Wheels - The Best Car in the World?

Promising a vivid and inspired driving experience, the Ferrari 458 Italia could offer the ride of your life



PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW YEADON

“Harmony” might seem a strange word to describe a blazing yellow, 202 mph, 562 bhp supercar. But that’s what comes to mind after spending a few minutes with the new Ferrari 458 Italia. While other street missiles boast a greater top speed, a quicker sprint to 60 mph and beyond, or even a faster lap time at the track, none comes close to the sensations of this car’s perfect balance and all-around capability.

You could single out the operatic, quad-cam 4,499cc V8 that offers startling acceleration from idle all the way to the heady 9,000 rpm redline. You could also dwell on the extraordinarily neutral and balanced chassis, which communicates the car’s attitude so perfectly you feel hard-wired into it.
But you would be missing the point if you concentrated on one and not the other. It’s the way the 458 Italia works as a whole that mesmerizes.

The symmetry starts from the moment you get into the driver’s seat. The dash is dominated by a large, centrally mounted tachometer, flanked by two equal-sized LCD screens, which tell you everything from your speed to the time to your destination to the temperature of each tire. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is covered in switches, meaning you flash your headlights, indicate a turn, change the engine’s mapping, stiffen the suspension, and sound the horn without moving your hand more than a couple of inches.

Because the 458 Italia uses a seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, there’s no gearshift in the center console — only three buttons for selecting reverse, a racing start, or automatic gear changes. And don’t look for a hand brake; a small switch sets the brake electronically. With all this redistribution of functions and elimination of other cabin furniture, you can concentrate on the road instead of buttons and levers.

As the tires start to turn, the steering wheel comes alive in your hands. You don’t so much steer as you feel your way down the road. The steering is electrically power assisted according to the car’s speed — tuned so carefully that it does nothing to blunt your inputs.

It’s the same with the two pedals. Throttle response is immediate and controlled, allowing you to add or subtract power so smoothly and rapidly it could almost be electric, if not for the furious V8-engine soundtrack behind your right ear. The brakes work in perfect opposition. The huge carbon ceramic discs rinse off the speed in a firm but perfectly linear way.

Great suspension on any car means you never notice it working, and the 458’s double wishbone front and multilink rear setup offer a fine example. While it’s always controlled, especially with the available adjustable damping, the suspension is neither too firm nor too soft, but rather a smooth, controlled ride.  

Encasing all this ability is the gorgeous Pininfarina-designed body shell. Bristling with active and passive aerodynamic aids, which combine with the airflow over and under the car to generate 794 pounds of down force at the 458’s maximum speed, it’s as beautifully efficient as it is beautiful to behold.  

With the car tuned into a perfect whole, the 458 Italia produces a vivid and passionate driving experience that will have everyone from the rank amateur to the seasoned professional scrabbling for superlatives. It transcends anything else you have ever driven.

The 458 constantly surprises and delights by the way it responds. The gear changes are a blur, the speed instant and seemingly unending, the soundtrack note perfect. Rather than feeling like you are fighting it, like with so many other supercars, the 458 feels like it’s on your side, flattering your driving and allowing you to make corrections without penalty.

You might think that you can get the same sensations and responses from other supercars, but you can’t. However brilliant the Audi R8, the new Lamborghini Aventador, and the Porsche GT2 RS (and they are all superb), the Ferrari 458 Italia stands above as the ultimate experience. Is it the best car in the world right now? All it will take is one drive to have you joining the chorus: “Yes, it is.”
 

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