A showman once said “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty.” This quote says a lot about our modern world; we’ve seen that often function isn’t as important as form. That being said, let me introduce you to 1.5 tons of perception: the Ferrari 458 Italia.
This car exemplifies what Steven Colbert meant about perception. Whether you know what you’re talking about doesn’t matter, what matters is how much noise you can make when you talk about them, and boy does this car shout!
This 2011 car doesn’t have a single bluetooth function, it doesn’t have cruise control, the brakes squeak, and the service intervals are ridiculously short. But it’s got a loud exhaust, two doors, and epic proportions. This car is all about the looks, the noises and the appearance.
You have a physical key, painted bright red, and you must insert it in a slot in the steering column. You twist expecting the 4.5 litre, 560hp, v8 engine to burst into life, but it doesn’t. Instead all it does is turn on the radio, and the auxiliaries. A couple of high pressure pumps auto-test, yet, I cannot fathom what those are for. The confusion lasts for a very short time, because directly in your eye’s view is a huge, bright red, ignition button on the steering wheel. If you press it hard enough the engine coughs into life: shouting through its three pipes in the process. Moments later, the car settles to a quieter idle; letting you finally listen to whatever music was playing before the button was pressed.
This car is an education on how much the car world had changed, and how much it could change when money is no object. This 458 is eight years old, but when you look at the cabin or exterior of the newer 488 little has changed. As a design language, the 458 set the course for modern Ferraris like few models before it could. It’s an aggressive, timeless design that doesn’t feel dated or simplistic… It just works; like Ferraris haven’t since the 355.
What does 458 stand for? Well, it’s 4.5L V8. It is just that. The engine has a flat plane crank, like all Ferraris should have, it revs to 9000rpm, like those engines should, and it is slap bank in the middle, like it should be in a sports car. The result is a car that is naturally balanced and happy to be driven by the rear wheels. The sound from said engine is deep, plentiful, and very obnoxious. Thankfully this car has adjustable baffles, in wet mode the exhaust barely registers and it’s a bit better that way. But talking about wet mode, one must mention the Manettino switch.
Despite not debuting in the 458, the Manettino switch has become central to newer Ferraris. I can see why: they incorporated all driver modes and traction control settings onto a small lever, and also made it good looking and under a “good” pretense of F1 design. Those driver modes are no gimmick by the way, a noticeable difference arises between wet and race mode for instance. If the 993 was a Dassault Falcon in the sense that it needs a good driver, well, the 458 is more like an F-18; very fast, very manoeuvrable, compact, and stable no matter the situation.
Not that it will be particularly challenging, the mid engine design makes the car very balanced and kills any understeer. On the other hand, making it oversteer without using excessive throttle is very challenging. The engine might be a riot and it might have 560hp in a car weighing barely more than 1.5 tons, but, in company of the Magneto Rheological dampers, Carbon Ceramic brakes, thick grippy Pzeros, and a sophisticated suspension geometry it’d honestly take a really bad driver to upset it past a breaking point.
You get a sense that this car could be tracked as easy as it could be driven daily or in a road trip. Fuel economy for this type of vehicle is not terrible either, and the boot is cavernous considering how small this car is otherwise. The MR dampers are pretty good; you never lose the sense that you’re in a supercar (it is hard) but it’s not bad enough to serve as a deterrent from driving it daily. The cabin does have a big issue in that regard; it’s very loud, and while that is bad it makes sure the driver never looses the sensation of speed. New cars make 100 feel like 50; this could be an issue in the track. The 458 makes sure, through wind noise and the ride, that you understand the hardship that it is when it is going at speed.
Even with all of this focus on driver involvement, the steering is muted; maybe a bit more communicative than most cars I’ve driven but nothing special. However, this is good too because it can be quick and precise without being hard to handle at slower speeds; let the seats communicate what the driver needs to know and let the steering wheel communicate what to do to the rack! The brakes, however, do like communicating; the pedal is hard and indicates nicely how close to the end of the grip the tires are before the ABS is turned on.
The light steering, automatic ‘box, and driver aides make the 458 an easy car to drive. The only challenge it brings is parking; otherwise it’s as easy to drive as a Mini. The feeling of excitement from the car probably comes from the speeds it can achieve rather than the sensation that you’re barely in control of a deadly machine. That’s what could make the 458 dangerous for road use. The fantastic engine, fast gearbox, and balanced chassis make it a bombastic track weapon.
It possesses a duality, an easy-going fast little car, or a hard-core professional’s tool: all at the switch of the Manettino. This is really good, and owners should be encouraged to track it. They’re going to pay for maintenance anyway, and the car behaves impeccably! It could also encourage them not to reach the limit of the car on public roads.
That being said, once you merge into a highway; you’re the king. Few cars pull like the 458 pulls at speed. A light flick of the throttle drops one or two cogs and sends you flying. You better not overtake near a speed camera because you will be ticketed. In the time a normal car goes from 110 to 140km/h the Ferrari goes from 80 to 160; it is relentless within reasonable speed and absolutely magical outside the reams of normal cars.
And magical it is, the car is a cause for celebration to the people around it. The exhaust, even as obnoxious as it is, sounds pristine and deep, the opposite of the ricer whose ego you’ll destroy whenever a tunnel is available. People love hearing the loud Ferrari, and the bright paint doesn’t help either if you want to cruise low key across town. You’ll always have to attend to the questions and comments of people. You better not be rude either! Or else you’ll end up being rightfully compared to Parker on some Facebook post.
The presence the car has is a double edge sword and the biggest part of the driving experience when you’re in town. People want to see it, kids want to have their picture taken in it, and people will ask many questions about it, mostly pleasant ones. However there’s always one “bro” whose dick will fall unless they pressure you into accelerating past the speed limit in the slow lane. Once they fail, they’ll push their badly tuned “EDM” jetta past the speed limit right in front of a speed camera and blame you for it in the pub.
“LOOK AT MY DASH CAM VIDEO CHAAAD I OVERTOOK A FERAWRY”
Any good you can do in this car for the people who like it is overshadowed by the bros that most times ruin the experience. If the suspension isn’t the deterrent to driving it everyday, the “event” around it just might. Which is kind of the issue with the 458 and most supercars too. It suffers from BRAND image, just like Apple, BMW, and Fender do.
Which is why it suffers from people that want that image when buying it. Because of the aura around it, the Ferrari isn’t typically bought by people who know what a track day is. Because of all the technology and excellent engineering around it, driving it quickly is not very hard. But driving isn’t about how hard it is to be fast, it’s about judging accurately when it’s appropriate to be fast. So the people that do buy it end up making fools of themselves a lot of the time, and because of the internet we get to see it.
It all adds up to how the car is perceived, and you as a driver, have little say about how to change it.