The 458 Italia is Ferrari's latest mid-engined sports car. Officially, it sits below the flagship 599 GTB Fiorano in the pecking order, but its drop-dead gorgeous design and ludicrously powerful V8 engine make this £170,000 hypercar every bit as appealing as its big brother.
The 458 Italia is beautiful. It looks like a snake from many angles, thanks to the vertical headlight clusters that look like fangs and black winglets along the front grille that resemble a snake's forked tongue. The car has a short, stubby bonnet and a spacious bubble-like cockpit that, unlike the long, almost phallic Ferrari 599, gives the impression the 458 Italia is coiled and ready to strike.
The rear view has a touch of the serpent about it, too, though the effect isn't as pronounced. Here, the centre-mounted triple exhaust pipe takes pride of place, completing a look we believe is the most aesthetically pleasing in Ferrari's long history.
Sliding in and out of sports cars usually requires the dexterity of a 12-year-old Romanian gymnast, but that's not the case with the 458 Italia. The seats are mounted just inches above the ground but the high roofline provides easy access, so it's well-suited to celebrities who don't want to flash their underwear, or lack thereof, to waiting paparazzi.
The cockpit of a 458 Italia is a comfortable place to hang out. Its high roofline affords plenty of headroom, even if you're pushing the 7-foot mark or you're particularly fond of hats. The fit and finish of the leather seats, doors and rear bulkhead are second to none, too. On the whole, its interior isn't as pretty or as elaborate as that of some supercars (the Pagani Zonda springs to mind), but sitting behind the wheel of the 458 Italia gives you butterflies, and that's before you've even put the key in the ignition.
Ferrari's road-going supercars usually inherit some sort of Formula One technology and the 458 Italia is no exception. Its steering wheel is festooned with buttons (just like those in Formula One cars) and many give access to functions you'd normally control with levers located elsewhere. The indicators, for instance, are located on the face of the steering wheel, along with buttons for controlling the windscreen wipers and headlights.
It's all very clever, but it gets hugely confusing when you're on the move. Turn the steering wheel (quite a common occurrence given that most roads aren't arrow-straight) and all the buttons change relative positions. The left indicator becomes the right, the wipers become the headlights and the engine start button becomes the manettino switch for altering the car's traction control settings.
See no evil, see no evil
While most cars make do with one information and entertainment display, the Ferrari 458 Italia has two 89mm (3.5-inch) screens located on either side of a large rev counter in front of the steering wheel. The one to the right of the rev counter is perhaps the more useful of the two, since it forms the hub of the best sat-nav we've seen in a Ferrari.
Whereas the turn-based nav system in the 599 HGTE we tested earlier this year simply fed you lines of text telling you where next to turn, this unit actually shows maps so you can tell where you are, what direction you're travelling in and whether you've gone horribly wrong somewhere. It's not perfect, though -- the screen is extremely small and isn't touch-sensitive, so you might want to keep your TomTom on standby just in case.
The second display, located to the left of the rev counter, isn't quite as useful on a day-to-day basis, but is hugely interesting nonetheless. It shows you a wealth of car system information, including tyre pressure, temperature and oil pressure data. More interestingly, it'll also record lap times on a circuit and keep a note of your top speed on the track so you can brag later to your mates.
Faster than Fernando
That last feature is just as well because, driven enthusiastically, the Ferrari 458 Italia is one of the fastest, most rewarding cars on the planet. Naysayers will be quick to moan that its 4.5-litre V8 engine only produces 562bhp, which pales in comparison to the 620bhp delivered by the 599 HGTE's murderous V12 engine. However, those people will probably not have noticed that the 458 Italia weighs 310kg less than its big brother -- a weight difference of around four fully grown men.
As a result, the less powerful 458 Italia accelerates from 0-60mph in what is widely touted as 3.4 seconds -- a notable improvement on the 599 GTE's 3.7-second sprint time. Its top speed of 202mph isn't as impressive as the 599 HGTE's 207mph peak, but the 458 Italia acquits itself superbly on its way to terminal velocity.
Handle with flair
We tested the 458 Italia around Ferrari's legendary Fiorano handling circuit -- where the 599 GTB Fiorano got its full name, and the results were astonishing. In a straight line, it carves its way through the open air like an axe through soft cheese. Its dual clutch gearbox is an absolute revelation, too. Traditionalists will balk at the fact it doesn't come with a traditional stick-shift manual option, but the paddle-shift mechanism in this car is breathtaking and will change many minds about the efficacy of paddle-shift gearboxes. It uses two clutches -- one to drive the car and another to preselect the next gear, so changing up is almost seamless.
Show it a corner and it's even more impressive. The steering is so incredibly precise and holds its line so well that you'll begin to wonder whether you're breaking the laws of physics. Its carbon ceramic brakes are so good you'll misjudge your braking point time and time again, pulling up well ahead of where you intended. We honestly can't remember driving any car that navigates a track as quickly as this -- it is simply sensational.
The Ferrari 458 Italia is the stuff dreams are made of. It's ludicrously fast in a straight line, jaw-droppingly precise through corners and is very luxurious for an all-out sports car. It's not as brutal as the V12 Ferrari 599 HGTE but, in our opinion, it's every bit as good -- and that's the highest praise we can give.
Ferrari 458 Italia stats
- Top speed: 202mph
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds
- Max power: 562bhp
- Economy: 21.2mpg (combined cycle)
- Emissions: 307g/km of CO2
- Price: £170,000 (starting price)
Edited by Emma Bayly
Update: Watch our video of us testing the Ferrari 458 in Italy