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Ferrari 458

 

The Ferrari 458 is wider, longer and lower than its predecessor and more performance-focussed

A Ferrari that’s easy to drive every day might seem like sacrilege, until you drive one in less-than-ideal conditions: punt over half a million dollars-worth of supercar along spearing straights then across a switchback mountain road – in the snow. That was our Ferrari 458 drive, and I’m impressed.

The 430 replacement is wider, longer and lower than its predecessor and more performance-focussed, given the California now fills the softer spot in the line-up.

There are links between the two – the all-aluminium chassis uses the same modular format and the same basic direct-injection mid-mounted normally-aspirated 4499cc 419kW/540Nm V8 engine – tuned for this application and mated to a development of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, with altered gearing and quicker gear actuation, and the e-diff, F1-Trac traction control and ABS all orchestrated by one ECU.

This car delivers up to 15 per cent more torque at low to medium revs than its 430 predecessor, and 80 per cent of it’s on tap from 3250rpm to the 9000rpm at which power peaks; that’s a colossal shove up the butt, delivered more frugally thanks to a host of clever technical innovations. Claimed thirst is 13.2l/100km – no doubt obtained via a decidedly un-Ferrari-like frugal driving style.

The same basic mulit-link rear suspension set-up gets different bushes to suit this car, and new software and hardware for the Magnetorheological magnetic suspension (SCM2) to accelerate response.

And response is pretty damn quick. The 458 gets from zero to 100kmh in a very busy 3.4 seconds, to 200 in 10.4 seconds, and reaches 325kmh. And thanks to those massive, 389mm front and 360mm rear carbon ceramic brakes tucked into the 20-inch wheels and the high-performance ABS it’ll brake from 100 to zero in 32.5 metres.

This car can despatch a lap of Fiorano as quickly as the 430’s race variant, yet it is the standard road car. Fortunately it grips the road like a neurotic toddler to its mum; anal attention to aerodynamics has given this car higher downforce at 325kmh than an Enzo.

I didn’t reach 325kmh – the snow, remember? – but did manage twice NZ’s open road limit, with the Manettino switch set to ‘race’ setting to hone the transmission, suspension, ABS, ESP and traction control. It also opens exhaust bypass flaps in the muffler for a riotously anti-social soundtrack that is never less than entertaining.

Climbing into the Appenines, with snow now piled higher than the Armco and at times crsip across the road I knocked her back to ‘sport’. ‘Slippery surface’ was never required and I wasn’t game to try the race-track-focussed settings that largely disable the electronic nannies.

Up here, where the road was lumpy and traction all important, I tapped the ‘suspension decoupling’ switch. It doesn’t decouple anything, just softens damper response to keep your rubber to the road.

Seems to work.

As does having so many functions as buttons on the steering wheel – wipers, lights, indicators, Manettino, gears. That sounds confusing but seemed to work, as you access the lot without removing your hand from the wheel.

Soon I was swivelling the car round corners almost as if they were warm and dry, the motor howling and crackling and straining at the leash. We despatched our test loop in half the time allowed, so went back out to take pics – and have another squirt.

You expect to be stirred by this brand, and by any car costing around $580,000. You don’t expect such performance alongside the ability to tackle a real-world road in snowy conditions.

Truly impressive.

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