Ferrari 458 Italia

It’s the sexiest supercar on the road, but can it back up the poster boys looks with a storming drive? We reveal all.

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There's nothing like a bit of healthy competition to bring out the best in someone… and judging by the Ferrari 458 Italia, you can apply the same logic to car makers. With the Mercedes SLS winning rave reviews and McLaren set to launch its new supercar challenger next year, the famous Italian manufacturer has upped its game. The technology-laden new 458 Italia is an engineering triumph, with an excellent V8 engine, brilliant handling and quintessential Ferrari looks.

Say ciao bella to the latest supercar pin-up from Ferrari. The 458 Italia aims to reassert the brand’s dominance in a sector where it used to reign supreme. Mercedes has gatecrashed the party with the gullwing SLS and McLaren will arrive fashionably late next year with its MP4-12C
– so the 458 has a job to do. And the good news for Ferrari fans is that the model does it brilliantly…

The raw figures promise dizzying performance, and with 4.5 litres, seven gears, eight cylinders and 562bhp, the Italia would be the ace in the pack in a game of Top Trumps. Performance is scintillating and 0-62mph takes only 3.4 seconds. The 458 will go on to hit a top speed of 202mph – faster than the legendary F40.

Unlike its famous ancestor, the 458 doesn’t look like a racing car for the road. Its sleek outline was honed in the wind tunnel and features horizontal slats in the front air intakes which move downwards at speed to improve its aerodynamics. A flat undertray and diffuser also help to generate 360kg of downforce at 202mph.

While its styling owes more to the computer than to the human eye, it still turns heads. Its low-slung shape, taut surfaces and pert rear – complete with triple tailpipes – tick all the supercar boxes. And the incredible engine is visible through the rear windscreen.

Slide down into the driver’s seat and it’s hard not to feel sorry for your passenger, as the beautifully crafted cabin is designed with everything angled towards the pilot. Even changing the volume on the stereo will require them to reach across the cabin.

The driving position is perfect, and switches on either side of the wheel operate the functions displayed on corresponding screens flanking the central rev counter. The left-hand read-out shows the trip computer info and status of the chassis set-up.

On the right is the screen for an entertainment system and optional sat-nav, which operates much like BMW’s iDrive.

The headline act is the sculpted multi-function steering wheel, which really is something to behold. It incorporates buttons to operate the main beam and wipers, as well as the indicators (there are no conventional stalks). The latter work well and pose a problem only on really tight roundabouts. Behind the wheel a pair of column-mounted paddles operate the seven-speed dual-clutch F1 gearbox, which is Ferrari’s fastest-ever automated manual system.

The spring-loaded levers are great to use and the downchanges range from crisp to neck-snapping depending on which ’box setting is selected. A red starter button fires the normally aspirated V8 engine. It barks into life, giving a taste of what is to come when you finally get around to deploying all that 562bhp for the first time. And when you do, the Italia is brutally fast as the gearbox hungrily devours one ratio after another.

What sets the 458 apart from other hard-charging supercars is the noise that accompanies this unrelenting performance. Peak power arrives at 9,000rpm and as the revs increase the exhaust note sounds absolutely fantastic.

In the shadow of this amazing engine it would be easy for the rest of the dynamic package to disappoint. However, the 458 delivers razor-sharp responses, superb body control, powerful carbon ceramic brakes and direct steering that’s full of feel. It also generates staggering levels of grip.

Key to its appeal is the red Manettino switch on the wheel, which allows you to fine-tune the character of the car depending on your mood and the surroundings (see panel, left). Most amazing of all, though, is the way the 458 delivers this thrilling ride without sacrificing comfort. Ferrari has other models more suited to long-distance cruising, but the Italia’s adaptive dampers give a remarkably comfortable experience for such a focused machine.

On this evidence, the poster boy of Ferrari is one of the best cars to emerge from Maranello in years. Over to you McLaren...

Rival: McLaren MP4-12C
The hotly anticipated McLaren arrives next year and promises to take the fight to Ferrari. The firm responsible for the legendary F1 is designing everything itself this time around, including the mid-engined model’s 3.8-litre V8 powerplant. But will it have the soul of an exotic Italian supercar?

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