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The Mercury Cars Guide : February 27th 2010
16--- Classifieds 62 300 400 • carsguide.com.au Saturday, February 27, 2010 Viva Italia, Ferrari's finest email@example.com with KEITH DIDHAM What's fast and red but has a tinge of green? Keith Didham drives Ferrari's new 458 Italia SUPERCAR: The F458 Italia is the most responsive Ferrari to date, and is equally at home driving around the city as it is zooming down the highway. It also features luxurious interior fittings. IN the natural order of evo- lution, the latest version of any new car has to be better, safer, grander and in today's world even greener than the one it replaces. But sometimes that natural order gets out of step. There are newcomers who don't just take one evolutionary step for- ward. Instead, to borrow a line from the bloke who walked on the moon, they take a giant leap forward. Such is the F458 Italia, Ferrari's quickest road-going model and the stunning replacement for the F430, which followed the 360, which itself was a remarkable car. The 458 arrives in June, with more than 100 deposits taken on the $580,000 car --- that's an order bank almost larger than the total number of cars Ferrari sold in Australia last year. So what's been happening? Has Ferrari, after a few hit and misses in its line-up, finally built a car of desire? It looks like it. Buyers have been handing over five-figure deposits to secure their place in the queue. Those at the top of the pecking order will be getting their new Ferrari before Christmas; latecomers may have to wait for up to 18 months. So how good is the first all-new mid- engined V8 Ferrari in a decade? The 458 isn't just a step ahead of the 430, it's in another time zone. The two-seater has more finesse, is more powerful, more responsive and resets Ferrari's bar on ride and handling perfection. It also has a green tinge, using less fuel and producing less harmful CO2 emis- sions than its predecessor. But the F458 is not without contro- versy. Purists are divided on whether it will go into the history books for all the right or all the wrong reasons. There is no question about its ability. The naturally aspirated V8, with its state-of-the-art traction con- trol, suspension and brakes, can match the lap times of the race-ready 430 Scuderia around Ferrari's twisty Fiorano test track in Italy. The raw figures are staggering: with 419kW peaking at an incredible 9000rpm, the direct-injection V8 de- livers 93kW per litre, which Ferrari says is a record for such a naturally aspirated motor. And this is the first Ferrari not to offer a manual transmission, and that's the rub with aficionados. Not only that, all future Ferraris will be without the traditional open- gated manual shifter as well. The diehards may weep, but there's no denying the 458's dual-clutch seven-speed auto gearbox (developed for the Ferrari California, with the technology now sold to Mercedes- Benz) is a gem, making the car as easy as the family wagon to drive sedately in the city. If you feel the need for self- shifting, there are Formula One-style paddles behind the steering wheel. Ferrari counters the criticism, say- ing the techno-smart auto, a spinoff from Formula One, can complete gear changing much faster than any hu- man hand, and the shifting actually boosts power and doesn't momen- tarily lose it, as you do when using a conventional clutch. But the 458 has other direct F1 links as well. The most obvious is the steering wheel, which is crowded with all of the car's main controls, including switching for lights, wipers, indicators, ignition and settings for the traction control system. Ferrari's effort to centralise con- trols sort of works, but you have to remember just where those buttons are when you have turned the wheel full lock in tight turns. on the road ALL good plans can quickly come unstuck thanks to the weather. We had flown from Australia to Italy to sample the 458's prowess, only to be greeted by one of the worst storms to hit Europe this northern winter. While Australia baked, here in Maranello, the home of Ferrari, the temperature didn't budge from 2C, fog blanketed the valley, and it was snowing, meaning the fantastic hill roads above the town were out of the question for this beast shod in summer tyres. So we picked a route along the valley floor, and immediately got lost in a carpark. Time to pay more attention to the satellite navigation than the car! The slush demanded extreme caution, even though the highways had been sprinkled with salt. Even with the car set on its wet road setting to allow maximum grip, too much accelerator pedal (one of those ''let's try it and see what happens'' moments) produced an instant fishtail, which was countered almost as quickly (but not quite) by the traction control system, which settled the car --- and our nerves. Despite the tiptoe conditions, there was enough input after four hours on the road to show Ferrari has done an excellent job in body control: the car sits flat in corners; minor road bumps are well absorbed; the steering is stunningly quick; and the brakes are reassuringly solid and benefit from an anti-lock braking system that is tuned to the road conditions. The Ferrari flyer is as rewarding as it is daunting. The question remains: Just where in Australia, apart from track days, can its abilities be tested? The styling is a work of art: purposeful, muscular and mean. But every single curve, air intake and aerodynamic wind deflector serves a purpose. The front winglets, for example, are flexible. At low speeds they channel air to the deeply angled radiators; at high speed they bend, moving the air to produce a low- pressure area at the front of the bonnet, helping to reduce drag, and in our case ice, which clung to the bonnet. Ferrari says the 458 produces a massive 360kg of down-force at its maximum speed of 325km/h. That's better than the Enzo supercar. It's not until you climb into the cockpit with its overly hard seats that you realise just how wide the Ferrari is. Not a problem for Australian roads, but it demands careful manoeuvring to negotiate Italy's narrow lanes, lined with deep ditches and shared by trucks all demanding their bit of black top. Despite that, the 458 is remarkably easy to drive. Pushing the red start button (we failed to see it the first time and wondered why the car wouldn't start) awakens the beast lurking behind the cabin, but it's there on display under the rear glass hatch window for all to see and admire. Engine noise changes pitch quite dramatically depending on the throttle opening. It's not the typical agricultural V8 sound we are used to in Australia. This is more of a high- pitched growl than belly-deep guttural. At 60km/h the car quite happily plods through city traffic in seventh gear, such is the high-revving nature of the V8. But it's not until you get to highway speeds and the revs build that the true character of the car shows itself. Stomp on the accelerator in auto mode for overtaking and the car drops a gear and rewards you with a surfing wave of torque as speed and revs rise in unison all the way to 9000rpm, though in these conditions red-lining was out of the question. The transmission will upshift automatically if you are in manual mode, and thanks to the dual- clutch system cog-swapping is done seamlessly. Given the right road conditions, the 458 is capable of running at more than triple our road limit --- something we never came close to exploring --- and can do the standing dash to 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. Think about it. Count to four, it's that quick, and it gives the car a rightful entry into the supercar class. Equally remarkably, it has a claimed fuel consumption of just 13.4l/100km. This is the most responsive Ferrari to date, a miracle car maybe. But it's not without its faults. There was demisting problem in our test car, but a bigger problem was the lack of a rear-view camera, but it will be offered as an option for Australia. This $600,000 sportscar also doesn't come with vanity mirrors, and cruise control was also absent, but that will probably become standard once the cars are landed in Australia. However, the options list is extensive, right down to matching luggage (the same leather as the seats).
February 20th 2010
March 6th 2010