Ferrari 458 Italia

Recent upstart rivals stole Ferrari’s supercar crown but now the stallion returns with its fastest road-going car yet

[Martin] The first really nice looking Ferrari since the 355 IMHO

Ferrari 458 Front

Ferrari 458 Front

Ferrari 458 Side

Ferrari 458 Side

Ferrari 458 Rear

Ferrari 458 Rear

It’s leaner, cleaner and greener, but don’t be fooled — Ferrari’s new 458 Italia is still a Top Trumps car. Its vital statistics would definitely bring a smile to old Enzo Ferrari’s face. With a top speed of 203mph, and a 0-60mph time of just 3.4sec, this is the fastest road-going Ferrari to date. The claim is all the more impressive considering the new £160,000 model represents entry-level membership of the Ferrari owners’ club.

Its new, direct-injection V8 engine might sip less fuel than the F430 it replaces, but it also musters 562bhp. And in the global supercar playground, where upstarts such as Audi and Lamborghini had overtaken Ferrari’s previous best efforts, that figure puts it firmly back in the lead.

Taking technology developed from racing in Formula One, the 458 is a far cry from Ferrari’s first mid-engined, V8-powered sports car. The 308 GT4, of 1973, featured a 3-litre engine developing 255bhp at 7700rpm. By contrast, the 458 Italia’s naturally aspirated 4.5-litre V8 boasts 562bhp at 9000rpm.

That’s the headline figure Ferrari hopes will divert buyers’ attention away from other rich boys’ toys, such as the Audi R8 V10 and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. To complement its enhanced performance are some innovations to satisfy even the most gadget-obsessed.

Tech heads take note: active aerodynamics, direct fuel injection, a bonded aluminium structure, and an advanced steering wheel with controls for the E-Diff (limited-slip differential), F1-Trac (traction control) and stability systems, all edge the 458 Italia closer towards a true race-car experience. And, curiously, three exhaust pipes arranged centrally are claimed to deliver a soundtrack that is reminiscent of the company’s F1 racing machine.

The other reason Ferrari’s road cars are making ever more faithful impressions of its F1 machinery is that a certain Michael Schumacher — seven-time Formula One champion — now spends his days helping develop the company’s road cars.

He must have had something to say about making it lighter. Because compared with the F430, the 458 Italia drops from 1,450kg to 1,380kg. An anticipated “Scuderia” go-faster version should drop that figure further still. But there is no news on Ferrari adopting in its road cars the controversial Kers (kinetic energy recovery system), which met with limited success in its F1 cars. Despite patent submissions from Ferrari for a V8-electric hybrid system, a company spokesman says: “We are still investigating all sorts of different alternative fuels to find the right approach for Ferrari — we will only ever put things on a Ferrari that are relevant for the brand.”

Again taken from the racetrack is a new dashboard display called Virtual Race Engineer. The graphic lets the driver know when the engine, brakes and tyres are at optimum temperature. Out of the window goes the No 1 get-out clause from the racing driver’s book of excuses: “cold tyres”.

Maintaining the quest for lap-time perfection, Ferrari’s engineers have introduced a new braking system. While other sports-car manufacturers have developed carbon-ceramic discs, and brakes that imperceptibly apply themselves in wet weather to keep the discs dry, the 458 Italia goes one better. The moment the driver lifts their foot from the throttle, a function known as “prefill” has the pistons in the callipers move the brake pads into the slightest contact with the discs, doing away with the typical delay in brake application.

Further performance improvements come from the reprogrammed traction control and electronic differential. Ferrari claims that changes to these, combined with improved suspension, bring about a 32% increase in lateral acceleration when leaving corners.

Since the demise of the F355 (1994 to 1999), a car that Jeremy Clarkson not only hailed as “the greatest car in the world, ever” but also owned, the mid-engined V8s have been criticised for being — how best to put this? — challenged in the beauty department.

The 458 Italia’s styling is quite a departure from the F430. But the company behind it, Pininfarina, claims it is as functional as it is aesthetic, with a body that slices through the air more efficiently.

The move to reposition the 458 Italia as a no-holds-barred road racer follows the introduction of the softer, more driver-friendly California grand tourer last October. Despite being mid-engined, there are no air intake ducts on the 458’s flanks, while “aeroelastic” winglets at the outer edges of the nose generate downforce at low speed, then, as speed rises, change shape to cut drag. In all, 140kg of downforce is generated at 124mph.

In light of this pursuit of the thoroughbred driving experience, it’s impressive to find emissions have been reduced. Okay, 320g/km of CO2 and 20.6mpg will not save any rainforests, but Ferrari claims the 458 Italia is the most efficient car in its class.

The car makes its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September, and UK sales start next spring. The prodigious progress it displays comes at a price. Ferrari says customers can expect it to be priced between the F430 and 430 Scuderia, hence our estimate of £160,000.

To Ferraristi — those who crave the latest technology and high-speed bragging rights — it’s a small price to pay for pole position in the seemingly never-ending supercar power struggle.

Hot wheels specs

Engine 4499cc, eight cylinders

Power 562bhp @ 9000rpm

Torque 398 lb ft @ 6000rpm

Fuel 20.6mpg (combined cycle)

Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch

Acceleration 0-60mph: 3.4sec

Top Speed 203mph

CO2 320g/km

Price £160,000 (estimated)

Road Tax Band M (£405 for a year)

On sale Spring 2010

Verdict Ferrari is back at the front of the grid

(The Sunday Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/in_the_showroom/article6734248.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1)

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