Ferrari 458 Speciale review

Ferrari's hardcore versions of its V8 supercars are always worth waiting for. The 458 Speciale has a lot to live up to, as Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

With a massive 605PS on tap from its screaming 4.5-litre V8 powerplant, the Ferrari 458 Speciale is hugely quick. You knew that already. What Ferrari has done to make this car driveable and genuinely exploitable is where the real genius resides.

Background

Ferrari's figure of eight test track, Fiorano, works as a clear benchmark of progress. When the iconic F40 was launched in 1987, it could scorch around in a minute and a half. Eight years later, the F50 knocked three seconds from that time and in 2002, the Enzo managed 1:24.90, its 660PS engine helping it average 128km/h around the track. Bear in mind that these were the hypercars in Ferrari's range; the money no-object exotics. These days, those times are all blown into the weeds by the 458 Speciale, a more focused version of the 458 Italia coupe. That description may actually be a little unfair on the Speciale. So much has been done to this car that it's some way removed from the Italia. It'll demolish a lap of Fiorano in just 1.23:50. If you thought the 458 Italia was intense, the Speciale will show you just where the benchmarks for rear-wheel drive mid-engined supercars have moved to. Never has a model name been more appropriate.

Driving Experience

The numbers themselves make compelling reading, the 4.5-litre V8 making 605PS at 9,000rpm, punting the Speciale to 60mph in less than three seconds. At 135PS per litre, this powerplant develops the highest specific power output of any naturally-aspirated road car. What's even more interesting is the attention to detail. Ferrari debuts Side Slip Angle Control (SSC) on the 458 Speciale, sophisticated software which computes lateral acceleration, yaw angle, steering wheel angle and speed, allowing smooth, controllable oversteer. The 458 Italia could be a rather spiky character at the limit of grip. With SSC, the more powerful Speciale is even more exploitable. The Brembo brakes have been given a thorough reworking, and will now stop the car from 100km/h in just 31 metres. Using technology developed for the LaFerrari hypercar, the 458 Speciale features Extreme Design calipers, HT2 discs with a higher percentage of silicon and smaller front pads made from HY hybrid material for improved heat dissipation. There are also sculpted channels in the bodywork to direct more cooling air over the brakes. The gearshift gets revised software for faster shifts, the suspension benefits from uprated adaptive dampers, while 12kg is shaved from the weight of the forged 20-inch alloy wheels and 8kg has been saved from the induction system.

Design and Build

Despite all the technical achievements wrought on the 458 Speciale, we're strangely drawn to comment on those stripes. The launch model was shown with a blue and white central stripe inspired by the historic NART (North America Racing Team) livery. Don't worry. It's not compulsory. The rest of the bodywork draws quite some interest. Although still clearly a 458, the Speciale gets re-profiled composite bumpers and a bonnet with two huge air outlets to suck air from the radiator. There are also air outlets to channel air out past the sides of the headlight pods. The windscreen and side glass is thinner to save weight, while the rear screen is now made from Lexan. The cabin has come in for some attention too. As you'd expect it's a riot of Alcantara, carbon fibre and aluminium. The under-dash glove box has been removed to offer more space down there for the fitment of fire extinguishing equipment while the big draw item is the carbon-fibre shelled Sabelt seats. These deeply bolstered lightweight buckets get shoulder rests trimmed in Alcantara while the backrests are padded with a breathable 3D fabric.

Market and Model

It's hard to believe that the 458 Italia has been around since 2009, so resolutely modern does it remain in its execution and so undiminished is its appeal. We knew that a harder, faster version would be forthcoming, just as Ferrari had done with the hugely desirable 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia models, but it seems that Ferrari has held off with the Speciale until its arm was forced, first by McLaren with its much improved 12C and then by Lamborghini with its Gallardo replacement, the Cabrera. Just as the original Gallardo was benchmarked against the 360 Modena and found itself outgunned by the F430 and then the 458 Italia, the latest Lambo might well find itself looking embarrassed from the outset by this Ferrari. Okay, maybe we're not comparing eggs with eggs, but the Speciale is a car that has a certain charisma to it. Prices start at £208,000 and step up as soon as you start adding options to the car. Many will feel that the car approaches perfection in standard trim and that the £30,000 premium over the 458 Italia makes it a veritable bargain. The option I'd look at first? Stereo delete. With an engine like this, you wouldn't use it anyway.

Cost of Ownership

It's a little unfortunate but many of the 459 Speciales will doubtless be bought by owners who will cover very few miles, realising that they make an interesting investment vehicle. You only have to look at used prices of 360 Challenge Stradales and 430 Scuderias to see that paying a bit more for the hardcore car is a wise piece of money management. Keeping a cap on depreciation may well make these cars a good deal cheaper to run than less exotic tackle. Day to day running costs will remain rather steep. It emits 275g/km of carbon dioxide and the quoted economy figure is 23.9mpg, although if you achieve that, you deserve immediate euthanisation. Drive it as intended and you'll probably dip into single figures. The custom-developed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres aren't going to be cheap to replace either. Still, you can take solace in some sort of progress. When the 458 Italia was launched in 2009, it recorded 307g/km and 21.2mpg.

Summary

The Ferrari 458 Speciale does what many of us had difficulty conceiving. It builds on the manic excitement and presence of the 458 Italia. In adding 35PS to its power output, taking the figure to a crazy 605PS, the Speciale elevates itself to another level. The gearshift adds to the drama, shifting up through the box 10 per cent faster and coming back down the cogs a massive 44 per cent quicker. Punchier brakes and cleverer suspension team up with Ferrari's revolutionary Side slip Angle Control to bring such a potent mid-engined car's potential well within the skill set of modestly talented drivers. That is perhaps where the genius in this car is best understood. It would have been easy to build a spiky, vaguely terrifying performance variant and if Ferrari had done so, it would have doubtless have built its own legend. Instead the Italians have gone the other way and sought to make 605PS exploitable and enjoyable. Don't read that as 'dumbed down'. The Speciale is better than that and more than deserves to join Ferrari's roll call of hardcore V8 supercars.