It’s brave to call a car special (or even speciale), smart, or superb, or any of the other presupposing names that have been applied to sometimes not-so special, smart or superb cars.
The Ferrari 458 Speciale, however, is pretty damn speciale.
It’s aimed at buyers who have always admired the 458 Italia coupe – which certainly gets this vote as the most beautiful car in showrooms today – but have been annoyed that the Italia puts out a mere 425 kW.
For them, this version cranks up the compression ratio of the wondrous 4.5-litre dry-sumped V8 to 14:1, so as to achieve 445 kW.
Just as significantly, the overall weight of the car has been reduced by 90kg.
The 0-100 km/h time is quoted as 3.0 seconds flat, which makes it among the fastest accelerating cars I have ever tested.
It is hard to imagine going much quicker with only rear-wheel drive. Bugatti’s 2.5 seconds, for example, is achieved with all-wheel drive, 883 kW, and tyres that are glued to the rims to stop slippage.
Ferrari tends to talk about its engines, and then mentions the rest of the car almost as an afterthought.
In this spirit, the revised Speciale engine is claimed as the most powerful naturally aspirated Ferrari V8 ever, and as having the highest specific output of any non-forced induction road car engine in history.
That’s on account of it achieving just shy of 100 kW per litre. As with the standard engine, it develops its maximum power at an exceedingly high 9000 rpm.
The maximum torque remains unchanged at 540 Nm, but Ferrari says the torque spread has been increased, and the seat of the pants feel seems to confirm it.
I didn’t manage to put as many kays onto this model as planned, largely due to the results of an ill-advised decision to play a father-and-son soccer match. Still, a couple of hundred kays away from traffic was enough to discover the escalating sound, the neck-snapping acceleration, and the explosion of each gear change as specks in the distance rush towards the cabin. The mid-range power seems endless.
This car underlines its real abilities with plenty of drama. The Ferrari engineers know quite a bit about marketing, and work hard on the tactile and sensory aspects.
One Ferrari engineer once told me that, with a dual-clutch automated gearbox, they could make the changes almost seamless, but who’d want that?
The press release talks about the seven-speed ‘box’s “even keener sense of urgency”. Yes, there are quicker changes, but it’s just as important that they are noticed.
As with the standard 458, the balance is a delight, the steering weight and precision close to perfect. The level of grip is astonishing; the new sticky Michelins give a further six per cent of it, apparently.
The 1395kg kerb weight is achieved by revising body panels, fitting thinner glass, using carbon fibre and, of course, leaving things out.
This includes sound-proofing, which has the added benefit (or not) of making the V8 louder inside. At certain engine speeds there is a harmonic that rattles everything in the cabin.
Almost every exterior panel has been modified. Various new aerodynamic aids are fitted, as well as grilles with variable flaps to maximise aerodynamics and cooling at different speeds.
A new rear diffuser is incorporated, along with a higher-mounted twin exhaust set-up.
The interior is snug and aesthetically pleasing, though the lightweight sports seats give little adjustment.
It does without a glovebox or armrests on the doors, and there are exposed aluminium panels where you might expect carpet. Storage? That would be what those string pouches are for.
I’m starting to warm a little to the blinker buttons on the steering wheel, an arrangement designed to leave more space for the gear change paddles.
The clever dashboard allows you to use different parts of the display to show varied information, including the lap times of your track day.
Many comfort and convenience settings are controlled via menus on the dashboard, but the main driving controls are on or around the steering wheel.
These include the big red starter button, the huge gear paddles, and the Manettino switch, with its series of dynamic settings. These start with “wet”, a poor weather setting that dulls everything to the point the car is only very, very fast.
The Sport setting, one notch up from “wet”, feels extreme, and there are still three to go.
There is a revised chassis set-up and a new SSC system. This stands for Side Slip Control, and will allow oversteer (to a controlled extent) even when the stability program is engaged.
The mid-mounted engine bay is under glass, affording you (or passers-by) the opportunity to gaze longingly at the highly styled, red-highlighted V8 without having to even push a button.
The car is $550,000 plus on-road costs, and the option prices are ludicrous. The “Nero Stellato” racing stripe dividing our car’s body in half is listed at $19,000. The audio system, which is one of the things taken out to save weight, costs $5430 to put back in, even in its barest form. It costs even more to add Bluetooth.
Our car had $40,000 worth of carbon fibre highlights.
The parking sensors, optional but near-essential in a car in which you can’t see any of the extremities, cost $5700.
But enough of all that. If you want a Ferrari, that’s the game you have to play.
The rest-to-100 km/h figures of 3.0 seconds compares with 3.4 for the standard car. Pressing on to 200 km/h takes 9.1 seconds (versus 10.4 seconds), while top speed is “greater than 325 km/h”.
Braking has also been improved. Stopping from 100 km/h can be achieved in just 31 metres thanks partly to the mid-engined lay-out, a weapons-grade carbon-ceramic braking system and those stickier tyres.
I expected the ride to be harsh. It’s no limousine, but in normal settings and normal speeds, it’s never horribly uncomfortable, either.
Our test car was bright yellow, and affixed with the aforementioned Corolla-priced racing stripe. Other combinations are available, though this one probably does as good a job as any of attracting attention.
It’s worth noting that the Speciale produces slightly better fuel economy and emissions figures, thanks to its lighter weight.
That’s if you drive it gently. But as that Ferrari engineer might say: “Who’d want that?”
Ferrari 458 Speciale
Price (excluding on road costs): $550,000 (as tested $633,447)
Engine: 4.5-litre V8
Fuel economy (combined cycle): 11.8 L/100 km
C02: 275 grams per kilometre