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Ferrari 458 Italia

You don't drive it. You grab its terminals and let the juice stand your hair on end.

La Pista di Fiorano, Ferrari’s private test track, is two giant hooked paper clips wedged between a porcelain tile factory that belches white smoke and a scruffy apartment block whose tenants, we learn from an exasperated Ferrari spokesman, are always bitching about the noise.

Noise? Describing a Ferrari in full scream as “noise” is probably against the law in Italy. The riffraff wouldn’t dare if the old man were still around. It’s like calling the Bayeux Tapestry a beach blanket.
Nonetheless, Ferrari’s jaded neighbors have forced the mighty House of Enzo, whose much photographed red-brick factory gate is just across the street, to abide by strict sound-level limits and obtain special permits to run racing cars with open exhausts (Ferrari also owns the Mugello circuit near Florence to the southwest, where it has moved much of its testing). The fact that the Fiorano facility, built in 1972, predates most of the buildings around it doesn’t inhibit the neighbors’ chutzpah.

Your favorite car magazine has returned to strap on the company’s newest mid-­engined doorstop, the 458 Italia, with 562 horsepower straining to run down insolent peasants. At the moment, someone else is piloting, and perhaps it’s just a feeling, but Ferrari test driver Raffaele De Simone seems to relish downshifting to second for that tight left-hander in the track’s southwest corner, near the apartment blocks. We emerge sideways in a ballet of bawling ­rubber, the tach screwed up to its window-rattling, 9000-rpm redline.

Noise? We got your noise right here! After a few laps, about a third of which involve us looking down the track through the side glass, De Simone climbs out and beckons me to the driver’s carbon-fiber bucket. He then strides away. I’m on my own, even though, about five years ago, I introduced a new Ferrari to a wall on a similar day not far from this very spot. Don’t these people learn?

When it arrives in June, Ferrari’s volume car—it’ll be a failure if it delivers less than half of Ferrari’s worldwide sales, which are about 6000 cars—will boot the retiring F430 F1 (price: $205,404) off its perch with a projected 10-percent price increase, another 79 horses, slightly more cabin space, and a spec sheet wet with technology, including a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (alas, no manual—you knew this was coming).

The ragtop Spider should arrive within a year or so, with the requisite parade to follow of limited-edition specials, including Challenge Stradale and Scuderia.

Life is unfair; we all know it. It is an article of faith among the bourgeoisie that anyone stinking-rich enough to afford a new Ferrari can’t drive worth a damn. They imprison their machines in air-conditioned lockups, parked on polished marble covered with wax paper to keep the tire treads from losing the original factory gloss. Thankfully, the negative stereotypes—hardly helped by that YouTube video of a Bugatti Veyron being towed out of a deep marsh—don’t stop Ferrari from forging ahead, developing ever grander rewards for affluence.

Indeed, you don’t drive the new Ferrari 458 Italia at all. You grab its positive and negative terminals and let the juice stand your hair on end. It goes whaaaoooop! when you stroke the throttle, and it explodes forward, an aluminum red sabot with seatbelts.The dual-clutch box changes gears with less shock and delay than a TV changing channels. Upshifts take 0.4 second, we’re told, though nobody thought to clock them. Hold the left paddle approaching a corner and the crackling downshifts come automatically and rapid-fire. The carbon-ceramic brakes—standard on all 458s—can park the car in startlingly short distances and also answer to minute changes in foot pressure. The steering is somewhat reminiscent of a Honda’s: slightly light, as though the front tires barely touch the ground. But with an 11.5:1 ratio, it’s breathlessly swift. The directional control into a corner is so clear and explicit that you’ll swear there’s a rudder tilling the asphalt. Going quick is easy, like wearing parabolic skis or doing square roots on a calculator.

 

Specifications >

VEHICLE TYPE: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe

ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: $226,000

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 274 cu in, 4497cc
Power: 562 bhp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Length: 178.2 in
Width: 76.3 in Height: 47.8 in
Curb weight: 3450 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 3.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 7.4 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 11.5 sec @ 128 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 202 mph

PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 12/17 mpg


Electronic magnetorheological shock absorbers keep the car’s body flat and calm, even over the heart-fluttering yump! on Fiorano’s bridge. Traction and stability control, the electronic differential, and a sport ABS mode—all adjustable via the steering wheel’s “manettino” (it means “little handle”)—do for grip on braking and corner exits what they would do in Formula 1 were they not banned. Unless the traction and anti-spin devices are switched off or set to the low-intervention mode, the Italia churns out of corners as if Jupiter himself is sitting on the back bumper.

The Ferrari touchstones are all there: the fishbowl engine hatch, the shapely pair of thighs in red spandex underneath, and an interior swaddled in perfumed leather. The saucy yellow tach carries over, as do the transmission and launch-control buttons, which look like three shotgun shells embedded in the center console. But Ferrari’s mid-engined car has been reshaped, the cockpit bubble pushed forward to mimic an F-16’s canopy silhouette. The wheelbase grows by almost two inches, and the overhangs shrink. The F430’s flaring nostrils are gone, replaced by a single carp’s mouth split by deformable airfoils [see “Flow Motion” sidebar].

 

Other changes: The 4.5-liter engine speaks with a deeper voice than the old 4.3. It’s less of a shriek than a manly bellow. Compared with the hand-fabricated simplicity of prior Ferrari dashboards, the 458’s is a garden of abstract sculpture. Fingers need time to acclimate to the crowded steering wheel with its buttons for turn indicators, high-beams, and wiper controls. Knobs page through a pair of digital display screens in the cluster. To the right of the tach: navigation, radio, or a digital facsimile of an analog speedometer. To the left is car status, including a hokey “Vehicle Dynamic Assistance” screen. The engine/gearbox, brake, and tire temperatures are predicted—it’s all done mathematically rather than with sensors—in three colors. Blue is for “warm-up,” green is “go,” and red means it’s “over,” as in “game over.”

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The 4.5-liter engine speaks with a deeper voice than the old 4.3. It's less of a shriek than a manly bellow.

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It was Ferrari chairman Luca di Monte­zemolo’s idea to name the new car after Ferrari’s homeland, and the 458 recalls bygone days when Ferraris were numbered by engine displacement in liters plus cylinder count (e.g.: the 1976–’84 512 Berlinetta Boxer). Overtones of Donkey Kong notwithstanding, the 458 should keep Ferrari on top as the producer of the world’s most stimulating noisemakers.

Eight Under Glass

 

Ferrari calls the 458’s 4.5-liter, dry-sump, flat-plane-crank V-8 the F136FB, part of the family that includes the F136I in the California model and the F136E in the outgoing F430. All share bore centers and block basics, though only with the FB does Ferrari claim a world record for specific output in a nonturbo production engine: 125 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque per liter. Three developments were vital: direct fuel injection, friction reduction, and better breathing. The 2900-psi injection system and shell-shaped piston crowns tailor the injection charge to be rich at the plug and lean elsewhere, cooling down combustion temperatures and allowing the lofty, 12.5:1 compression ratio that better harnesses the fuel’s energy. Piston skirts receive a graphite coating to reduce friction, and tappets get a slippery DLC, or “diamond-like carbon,” coating developed for F1 engines. Deep in the block, pumping losses are stemmed by employing three electric scavenge pumps, one for the inner-four piston bays and one each for the outer four. These pumps both return the oil to the reservoir and also better equalize the air pressure between the bays to reduce pumping losses due to “windage,” or air movement inside the block caused by piston motion. Ferrari says windage losses in the old F136E knocked almost seven pound-feet off its torque output.

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