Smooth Operator : Ferrari F458 Italia [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
4499cc Direct Injection, Normal Aspiration
Cylinder Layout: 
V8, 32-valves
Top Speed: 
325 km/h
Transmission: 
7-Speed DCT
0-100km/h: 
3.4 seconds
Power: 
570 bhp at 9000 rpm
Torque: 
540 Nm at 6000 rpm

Motor Prime drives the Ferrari F458 Italia in Maranello

Is Ferrari really looking over its shoulder or merely marching to the beat of its own drummer? Well, sometimes it's hard to tell, especially when they come up with left-field cars like the California and other times with sock-em-in-the-nuts products like the F430 Scuderia.

The apparent dichotomy is explained by the brand's yearning to sell more cars. If all they had to offer were Scuderias, they would never have attained the 6,000+ sales they now have, as it is too hardcore for most owners.

After the demise of the large V12 mid-engine 512/Testarossa type cars, the only “purist” Ferrari left was the V8 360 Modena. Hardcore tifosi may have found the regular car a tad soft, but Ferrari appeased the faithful with the brilliant 360 Challenge Stradale.

The 360 'CS' set new benchmarks in performance that was a quantum leap compared to the 'plain-Vanilla' 360 Modena. With 400bhp on tap, the 360 Modena would reach 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and max out at 295 km/h. The Challenge Stradale with 425 bhp and 110 kg less weigh would sprint to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and max out at 300 km/h.

Then came along the normal F430 with 490 bhp and 170 kg of dead weight added, but even with normal street tyres (RE 050A) against the P-Zero Corsa of the 360 CS, the F430 led the way around Fiorano track and it did 0-100 km/h in 4.0 seconds, reaching a maximum of 315 km/h.

During the next couple of years the Ferrari engineers were busily ripping out unnecessary weight and remodeling with carbon fibre substitutes to deliver the “Challenge Stradale” version of this model that would be called the F430 Scuderia.

At 1250 kg, it's 100 kg lighter than the normal 1350 kg (dry weight) F430 and with an unbelievable 510 bhp, it would rip to 100 km/h in a scant 3.6 seconds and not stop till it hit 320km/h.

Along the way, it put in amazing lap times at Fiorano that was second only to the late great Enzo. Each special, “lightweight” version climbs one notch up on the normal version only to be superseded by the next “normal” one.

Having put things in perspective, the 458 Italia has a formidable bar to jump over, that set by the amazing F430 Scuderia. With dry weight climbing back up to 1380 kg but countered by an incredible 570 bhp from the 4.5L V8, the 458 Italia scorches to 100 km/h in a mere 3.4 seconds and reaches a V-max of 325 km/h, coming within a tenth of a second of the Enzo's lap times (1 min 25 sec) around Fiorano.

Now that we know that performance-wise, the 458 Italia matches the Scuderia, the next question on our lips is how it manages dynamically. You have to believe us when we say the Scuderia is one of our all time favourites, especially when it comes to climbing the mountain roads surrounding the Maranello factory toward Abetone.

With its lightweight dynamics, the Scuderia delivered the most amazing drives of all time. It turned-in without hesitation, it didn't so much accelerate out of corners as blast out of them.

When an errant motorist came off line into our lane, the brakes would wipe off so much speed in one stab of the brake pedal that one would wonder if there was any need to have been concerned in the first place.

Best of all, it would overtake not just one but a few slower cars or trucks in a single bound (gear shift).

The Scuderia experience left us enamoured and light-headed. How would the 458 Italia do? We gingerly inched our way out of the keenly guarded factory gates, watched suspiciously by the security personnel.

Is it us or does this 570 bhp beast seem rather docile crawling along the busy town streets? Despite the 35 per cent stiffer springs, the ride with the new SCM (magnetorheological suspension control) suspension is so supple and so much better than the 599's application.

Could the Italia have gone the way of the California? Thankfully, we were in for a pleasant surprise...

We note new additions to the roadside scenery in the form of numerous speed cameras and warnings on the way up the mountain. It seems the natives have finally become tired of the test drivers and enthusiastic journalists tearing up and down their beloved country roads.

