What is it?
Maranello’s new 458 Speciale – driven in the UK, and in right-hand-drive form. It’s an extraordinary beast whichever way you look at it. As a driver’s car, a supercar or a V8 Ferrari, the Speciale’s very aptly named.
Lotus’s Exige S, Porsche’s 997 GT3 RS 4.0, Mercedes’ C63 Black Series, Caterham’s R600 or Ariel’s Atom V8; these super-specialised, singularly focused track machines are all closer character matches for it than a ‘normal’ 458.
One turn of the steering wheel tells you that much. And the next one grabs hold of your conscious mind and rattles it inside your head like a ball bearing in an aerosol can.
What's it like?
The Speciale loathes compromise; cares little for your frazzled senses after a long-distance drive. It’s noisy, physical and hyperactive; a rubbish motorway car. Two-thousand miles around Europe in one would probably send you deaf and dumb. So be it. It’s the job of the Italia to be a more balanced grand tourer. The Speciale is a glorious monument to vivid, visceral, microcosmic thrill in the here and now.
The headlines speak little of the transformation this car has been through, but they are as follows. Ninety kilogrammes of weight saved, most notably in the chassis, body and cabin specification. An extra 35bhp of peak power found, via a wide-reaching cylinder head and piston redesign, and a move to a compression ratio of 14:1. Transmission shift time improved by as much as 44 per cent. Body design comprehensively reappraised, with new drag-reducing active aerodynamic features adopted front and rear. And new faster-acting twin-solenoid adaptive dampers fitted as part of a wide-ranging rolling chassis update bringing with it lighter alloy wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes from the LaFerrari hypercar, stiffer springs and special Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.
Watch Autocar test the 950bhp LaFerrari
The Speciale’s cabin is deliciously sparse. It’s not just that equipment has been taken away – although it has (no audio system here, but you do get air-conditioning). It’s that the architecture of the interior itself has been pared back. There’s nowhere on the door to rest your elbow; just a carbonfibre panel with a lonely-looking handle on it. The centre console has been slimmed down; the glovebox removed completely and replaced with a passenger kneepad. Short of a street-legal Radical or something similar, driving environments don’t get much more purposeful.
The Radical wouldn’t be much noisier, either. The Speciale’s 4.5-litre V8 barks to life, and snarls with rapier-sharp voice, like it could vault out of the car and take a chunk out of the nearest kerbstone at any moment.
And still, all becomes forgotten preamble the instant you’re moving. Responsiveness such as you find in the Speciale is rarely even attempted in a road car, even more rarely delivered. That 398lb ft of torque doesn’t look huge on paper, but a good chunk of it is there to be tapped into immediately. Keep that foot in and the howling force of that V8 from 6000 to 9000rpm is something to marvel at and savour. There again, performance isn’t as violent as some cheaper alternatives - although this is still a very fast car indeed.