2014 Ferrari 458 (HOT) Review - Not Your Average Italian Speciale

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Author With Ferrari 458 (HOT!)

By Nicholas Frankl
Senior Editor and F1 correspondent
The Auto Channel

MARANELLO, Italy - Ferrari, in true and tested form, recently introduced a “hot” version of the 458. The “speciale” is both lighter and more powerful than the “ordinary” 458, packed with even more technological wonders, to allow the less experienced or less capable Tifosi driver to extract as much playfulness from this gnarly monster as possible… without visiting the nearest hedge. Naturally, as you know, less weight always equals more expense! But how about 0-62mph in three seconds, dead?

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The 4.5-litre naturally-aspirated V8 produces an astounding 605bhp. It can corner at 1.33g (an Enzo can only manage 1.1g). Once up to fully illegal speed the active aero tricks kick in with an automatic, active, 3-channel rear diffuser that causes so much drag - 210kg of the wind’s downforce at 125mph (great for cornering but not high speeds) - that at over 140 mph 3 motorized flaps open to stall it.

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Think DRS zone in F1. I can't tell you how that felt, as my day was spent roaring around the gorgeous Tuscan countryside and running into the odd Polizia checkpoint, not hurling down the clogged autostrada. However, this car is certainly as close to a go-kart as any road car I've ever driven, and actually I'd say makes a strong case for the best standard road car you can drive on a race track too. I haven't driven the competition from Porsche but I did a day at Goodwood in a McLaren MP4-16 and, although I'm sure they are extremely similar in track times, the emotional connection falls in the prancing horse’s favor every time.

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Supportive seats are always important on racetracks and in the twisties, just ask anyone who has driven an older Corvette ZR1 or Z06. So Ferrari decided to install adjustable bucket seats with full harnesses. You could call them “boob straps” as your female companion will be sure to mention how uncomfortable they are once tightened up. To be honest, unless you really want to track the car with a passenger (which rather defeats the object of the 90kg weight saving) then at least do your passenger a favor and just add the harness to the driver’s side!

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If you give it the full 9’s, as in redline at 9000 revs, then your thrill seeking companion will also mention (loudly as it's an angry noisy V8 rather than a sonorous F355) that thanks to an even more alert gearbox, the car accelerates as fast as a 1200cc motorcycle and brakes way, way harder, throwing your head forward at such a rate that your local chiro will be paying the dealer commission for every one sold! The steering is even more agile, sensitive and direct than the 458, so attention is required as it can tram line a little, but that's nothing when you're lining up a series of 2nd and 3rd gear rolling corners, climbing all over the finest Italian golden countryside. Pouring power on out of 1st gear hairpins and applying the correct amount of opposite locks will rocket you into an automotive vortex that few fellow drivers will ever have the chance to experience. With the traction control off but the DSC still enabled and combined with the new side-slip angle control or SSC, that talks to the e-diff and locks or unlocks the rear wheel spin enough to allow you full reign, the car sends you rocketing along happily into the next ever-so- fast-approaching right-hander, with a sort of nanny control still in place, but one I didn’t notice intruding and telling me off!

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Over the course of a very enjoyable day, that included lunch at the famous factory lunch spot, Montana, and where we were greeted like old friends and fussed over (until a certain Mr. Alonso arrived for a quick bowl of his favorite secret pasta recipe) I was discussing with my father who exactly would buy this particular car. It's one hell of a weapon for Mulholland drive, the Grand Corniche, Route Napoleon, Inverness to Ullapool and HWY 1 from Santa Barbara to Carmel. But it would be a painful ride on the potholed LA streets, the infamous 405, the Gumball 3000 or Bullrun rallies, with 3,000 miles of highways and that angry engine burning a hole in your head.

However, armed with a Speciale on that special road, when no one else is awake, there are few more rewarding V8 sports car experiences.

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