The 458 Italia is still cold as the “warm-up” indicator/graphics haven't given us the go-ahead. This system monitors the tyres, brakes and engine temperatures and will appear green for “ok” or red for overheated. When cold, it is of course blue and ours just went green.

The long travel throttle delivers the 570 bhp in a progressive manner. This is not to say 570 bhp is progressive, it's just as explosive as the Scud, yet makes city driving much easier. The car zips through first gear in under 2 seconds, with just a flick on the now lengthened paddle flaps delivers an almost un-Ferrari-like smooth (ish) instantaneous change.

Gone is the brutal shift shock of the Scuderia and especially the slower 360 CS. The reason is the shift time is now so low there is little time for the engine to gain revs between full-bore shifts. Well, the missing shift shock is mitigated by the tremendous power surge as the 4.5L V8 eagerly charges to the redline. Simply awesome stuff...!

And what then about the musical accompaniment? Not as piercing nor spine tingling as the Scuderia but with more bass it will certainly do. The same musical tenor to falsetto engine and exhaust note reverberates through the tunnels and off rock walls. We can't help but wonder what the new 458 Challenge will sound like.

The extra weight is not immediately noticeable as the power simply overcomes weight and though the weight is detected in braking, it is minuscule as Ferrari has adopted a pre-fill braking strategy to get more immediacy into the braking and also the “Race-Mode” algorithm allows more initial bite from the brakes to take advantage to the quirks between the tyre road interface.

As a result this 458 Italia delivers some of the best stopping on the market today. Of course Ferrari have fitted Brembo CCM (carbon-ceramic matrix) brakes on our test car but the normal 458 can be bought with standard steel items which Ferrari thinks most owners won't want.

Much of the 458 Italia's construction we are familiar with as Ferrari have stuck to their version of aluminum space-frame construction. The addition of strategic high strength alloys and some steel bracing has improved torsional rigidity by 15 per cent; all the better to create a very sturdy chassis on which to mount the new stiffer suspension and not suffer from it.

The new suspension philosophy is the reduce the dependency on the anti-roll bars for roll stiffness. This has the effect to increase overall lateral grip from the independent suspension. The roll is then compensated by the SCM dampers that aid in dynamic roll stiffness yet when it is not called for the SCM can change damping characteristics in an instant to maximize comfort.

In Race mode, the engine, transmission and suspension are set for maximum attack. While the rapidity of engine response and transmission shifts are acceptable in Race mode, the stiffness of the suspension over bumpy mountain roads is not; it has the effect of throwing you off line.

Fortunately Ferrari has allowed the suspension setting to be set to what they call “Bumpy Road” mode, which instantly provides relief and amazingly the car copes with the tortuous mountain road much better. (the preferred setting around Nordschleife)

Perhaps the only place that one would use the full-on Race mode is at the race track.

Psychologically, one feels like he is depriving himself of the full use of Race mode but the results speak for themselves. Rest assured that Ferrari itself has not made this to be the usual “waft” mode setting, but instead, has cranked up the damping as firm as their test route conditions allow and not an iota softer.

It is supple because they have worked hard at getting damper friction low as possible and fine tuning the kinematics to the nth degree. It also helps to have a very sturdy body and some of the latest Michelin PS3 tyres on the car. It may seem odd to find the French tyre company supplying items to what is arguably the most iconic of Italian companies, but Ferrari assures us that they do have a few suppliers in addition to Pirelli.

These tyres have tremendous purchase on the tarmac and endows the Italia with its 1.3g capability, which is amazing as these street tyres seem to be a worthy match for the semi-slick P-Zero Corsas of the Scud. Not only do they ride better, but they are less twitchy at the limit and enable  the stability system better opportunity to catch a spin should things go awry.

The CST is set for some oversteer in Race mode, which is our preferred way around a track. Powering out of a tight corner, one can feel the tail edge out, but the ensuing spin never materialises.

Sport mode is fine for everyday driving, but the Race mode helps drivers perform even better than they actually are. Some might argue that this is a tad too far so it is fair to say if you are in the market for one of these beauties, just set aside enough for Ferrari's Pilota driving course: you'd be doing yourself a favour.

