Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: South Africa
Ferrari Life Posts: 1,291
The Ferrari 458 Speciale is the latest in a line of super-hardcore mid-engined Ferrari V8s.
What is it?
The Ferrari 458 Speciale takes what is already one of the most extreme road cars you can buy and turns it up a notch further. In the spirit of the Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia, the Speciale takes the 458 into new, more hardcore territory. It also gets a central stripe, just like its iconic forebears.
The 4.5-litre V8 now produces 597bhp at 9000rpm, its 133bhp-per-litre made possible by a staggering 14:1 compression ratio. This greater output is pushing 90kg less too, thanks to a carbonfibre underbody, thinner glass for windscreen and side windows, a Lexan engine cover, new and lighter ceramic brakes, forged wheels and an interior of delicious minimalism.
There are also new magnetic dampers, stiffer springs and new anti-roll bars. The gearshift logic is revised and cuts the time it takes the engine speed to match the gear ratio on downshifts by 44 per cent. Then there's the new active aero, which cuts drag as speeds increase, and the next-generation high silicon content ceramic discs. no wonder Ferrari says this car isn't a 'version' of the 458 Italia, but a whole new car.
A new Side Slip angle Control (SSC) system allows drivers of all skill levels to explore the depth of the Speciale's ability with as little electronic intervention as possible, but still with a degree of assistance should they overstep the mark.
What's it like to drive?
The firmer ride has no hint of harshness. It's wedded beautifully to a heavier, even more accurate steering system, more consistent and responsive brakes and the sweet brutality of the twin-clutch gearbox. The Speciale isn't stiffer, faster, louder. it's just beautifully wrought, cohesive and - no question - it feels more serious, more focused and just plain better.
It is noticeably noisier than the Italia, though. It doesn't howl and shriek quite as manically as a Scuderia, but the engine can drone away if you're in Race mode or upwards. There's ever-present road noise that drums up through the bare floors, but in a car of this potential and focus it's far from a deal-breaker.
Strangely, the gains in simple performance terms don't feel as great as I'd expected, but no matter. This is still a seriously rapid car. The engine is remarkable and the way it melds thick, instant torque with that explosive top-end delivery is quite breathtaking.
The faster rev-match on downshifts does make a difference and it actually makes braking late into a corner a slightly more brutal process, each shift bringing a jolt as the gears hit home. It feels like the shifts are completed with no margin at all. If the clutch closed a millisecond sooner the rear wheels would lock. There is no margin, no slack anywhere in this car.
The Speciale wears unique Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres - the same basic tyre as we've recently tried on the GT3 and SLS Black Series - and the car simply dances over a seriously testing road that's slick with moisture and fallen leaves. Grip is astounding and the heavier steering provides something to lean against and accurately relays an impression of the surface and the tyre's grip.
What of SSC? Well, 'witchcraft' just about sums it up. It's almost supernatural, allowing you to drive so hard but remaining - for the most part - invisible.
How does it compare?
At £208,000, the Speciale costs more than a McLaren 12C - which with 616bhp from its twin-turbo V8 still manages to outgun the Ferrari. The Speciale is also around £30,000 more than the standard 458, and although that sounds like a lot, the difference in feel and overall composure is quite marked.
With a 1min 23.5sec lap time around Ferrari's Fiorano test track, the Speciale is 1.5sec quicker than the standard 458, 0.5sec quicker than the 599 GTO and just 0.5sec slower than the £239,000 730bhp F12 Berlinetta. At 1.33 G, Ferrari is claiming the highest lateral acceleration of any of its road cars.
Anything else I need to know?
The Speciale's vast array of electronics are incredibly complicated but the aerodynamic solutions utilised to meet the divergent aims of decreased drag and increased downforce have a delightful simplicity of execution. Centrally mounted at the front are two moveable vertical flaps, which sit above a moveable horizontal flap.
At speeds below 105mph the flaps remain closed to channel air to the radiators. The force of air pressure opens them at 105mph, reducing the volume of air to the radiators and cutting drag. At 137mph the horizontal flap is forced downwards also due to air pressure, which redirects the airflow and leads to a 20 per cent shift in overall downforce towards the rear of the car for the optimum high-speed aero balance. Clever stuff.
+ Extreme, frantic fun, makes the 458 even more accessible.
- Slightly noisier than the Italia...