What is it?
The 458 Italia is the replacement for the F430. Although the basic configuration sticks to established principles i.e an aluminium space-frame and mid mounted V8 powering the rear wheels, much of the 458 is entirely new.
For starters, the engine is a 4.5-litre direct injection V8, related to that in California, but larger, producing much more power (562bhp) and revving higher (9000rpm).
And like the California the power is channeled to the road through a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, albeit with different ratios.
What’s it like?
At first relatively civilised, the idle smooth and calm. It’ll get you noticed, but it’s no hell raiser. However, like most modern performance cars, the 458 has trick exhaust by-pass flaps, so there’s a good chance with revs and throttle it will be more boisterous.
Metres is all it takes to register the first significant dynamic step change over the 458’s predecessor. The steering is much quicker. 2.0 turns lock to lock quick, and that considering a very reasonable turning circle.
The next thought, is how well the gearbox works, especially in the very ordinary roll of manoeuvring the 458 in traffic. Up in the hills though, I’m keen to explore whether a twin-clutch gearbox can deliver the sense of occasion and drama expected of a 200mph+ Ferrari.
To an extent it is a personal choice, and depends on whether you feel the jolt you get with a super-fast single clutch transmission - such as that fitted to the 430 Scuderia - to be a highlight or deficiency. Certainly the 458’s DCT is much smoother and faster than the F1 box, and yet, in my opinion, feels no less mechanical.
The gearbox is also well matched to the engine character, not only in its speed of reaction, but also its exactness. To get a handle on how much quicker the 458 is than the F430 you need to look not only at the jump in outright power (70bhp), but also where the power (and torque) is produced.
From 3500rpm the 458’s engine is already producing as much torque as the F430’s and at 6500rpm has eclipsed its peak power. This is a Ferrari V8 even more zingy and soulful than before, but now with added mid-range punch. To boot, it’s cleaner and leaner than the old 4.3.
Over the last 2000rpm, the energy and vigour is massively addictive. As is the noise. Any concerns over the timid idle have long since vanished, the 458 soundtrack not only ridiculously loud, but varied and with that shrillness only a flat crank Ferrari V8 can.
If there is a downside, it is that that on the road there are precious few opportunities to use all 458’s performance. Even in Italy. If you’re lucky you’ll see all of second gear, and occasionally third, but, such is the extent of the rev range and force of 562bhp, by then you’re really travelling.
More so than the styling, or engine performance, the one component that describes the biggest advance over the old car, is the confidence you get in 458’s front end. And this not simply a matter of more outright grip, but more consistency and better communication.
Apparently this transformation comes mostly from improvements in the rear multi-link suspension. By better controlling the camber angle and wheel centre movement, Ferrari has been able to increase roll stiffness and run faster more precise steering. And what of that quicker steering?