At the end of the morning after the Fourth of July, the mercury was slamming 112 degrees outside of Las Vegas, and it was nice and somewhat cool inside the tent with all the exotic cars I’d been driving. After prepping myself with a drive in a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, I had one car left. Thanks to the heat, the F430 Scuderia I’d wanted had gotten sunburned and whimpered back to its lair, but the newer 458 Italia in the tent was just tanning in the searing sun, ready for me to drive it. Of course I obliged, and found out what’s possible with a 562bhp V8 stuffed a few inches behind the back of my ears, other than making me nearly go deaf.
The 458 Italia kicks the dirt out of your retinas. It makes wine from water just looking at it. I’m not joking–I can’t find a bad angle on the Italia, no matter how hard I find myself trying to. The fantastic lines aren’t just for show, either–they’re functional, too, as this car’s aerodynamics when new were state-of-the-art. I had second thoughts at launch until I saw one myself a few years ago, and the front end immediately grew on me. The LED clusters on the side of the headlamps do look very professional, but when paired with the HID buckets on the inside, provide for a sinister look up front. The curved roofline is perfectly elegant, and closes out to a great sloped shape out back. The triple exhaust outlets out back provide for a unique profile with the twin taillights, a departure from the F430.
The interior is a replication of the lines of the exterior. My car was fitted with the extra cost Daytona style seats with the pleated finish and a classy red piping on the outer lines. The color, a rich medium tan with a black dashboard and red accents, added a nice touch of matching class to the red exterior. The angular finish of the dashboard adds some contrast to the outer curves, and the businesslike flat-bottom steering wheel doesn’t hurt the look either. That the interior smells richly of an Italian shoe factory isn’t a bad thing–I enjoyed that even before turning the key.
By the Numbers:
Quality on the 458 is a big step up from the 430 I drove back in 2012. The exterior paint finish is even and the Rosso Corsa color is as strong as ever, even if it’s typical for a Ferrari. The functional effects of the exterior add to the quality of the design, along with the functional intakes all over the front end. The shut lines are all there, and the doors and rear hatch close with a satisfying “thunk”, not a tinny clang like the 430 tended to do. The exposed engine under the rear lid is a great party piece and the red crackle finish on the engine’s valve covers look, as always, the business.
The interior quality is a big step up. Italian leather covers most touch surfaces, and the red piping is a great touch that adds an even more exclusive feel. Some might be put off by the steering wheel being covered in all the controls that are usually behind it, but more on that later. The other controls on the console and dashboard are easy to figure out and are placed very well, while the seating position is well-set. The drilled pedals are always welcome, even if the carpets were a bit dirty–but that was more my fault.
At the Helm:
This is where the 458 is going to make even the most boring, car-hating human being into a true believer. The 4.5L V8 sitting amidships punches out 562 horsepower, all of which are Italian bred and probably on HGH. Stepping on the throttle is instant gratification combined with gasoline and sparks. Acceleration is incredible and the transmission operates intuitively well. Hit a paddle, don’t blink–gear changes occur faster than that. The engine note is nothing short of spectacular, with a sound that will probably set off the San Andreas fault at close range. The brakes on my car were carbon-ceramic and definitely had little issue bringing me back to earth, especially after allowing the car’s rear end snap out of control at one point on my timed laps.
The 458 has excellent handling. The best part of the experience, by a long shot, was the steering, better even than the acceleration and throttle response. The steering input is razor-sharp and the wheel action is quick, while the tires grip like glue. Apexes were kissed like I’d never kissed them before in the Ferrari. Unlike the Lamborghini, where I was diving for the apexes and aiming for them, in the Ferrari I felt very confident, as if I had no issue hitting an apex, until I made too sudden a steering input and the co-driver in the passenger’s seat had to grab the wheel and correct the wayward motion. All that said, I always felt directly in control and never felt like the Ferrari would be a disaster. If that happened in the Mercedes SLS I’d driven earlier that morning, I would have put a rabbi on speed-dial to administer last rites. The only downside was the rear visibility, which is spotty at best–but in a car like this, I’m not going to care.
The Bottom Line:
The 458 Italia is a lot of supercar for a lot of money. The base price right now for one is a bit over $230K, while the options list will quickly push the entry price through the stratosphere. My car, with its extra-cost wheels, Daytona-style seats, carbon ceramic brakes, and carbon fiber accents everywhere, likely had a sticker price close to what my parents paid for the house I grew up in ($330,000). Yet, for that sort of money, the 458 offers a fantastic driving experience in a quality product. The technology that Ferrari put into their mid-engined supercar, which isn’t even the flagship model, is astoundingly good. The vehicle control system in this car, controlled by the quintessential manettino switch on the steering wheel, is a trademark that other brands aspire to, but few can match as consistently.
I knew how much hype surrounded the 458 when it launched while I was attending college and I was eager to get behind the wheel. The car lives up to the hype and then some, and I’m happy for that. It’s a costly piece of machinery but if you’re an enthusiast and love Ferraris, I will not steer anyone away from the Italia. It’s not cliche. It’s classy. It’s not tacky–it’s got the right amount of hot and cold. Do you get what you pay for? In my opinion, even if the car you order ends up being a bespoke model with a $350K price tag, yes.
In conclusion, this car generates the hype but lives up to it. I saved it for last on the day I went to go take these cars out on the track in Las Vegas because I wanted to work up my anticipation and my ability on the track to be able to handle it. This isn’t a car for beginners, but after some learning, this is a genuinely rewarding car to drive and for experts, this car will put out on the track what you put into it. Drive it well, and it flatters. If you’re nervous, leave the traction control on a milder setting and the car will figure out a way to bail you out if necessary. 562 horsepower never looked so nice, either. In the video below, look closely. The first three cars I drove that day (the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, SLS AMG, and Gallardo LP570-4), I had a serious expression on my face, which would occasionally crack a smile. In this particular car, though, I was grinning the entire time. That says a lot.
Final Score: 4+4+4+4= 16.0/16.0
-Albert S. Davis