The Ferrari 458 Italia is one of the finest exotic sports cars on sale today. It's one of those cars that is hard to make better. But with the creatively named 458 Speciale, Ferrari is trying its damndest to make one of the best even better. How'd they do?
(Full Disclosure: No, I didn't drive the 458 Speciale. Ferrari didn't invite us to go to Maranello with the glitterati and try out the newest, bestest, V8 powered prancer in the stable. So, here's what others thought of the Speciale, just like what we did for the F12. Yeah, it sounds like it's pretty great.)
Ferrari 458 Italia not quite virile enough for you? Maranello has administered a dose of vehicular Viagra to create a harder, faster version of its V8-powered, mid-engine, rear-drive coupe, a version more eager to satisfy. It's called the Ferrari 458 Speciale, and the name is no lie.
The 458 Speciale is yet another Italian masterpiece, one loaded with improvements that you wouldn't have thought possible nor necessary if you've driven the 458 Italia. The Speciale shifts faster, turns in quicker, and stops shorter. Thanks to an additional 35 horsepower and 200 fewer pounds, it is swifter than the car on which it's based both in a straight line and around a track. Best of all, Ferrari has improved on the 458's sublime chassis with a fresh dose of clever technology and engineering. This car amplifies your skills, strokes your ego, and stimulates your pleasure center, all while possessing limits high enough to humble any driver.
There's one more technical killer app. It's called side-slip angle control, or SSC. Basically it works out how much you're oversteering, and if you're doing the right steering correction it'll allow the rear wheels to keep spinning up. Normal skid-control systems inevitably cut the power by that stage. But the SSC talks to the e-diff, and tells it to lock, catapulting you down the straight a perfect combination of speed and smoky drama. But if you haven't countersteered enough or you're using far too much throttle, it'll reign the car back in.
The interior of the 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale follows the architecture of the Italia – elegant but purposeful – with a few minor modifications. The glovebox and carpets are deleted, Sabelt race seats featuring carbon-fiber shells are standard and there's enough Alcantara to cover a garage door. Still, the eyes and then the fingers are drawn irresistibly to the perfectly sculpted steering wheel, which holds plenty of buttons, none of them controlling mundane functions such as audio volume or cruise control. At the lower right, housed in a carbon-fiber insert, is the red lever of the Manettino that controls the five performance settings. At the lower left is a scarlet Engine Start button. When I punch it, the engine coughs to life like a formidable monster clearing its throat after being wakened from a deep sleep.
Drive it hard and the Speciale really comes alive. The steering is still madly, madly quick, but there's more feel, plus there's far less body roll, and, although there is a little understeer to manage, there's less of it. Much of this is down to the stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, but the same doesn't necessarily apply to the rears: give it full throttle from a standing start in the dry and the Speciale will light up its tyres in first, second and third gear. Add throttle early in second- and third-gear corners and you'll paint lines all the way down the road, building speed at a ferocious rate as you do so. It's fast and frantic and some people might find it a little OTT – a 911 GT3, for instance, absolutely monsters the Speciale for traction, though it does also come with tyres that don't work in the wet.
And that's ultimately what the Speciale is all about; allowing drivers to feel like they are sailing closer to the wind than ever before, even to the point of allowing them to indulge in a touch of digitally controlled opposite lock, but without actually frightening them at the same time.
C'è guidare e guidare, però. Per farlo come la 458 Speciale merita bisogna essere in pista. Primi giri a Fiorano al fianco del collaudatore Raffaele De Simone. Vedi, qui resto attaccato al cordolo, lì stringi alla corda, qui sul ponte la frenata è cieca perché la successiva destra stretta è nascosta sotto il dosso, su questa "esse" si sente tutta l'accelerazione laterale, qui una bella frenata vigorosa, qui scarichiamo bene le marce. Il motore della 458 Speciale si fa sinfonia, la perizia del professionista svela le capacità straordinarie della macchina e del V8 Ferrari più prestazionale di sempre (605 cavalli per 4497 cc: il rapporto 135 cv/litro è record). Tocca a me, sotto l'occhio del collaudatore. Prima e più delle prestazioni mi pervade il piacere della guida, senza pari. La 458S è una belva obbediente: salire di marcia un godimento ma anche più esaltante la scalata, dove la velocità di cambiata incontra la potenza dei freni Brembo e si avvale della straordinaria leggerezza (1290 kg). Sul sovrasterzo ti viene concesso il piacere di correggere controsterzando ma vieni aiutato dall'elettronica: il controllo dell'angolo di assetto SCC abbinato a quelli di trazione e differenziale - non esisteva e oggi c'è: questa è un'invenzione Ferrari - interviene come un bravo maestro. Con questa macchina si possono fare due soli, gravi errori: 1) frenare troppo tardi; 2) disinserire con il manettino sul volante il sistema di assistenza (esc-off) se non si è veri piloti. Giornata senza prezzo. Per tutto il resto c'è Mastercard.