Ferrari’s 2011 458 Italia is the latest incarnation of the popular, mid-rear engine berlinetta, with an impressive forward progression of the Prancing Horse’s previous historic platform architecture. This latest example showcases a harmonious blend of creative styling flair, driving passion and state-of-the-art technology in true Italian flavor – hence the name of the homeland incorporated into the model name, along with the traditional figure designation that represents the displacement along with the number of cylinders.
The Ferrari 458 Italia is a totally new vehicle in every aspect including: the aerodynamic design, engine technology, ergonomic layout and handling attributes. The two-seat berlinetta, for the time being will only be in a coupe configuration, but in the not too distant future – perhaps for the next model year, there will likely be a Spider (convertible) version. The Italia possesses several technologies gleaned from the company’s legendary Formula 1 racing program. In fact, Ferrari’s deeply rooted racing history was so important to founder Enzo, that he actually supported racing activities by the sale of more mundane road-going vehicles.
The Italia is designed primarily as a road car, but with racecar capabilities, enveloped by aerodynamic and elegantly sculpted bodywork. It truly personifies a dynamic appeal that can only be termed as beautifully exotic. The proportions are perfectly balanced from the sharply slanted nose and on over the raked windscreen and low, curved cabin that flows into the expanse of horsepower and torque under glass, culminating with the short overhang of the rear. The fenders flow over matching, perfectly cut, front and rear wheel wells. The 458 Italia is, in a word, sensual in every respect. There are of course other appropriate descriptive terms: sexy, curvaceous, racy, breathtaking, stunning and outrageously beautiful, that work equally well.
The interior is as inviting as the exterior, with the driver of the 458 Italia able to change several setup factors of the car as in Formula 1 cars by utilizing a single, steering wheel mounted selector set. It is called the Manettino by Scuderia and functions as a commutator switch featuring five specific settings: Ice; Low Grip; Sport; and Race. There is also a setting that turns off both the traction and stability controls, giving the driver full control over the car’s actions. The cabin was executed in a special leather theme with contrasting piping and other special details including carbon fiber trim accents.
The Italia’s power comes from a 4.5-liter DOHC, 32-valve, naturally aspirated V-8 with Direct Injection that cranks out 570 horsepower at 9,000 rpm, while producing 398 pound feet of torque at 6,000 rpm. The longitudinally-mounted mid-engine drives the rear wheels via a dual clutch, 7-speed F1 paddle shift gearbox (essentially a clutchless manual transmission), which was developed and continuously refined for road-going berlinettas. The gearbox is housed in a cast aluminum casing that also encloses the electronic differential and bevel-type final drive along with the engine oil tank. The engine also happens to be a work of art that is displayed through the rear hatch.
My test 458 Italia sported a bright (Ferrari) Red exterior. The interior was done in Tan or Camel leather with carbon fiber trim accents. The base price was set at $225,325. All the extras and unique treatments – special stitching, etc., placed my test Italia at $280,572. There are choices to be made such as: trim material and other trim detailing; distinctive bodywork colors; integrated Ferrari shield set above the wheel arches and more. The price ceiling is actually the limit through the unlimited personalization program offered by Ferrari through the coach works, Carrozzeria Scaglietti.
SUMMARY: Obviously piloting the 458 Italia is considerably more rewarding than simply looking at it. The Italia virtually fills one senses. It is without question a truly emotional vehicular creation. The authoritative rumble from the powerful 4.5-liter V8 is musical to any red-blooded gear-head, and the explosive exhaust note that is emitted through the three exhaust pipes borders on orgasmic. Acceleration is blistering, unless of course you want to simply tool leisurely about town showcasing the car’s persona.
Gear changes are executed with the F1 steering column mounted paddle shifters. Seating is just as supportive as it is visually pleasing, and there’s plenty of room. The ride quality is surprisingly compliant considering the low profile performance rubber and ride height. The handling is indeed “Ferrari-like”, delivering a precise and positive feel. The Italia remained flat through the twisters of Napa and Sonoma Valley’s backloads, and the tires didn’t chirp once (maybe I just wasn’t pushing hard enough). A Corvette attempted to lose the Italia in his rear view mirror several times, finally giving up and at a traffic signal, when pulling up alongside, rolled down his window and exclaimed “Beautiful car”. My friend and passenger, a Corvette owner himself, totally agreed.
Certainly not everyone is destined to own a vehicle bearing the highly recognizable Ferrari shield for many reasons – the two primary issues being that their production is quite limited, and they are quite expensive, putting them out of reach for the average consumer, and while I may not have had the desire to add a Prancing Horse model to my personal stable before, I certainly do now.
From the very first race win, Ferrari’s machinery with the iconic Prancing Horse symbol has enjoyed more than 5,000 successful forays in track and road races the world over, building up to the company’s’ legendary status that it enjoys today. Ferrari is a car that is impossible not to lust after, being a product of deep-seated Italian passion – Enzo lives on in the cars that proudly bear his name.