection of awesome cars instead of just this one Ferrari. Having said that, the 458 is probably one of the few new cars that is worth its price of admission, and that is an uncommon trait for a Ferrari.

In the real world, and on many of the world’s race tracks, the 458 will equal the performance of the mighty Enzo, which still will run you seven-figures. The Italia is also a lot nicer than an Enzo in terms of features and its fit and finish. While the guy in the Enzo has no radio and must crank his own windows up and down, the guy in the Italia can enjoy all of the latest infotainment technology. I don’t mean to poo-poo the Enzo, but car for car, the Italia is a far better package for use in the real world, and it can be had for 1/4 the price — not that I honestly believe anyone will be cross shopping the two.

Ferrari 458 Italia Ferrari 458 Italia

At its own price-point, the Italia’s biggest rival has to be the McLaren MP4-12C. I have not driven the McLaren yet, so I cannot tell you how they compare dynamically. That said, after trying the 458, I can tell you that the notion that the McLaren could “beat” the Italia is entirely preposterous. As I said before, supercars are all about the experience they offer, and there isn’t much room to improve on what the 458 does. Even if the McLaren is a bit faster than the Ferrari, the highest amount praise I’d be able to give it is being an equal to the 458.

Other than the McLaren, if I were shopping for a supercar in this range, the only other option that would really vie for my consideration would a pre-owned Porsche Carrera GT. The decision would really come down to a matter of taste because the Ferrari represents the most modern technology, whereas the Porsche represents the pinnacle of driving purity in a supercar package. The Carrera GT stands with the Pagani Zonda as one of the final top-tier supercars to have a manual transmission. Because of that, the experiences offered by each car are totally different, so we aren’t really comparing apples to apples here.

Verdict

Ferrari 458 Italia at Exotics Racing
Ferrari 458 Italia at Exotics Racing

The 458 Italia is not “the perfect car” by any means, but it may be the perfect “supercar.” It is an incredibly well focused machine, designed to do the jobs of speed and excitement by a company that has never taken any prisoners in their quest for perfection and victory. The truth is that Ferrari is a special breed, even amongst the finest thoroughbreds the rest of the world has to offer.

The 458 Italia is their latest and greatest V8 supercar. It offers every dynamic aspect that blew me away in the first Ferrari I ever drove, an F430 Scuderia, except the Italia also has the polish expected of such an expensive car. Having tried them both, I can really see where Ferrari has sharpened the knife over the years, and wound up with such a masterpiece as the 458.

Only time will tell if Ferrari really has reached a pinnacle in terms of driving dynamics, but right now I can’t see any part of the 458’s experience that needs improvement. It is a supercar that lives up to your wildest hopes, and that is a pretty rare thing. In short, the 458 Italia is just damn good fun.

Video of the drive

WoM Score: Ferrari 458 Italia

Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) Soul(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 10/10

PS: You too can get behind the wheel of this Ferrari 458 Italia at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas Nevada.

This was my third experience with them, and they have really got their business down to a science at this point. Their track is wonderful, and has been refined a bit since my last visit. The new layout is a lot more approachable, and fun for a wider range of drivers. The instructors are awesome, and you can get quite a good pace going if you do what they say. Overall it’s a great experience, and a great way to fulfill your automotive fantasies.

I have driven a bunch of supercars at this point, but Exotics Racing is surely one of the best ways to do it because you don’t have to worry about avoiding the police. You can go 120mph on their track, and it’s entirely legal. So if you want to try your hand at driving a supercar, check out their website in the links above.

-Nick Walker

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