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Drive

Ferrari 458 Speciale

We road test the Ferrari 458 Speciale. Hang on tight and it’ll hit a top speed of 202 mph!


I cannot find a point worthy of genuine criticism on this car

It’s highly unlikely that you will have read a bad word about the Ferrari 458.

If you’ve read anything about it at all, you will know it to be sensational. It is.

If you have never experienced Ferrari supercar performance before, your first experience of the Ferrari 458, driven as it should be, will be an experience you will never forget.

This front engined V12 dream of a motor car is God’s answer to how 730 bhp can be made to work like a dream on the road.

When we tested the Ferrari F12 on these pages, it was impossible to imagine how Ferrari (or any car manufacturer) could better this on usable road performance…until we drove this, the  Ferrari 458 Speciale.


 

In over 23 years of road testing and writing about motor cars, it is rare of me to shut the door of even a very good test car for the final time without at least two or three points of criticism worth relating to the reader. It’s now two days ago since we tested the 458 Speciale, and for the life of me I cannot find a point worthy of genuine criticism on this car...and I’ve been thinking about it for a whole two days.  It’s that good.

Wow….

I hardly need to tell you, that in the traditional way we tend to judge these things, the 458 Speciale is an amazing performer. 0-62 mph in 3.0 secs – about the time it has taken you to read this sentence. Hang on tight and it’ll hit a top speed of 202 mph and in the meanwhile, experience the exhilaration of a toxic mix of 590 bhp and 590NM of torque from the most  powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine Ferrari has produced to date.

 Less weight, more power

The 458 Speciale is a hefty 90 kg lighter than the 458. It isn’t just a matter of ‘less is more’, but a complete work over from the ground up including every single element of the car that has the slightest influence on performance.

Let’s begin with the engine. Power and torque are increased through redesigning certain engine components and reducing internal friction by the use of lighter materials and lubricants. Torque has been improved across the entire power curve achieving  an exceptional power to weight ratio of 14:1, the highest ever achieved by a naturally aspirated V8.

Aerodynamic modifications to front and rear better improve downforce on hard cornering and improve drag performance on the straights. At the front vertical flaps close at low speeds to feed cooling air to the radiators. At high speed they open, reducing the flow of air to the radiators to reduce drag.

And there’s more; powerful carbon ceramic brakes that do a fine job in enabling the special Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres to scrub off speed. These tyres were designed specifically for this car after lengthy track and simulator test sessions, and there’s a different exhaust configuration to accommodate the greater power.

In fact, Ferrari have fine-tuned this car for every pound of weight saving it can achieve. The rear windscreen for example is made of a special lightweight toughened glass called Lexan, and the rest of the glazing is ultra thin, the redesigned bumper and diffuser are resin transfer moulded, whilst the underside of the body is total carbon fibre.

Now step inside….

Step inside and the singular purpose of this machine becomes clear. All carpet is removed, there’s no radio, satnav, or Bluetooth. You are here to drive. The dials are all directly within the driver’s view with that most important rev counter sitting appropriately at its heart.

The steering wheel is a genius of clean and safe design – allowing you to keep your hands on the wheel, housing indicators, horn warning, wipers, flasher, a bumpy road button for softer setting on the suspension, and the ‘I dare you’  Mannetino switch, allowing you to choose various gradations of drive from ‘Wet’ to ‘Sport’ to ‘Race’, and if you’re brave, switch up another two notches for partial and ultimately total disposure of any help in extreme handling situations.

This amazing story of genius goes on well beyond the space we have to tell you about it, yet it all manifests in the overriding single purpose of a Ferrari…the driving. And what’s truly great about it, certainly for the likes of you and me, is that it was designed for the driver without special driving talent to  be able to enjoy and exploit it’s potential. You can take this car out on track, slide it hard, and the oversteer experience is tuned into the driving dynamics, making it an absolute usable pleasure to drive. That said, so high are its limits, acquired skill and experience are recommended.

We didn’t get the chance to drive the Speciale on track, but from past familiarity with the standard 458, it was easy to sus the differences between the two cars straight away. The 90 kg loss of weight is instantly noticeable within the first couple of hundred yards, as is the fact that it is significantly louder…and faster.

Those fantastic Michelin Cup tyres need heat to grip, so you’ll need to work the car up some to really start experiencing this car’s potential. Yet the quality of communication between car and driver are such that you can pretty much predict how much heat dependent available grip there is; the key is to know your own limits, and understand that the car’s are much higher.

Hold on….

The acceleration of the Speciale is literally blistering, and unless you are familiar with really fast cars, replace ‘blistering’ with unbelievable, shattering, or uncanny. And its cross country pace is stunning too – well driven (and you really need to concentrate, such is the speed) it’s not unusual to overtake three or four cars on a single carriageway at any one time with loads of power  in reserve. It’s satisfying, and you’ll grin from the pleasure.

Your speed between bends will be a matter of wonderment to most, liken it to the quickest motor cycles, and even those two wheel wonders won’t be able to corner with the tight tenacity of a Speciale. I have to line up with my colleagues and sing the common song; the Speciale is one of the best supercars the world has ever known…at any price.

 

- Kevin Haggarthy

 

Related Articles: The Fabulous Ferrari F12