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First drive: Ferrari’s easy-drive supercar

Faz-tastic: The Ferrari 458 is a tiger on the open road and a pussy around town.

Curvy new Ferrari 458 combines blistering speed with street smarts

16 Feb 2010


SIT the new Ferrari 458 between the car it replaces – the 430 – and the California, and the newest offering from Marinello seems tiny, lithe, lean and sculpted.

Even the 430 looks larger and less focussed, while the softer California appears almost porky by comparison.

In fact, the 458 – which goes on sale in Australia in June for about $580,000 – is only a millimetre lower than its predecessor, but 14mm wider and 15mm longer, with a wheelbase stretched 50mm with overhangs shorter to match. The front track has been pushed 3mm wider, although the rear is actually narrower.

It’s not just the stretched lines that make this car seem smaller but its design. The dished bonnet exaggerates the blade-like wings, the sharp headlight outline is underlined by the bonnet-side intake and the outlet on its trailing edge channels airflow to create a negative zone over the front guard while signalling a sharper focus for this car.

That said, there are similarities between these Ferraris. The all-aluminium chassis uses the same modular format as the California’s. The 458 also uses a direct-injection V8 and a development of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission – a first for the mid-rear-engined Berlinettas.

34 center imageThe e-diff is now incorporated within the transmission housing to reduce dimensions and weight. The e-diff, F1-Trac traction control and ABS are controlled by one ECU. Altered gearing suits the extra power and the car’s character, while gear actuation is quicker. Even the tyres have been specially designed.

Like the California, the 458 uses a multi-link rear suspension, but designed for this car with different suspension bushings plus new software and hardware for the Magnetorheological magnetic suspension (SCM2) for more rapid response. Overall there’s greater roll stiffness and greater lateral and longitudinal integrity.

As for the engine, it’s a longitudinal mid-mounted naturally aspirated 4499cc V8 based loosely on the California’s but significantly developed. Output is 419kW at 9000rpm, or 93kW per litre, with 540Nm at 6000rpm. There’s up to 15 per cent more torque at low to medium revs than any 430 variant had, with 80 per cent of it available from 3250 to 9000rpm.

That’s an immense amount of shove, achieved via too many technical developments to detail here.

But perhaps the most interesting is the scavenge system. Each of the four crank throws are separate to reduce oil splash.

A scavenge pump creates an area of low pressure below the crank, thus creating a vacuum to remove excess air.

Piston action can create an oil-air froth that causes friction and therefore reduces efficiency this set-up prevents that.

Along with a variety of other friction-cutting devices, it’s what allows this engine to reach such high revs. Even the oil pump uses variable geometry, with the minimal displacement decreasing the oil pumped by about two per cent, making for power and fuel gains at about 170km/h.

Ferrari is keen to underline that this car’s performance comes with efficiency and emissions improvements.

The F355 F1 from 1995 emitted 470g/km of CO2 while this car emits 307g/km. That’s a massive reduction, obtained in 1380kg vehicle with a 0-100km/h time of 3.4 seconds, which can do zero to 200km/h in 10.4 seconds and has and a top speed of 325km/h.

Naturally, drive it like this and you won’t see the claimed 13.3L/100km but yes, this car delivers more power, for less fuel, than even 2008’s 430.

Braking performance has also improved, with 100km/h to zero in 32.5 metres, thanks to carbon ceramic brakes and new high-performance ABS. Steering is also sharper, with just two turns lock to lock.

This 458 can despatch a Fiorano lap in one minute, 25 seconds, the same time as the 430 Scuderia, the lightest and sportiest 430. And this is the standard road car – not a sharp-focussed limited production variant.

Mind you, the aero says otherwise. Just look at those front winglets they move by up to 2cm according to air speed to deflect air where it’s most useful, just one of a number of clever aerodynamic aids that together create more downforce at 325km/h than the Enzo.

You’d need a racetrack to appreciate that. But it was on this drive across the Appenines that the suspension decoupling made sense. Tapping the wheel-mounted button softens damper response, leaving other functions at whatever Manettino setting you’ve selected.

It’s a kidney saver on rougher surfaces – and improves grip by keeping rubber to road. Aussie owners will approve.

As for that Manettino itself, it stays the same, simple device whatever tech developments lie behind it. But given the wintry conditions, there was no chance I’d be trying the CST-off setting that switches the ABS to sport, and the ESP and traction control off while setting the suspension and gearbox to its sportiest setting nor the CT-off mode that at least leaves some stability control functions in the wings.

We didn’t try the ‘low-grip’ setting despite several moments pulling away on skating-rink-slick packed snow, instead switching between Sport and Race.

Try the latter once and Sport will seem too soft thereafter, although the conditions meant we had to use it. Race quickens the gearing, firms up the shocks, switches the e-diff, traction control and ESP to race mode and opens the exhaust bypass flaps. It puts a boot up the already quick car which feels livelier, sounds sharper and gets a whole lot more naughty.

At first we were almost disappointed at how easy this car is to drive. It initially sounds a little flat, and feels almost sensible. The buttons and screens are clearly grouped by function, and the items you need to access quickly – wipers, indicators, gears – are all fixed to the wheel. Sure, you’re always in a sports car. The view up front tells you that, given only the front and rear wings are visible from the driver’s seat. But it’s a sports car that’s easy to manage.

Until you start tapping that Manettino. As confidence increased so did my speed, the car swivelling round corners as sure-footed as if there was no snow, the only problem being that even on Italy’s manic roads you’re travelling too fast in third ever to see what the higher gears can do.

Still, in race mode the car’s agility is matched to a popping, crackling, cackling engine note that delivers the shrill howl of a flat crank motor, matched by sharp steering and rapid-fire gearchanges that saw me despatch my snow-clad test loop in well under the time allowed.

That the 458 is sufficiently tractable to drive fast in these conditions is impressive. The old school might mourn the loss of hard-to-drive cars. But a vehicle this uncompromised in performance terms that can also be driven every day – and year-round – is a truly impressive achievement.

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