The Race mode actually calms things down a lot in the cockpit when things are going 10/10ths. Steering correction (sawing action) and throttle action (on-off) seems a lot less than with CST off and seems almost too easy. However, the 'hero' effect is still there; the manner in which the Italia rockets out of corners without a wag of the tail, just on the edge but none of the frightening stuff.

Having the latest version of the E-Diff that we found so amazing in the Scud here in the Italia is the key ingredient to harnessing the 570 wild Italian horses safely and effectively.

Coupled to the huge grip provided by the Michelin tyres, the need to brutally cut power is no longer required. Even when it does, because there are in effect three layers of power distribution (tyre adhesion, E-Diff and ABS intervention) the last resort of curbing power is either not necessary or if there is a need it can do so almost undetected.

While the assisted steering of the Italia is nowhere as chatty as the Evora, it is far more accurate. It seems to wield absolute control as to where the Italia is going and then the chassis is equally up to the task following its lead resolutely.

This is amazing stuff and gives enormous confidence when piloting the Italia through the tricky mountain passages never putting a foot wrong. One could argue the merits of being informative or accurate forever but in this extreme sports car there is no time for information, just trustworthy accuracy please.

At the top speed the Italia can attain a downforce of 360 kg which is about 50 kg more than the F430. At 300 km/h the Italia has 315 kg, which is 35 kg more than the F430 This clearly gives the Italia a clamped down feel at speed. However, we are curious as to just how much gains there are at the speeds we can humanly corner at.

At 100 km/h, there is about 40 kg but at 200 km/h it's closer to 150 kg. Suffice to say, it is mostly on the track where the gains are most palpable. Furhtermore, the clever aerodynamicists have managed to incorporate some active aero tricks like the mobile wing at the front that resemble whiskers; these passively deflect slightly at speed directing airflow away from the radiators and add to downforce while reducing drag.

At the end of the day's drive, it is clear that the Italia is a worthy successor to the Scud though it does not comprehensively run away with the prize. With the newfound power the Italia leaves the Scud behind in a straight line dash to 200 km/h (10.4 vs 11.6 seconds).

However around Fiorano, it is merely a match for the Scud and if the reports that a 1 min 23 lap was done in the Scud proves true, then it is left to the 458 Challenge Stradale version to fix that.

Over the course of the mountain drive there is little in it, the Scud being more livewire and noisy while the Italia seemingly calm but equally aggressive.

FAST FACTS : FERRARI F458 ITALIA
ENGINE
CAPACITY : 4499cc Normal Aspiration
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8
VALVES : 32
BORE X STROKE : 94mm x 81mm
COMPRESSION RATIO : 12.5:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 570 PS at 9000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 540 Nm at 6000 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : F-1 7-Speed DCT
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear with E-Diff 3

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 325 km/h
0-100KM/H : 3.4 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double wishbones with SCM
REAR : Double wishbones with SCM

BRAKES
FRONT : 398 mm CCM Discs
REAR : 360 mm CCM Discs

TYRES
TYPE : Michelin PS3
SIZE : f 235/35 ZR 20, r: 295/35 ZR 20

SAFETY
SYSTEMS : ABS, CST, TC, F1-Trac
AIRBAGS : 4

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4527mm
WIDTH : 1937mm
HEIGHT : 1213mm
WHEELBASE : 2650mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1380kg(dry) 1485kg(with fluids)
TURNING CIRCLE : 11m

Summary
There is little more to discuss as production of the F430 Scuderia has ceased long ago and there is only the F458 Italia to carry the baton. However, if you are one of the very, very lucky few to have a Scud and is considering the Italia, then the jury is still out. Sure the Italia is more liveable day-in, day-out, but the gritty extreme raw edge that makes the Scud special is replaced by a veil of refinement and sophistication. Make no mistake, the Italia has not become a 911; it is still an extreme sports car, it just has a smoother flavour. And it's brand spanking new; now you just can't argue with that. - mp in Maranello ; photos by Roberto Carrer
Photos: 
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