STOP ME if you’ve heard this cliché before, but competition really does improve the breed. That normally applies to horses of course so it would seem entirely appropriate then that this maxim can be applied to the latest baby Ferrari. This particular prancing horse has been available in the UK for a little while now, but it is particularly relevant since this introduction of its key rival, built by a fellow Formula 1 team in the less glamorous surroundings of Woking: rivals on the track and rivals on the road.
The 458 has to follow in the wheel tracks of the F430, which was an undoubted success for Ferrari, particularly in full-on Scuderia form. In many ways this is its biggest challenge: the F430 Scuderia was such an experience and so spectacular to drive that the 458 could easily seem too civilised in comparison.
It is, however, already a big step forwards in terms of appearance. At this end of the motoring scale there is a huge challenge in trying to balance the need for an eye-catching design that can create instant desire alongside the need to achieve good aerodynamics and even the must-have factor of downforce. It’s certainly not the case that these two things are remotely compatible, yet the 458 somehow is dramatic and purposeful all at once. Pictures cannot fully convey the complex curves, slashes and sheer bravado of the shape, but it is truly stunning in the way that a Ferrari should be. Remarkably it does this whilst still achieving something else that supercars shouldn’t manage, namely offering proper vision for the driver both front and back.
Climb inside through the surprisingly sensible door aperture and the cabin manages to be also comfortable and relatively straightforward. Rather than having a conventional dashboard, all the major controls are grouped around two pods either side of the steering wheel. It may seem slightly odd at first, but a few miles it all it takes to become accustomed – and to appreciate it. Much has also been made of the indicators, which are two buttons mounted close to your thumbs on the steering wheel. While they take a bit longer to become second nature, they will do so, and what that gives you in terms of freedom to operate the gearshift paddles behind the wheel is worth any occasional hiccup.
This pretty well sums up the whole feeling of the 458 Italia as you begin to put some miles beneath its wheels. It is certainly the easiest Ferrari to live with bar none – use the clever manettino switch to turn it full automatic, the softest suspension and the quietest exhaust mode and you can trundle around town or cruise on the motorway and actually forget why people are slowing down to gawp at you and take pictures at traffic lights. It gets on with the business of driving as much like an ordinary car, and the reality is that for many owners this will represent a good chunk of time behind the wheel. People want to use their Ferraris every day, and this one can perform that role with ease.
This is only half the challenge of course. It is inconceivable that Ferrari would create a car that was easy to live with an end up sacrificing driving pleasure as a result. Yet when driven normally it’s hard to imagine that it that can still deliver the thrills that are synonymous with the famous badge.
All it takes is a quick flick of the manettino switch to sharpen the throttle response, the gearbox and the exhaust to put the 458 Italia into full performance mode. Squeeze the accelerator and well before it reaches the floor there is a massive swell of acceleration and an urgent blare from the engine. Keep pushing and both the noise and the pace continue to build rapidly until there is a shocking crescendo of sound and noise, punctuated by a flick of the paddle to change gear before it starts all over again. Your senses are bombarded as it gives its all, and it is such an addictive combination you’ll want to experience it over and over again.
Approach a bend at speed and the tremendous stopping power of the standard carbon ceramic brakes is hugely reassuring, with down shifts executed via the left paddle and accompanied by delicious throttle blips to keep the engine on song. Point the 458 into the bend and it feels so responsive and yet friendly at the same time. How much the car helps you through is up to you: switch off all the safety systems and the car will dance to your tune, but even with a moderate setting you can hustle a long with eye-widening speed and total security.
With such broad targets and notoriously demanding clientele to satisfy, the 458 Italia could have easily been a car compromised by trying to please too many people. That it is at the same time an easy car to live with and yet one of the most satisfying and thrilling Ferraris ever made has ensured it will go down as one of the all-time greatest cars to wear the famous Prancing Horse.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Ferrari 458 Italia, £173,181
Engine: 4.5-litre petrol unit producing 570bhp and 398lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 202mph, 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds
Economy: 20.6mpg combined
Emissions: 275g/km of CO2
- Power5 (high performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy1 (poor fuel economy)
- Insurance groups1 (very high costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: