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What - Ferrari 458 Italia
Where - Maranello, Italy
Date - 17 November 2009
Price - £160,000 (est)
Available - June 2010
Key rivals -Aston Martin DBS, Mercedes-Benz SLS, Porsche 911 Turbo
Summary - The most focussed, exciting, dramatic supercar you can buy for under £250,000
We like - Stunning styling, breathtaking acceleration, very well resolved chassis
We don't like - Tad noisy at times, complicated controls, no manual transmission
It doesn't seem long since we were at Maranello driving the F430, but at Ferrari the life cycle of its cars is measured in just five years. So, now's the time for a new mid-engined Ferrari. The 458 Italia.
Yet again, the new model looks completely different to its predecessor. Gone are the traditional massive air intakes behind the doors and that simple move, leaving an expanse of contoured bodywork in its place, changes the whole character.
The visual changes continue throughout. There are small engine air intakes hidden behind the small triangular windows behind the doors and others around the headlights sucking air through the wheelarches to reduce drag.
Those small winglets in the very front actually deform at speed to redirect air beneath the car instead of to the radiators. The Italia is simply full of clever, well thought out details.
That there's a 4.5-litre V8 is no surprise, but this engine is the direct-petrol injection version launched just a year ago in the California. Here, though, there's a weighty 570hp.
The 458 also gets the California's (and Mercedes SLS's) Getrag double clutch transmission that promises all that the paddle shift offered in the F430 F1 but with 2010 levels of sophistication.
This Ferrari goes on sale in the UK next May. Prices have yet to be fixed, but reckon on at least 10% more than the regular F430, which means a minimum of £160,000.
Mind you, with performance that equals the outgoing £180,000 F430 Scuderia, it promises so much. McLaren, with the launch of its MP4-12C, will be keenly aware of the threat.
Ok, you already know this Ferrari is going to be stupendously quick, but this fast? Stuck behind a dawdling Fiat outside of Modena, the Fiat suddenly veers left and the road clears.
The Ferrari is doing 30kph, so I drop down to first and flatten the throttle. There's noise, lots of it, a howl from the V8 and a shriek from my co-driver: "Stop it! Stop it!"
Now we drive fast cars together all the time but, head momentarily down, map reading, the utter force of this Ferrari's instant thrust threatened to disconnect his stomach from his breakfast.
Let's backtrack, for in town traffic you can pick the auto mode for the transmission and it drives really well. This Ferrari is so much smoother with the double clutch gearbox than previous Ferraris were with the F1 robotised manual transmission.
It's just a bit jerky on light throttle settings, though you soon learn to drive around this. More probably, you'll move to the manual gearshift regime via the new oversized aluminium paddles behind the wheel.
These thump through the seven gearchanges at lightning speed. The sound is intoxicating inside the car, better still outside where the Wup-Wup-Wup from the exhaust sounds as close as you'll get to an F1 Ferrari on the road.
The full 570hp isn't reached until 9,000rpm and the reality is you'll probably use that extreme only rarely on the road. There's good reason. Short gearing and immense thrust means that changes at 6,000 - 7,000rpm usually provide all the performance you could ask for.
And, in a worryingly schoolboy sort of way, changing gears as much as possible is such a tempting proposition, for you get those repeated whacks from the exhaust and a change so instant that any driver feels like Massa.
Ride and handling
The 458 Italia is almost identical in size to the F430 that preceded it, but the lower body at the rear, cleaner side panels and longer wheelbase make it new proposition. It feels smaller, even though it isn't.
The steering is faster-geared and initially feels over-sensitive. But like the transmission, once you acclimatise the fact that most corners can be tackled without crossing hands this gets to be a real advantage.
And how you can punt the Italia along at vast speeds through the bends! It shoots from one corner to the next, tracks left or right as soon as you move the wheel and then simply grips, seemingly forever.
This is such a flattering car to drive really quickly, tempting you to push further and harder. Clearly this is not necessarily a good thing, yet the catchment built in by Ferrari should help all but the most stupid.
Two things. Manettino Racing is the switch on the steering wheel that sets the chassis to one of its five levels of adjustment. Then the suspension damping can be modified independently to soften or firm up the ride.
For road use Ferrari recommends the Low Grip or Sport setting, with three grades of Race for track work or for the more skilled driver on the road. Each has its own setting for the ABS, suspension, gearchange, traction control and stability system.
Sport provides high levels of entertainment in most circumstances on public roads, though for some tail-happy motoring with a safety net built in, Race is remarkable fun if you are well away from other traffic.
All this comes together in a package where the ride is composed and genuinely comfortable. This is supercar sumptuousness rarely experienced.
There are big changes here. Out is the fascia dominated by round air vents. In comes an even more driver-focussed environment, where the passenger is almost excluded from the privileged information delivered to the Pilota.
It's something of an overload too. The centrally mounted rev-counter incorporating the gear indicator is traditional Ferrari. To the left and right are thin film transistor screens that can be changed at whim.
All this and the air vents are now built into deeply drawn aluminium castings that aren't pretty but have the cold touch of real metal. The combination of warm leather and the solid fascia is another step forward.
Where it was once paddles shifts that were the F1 technology that Ferrari buyers gagged for, now it's the turn of the steering wheel. Now so much is built in the 458 Italia's leather rim that a day isn't nearly enough to work it all out.
Even ignoring the paddle shift mounted behind, the wheel incorporates the start button, Manettino switch, lights, indicators, wipers, washers, horn, hi-fi and possibly more. Functional, yes, but a tech overload compared with a traditional, simple Ferrari wheel.
But it is comfortable to hold, complementing the beautifully crafted seats. Push the Ferrari hard and you might want more lateral support from the backrest, something you'll undoubtedly be able to specify as an upgrade when you order.
Luggage space is decent, with room for two carefully judged cases under the bonnet and lots of room behind the seats. But my oh my, how vulnerable that 1mm thick bonnet feels to dents as you latch it back down.
Economy and safety
Ferrari claims 21.2mpg, which is unlikely if you drive the 458 Italia like a Ferrari should be driven. Slightly heavier than the outgoing F430, the 458 is slipperier and direct injection is cleaner. As a result CO2 is 307g/km.
In supercar terms that's good. The F355 F1 three generations ago produced 470g/km, and had a couple of hundred horsepower less. Things change, even for Ferrari. In the five years from 2007 - 2012, the company will cut its average C02 by 40%.
MSN Cars verdict
The Ferrari 458 Italia is simply the best supercar you can buy. Sorry Aston, Mercedes and Porsche, even Bugatti. Its competence is awe-inspiring, yet none of this is at the expense of complete driver involvement. And massive fun.
Compare Ferrari 458 with rivals using Car Guide
On Bing: more Ferrari 458 Italia images
Video: Ferrari 458 Italia at the Frankfurt Motor Show
Drive story: Ferrari 430 Scuderia
Video: Ferrari 430 Scuderia driven
More Ferrari road tests
|Need to know|
|Engine, petrol||4.5-litre V8|
|Torque (lb ft)||398|
|Top speed (mph)||202|
|Rating||Ferrari 458 Italia|
|Ride and handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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