Yet even Ferrari was surprised at how quickly the mid-engined F430 fell from fashion once the California, with its fancy folding hardtop, hit the streets. So the F430’s replacement, the 458 Italia, really must do the business.
Just a quick walk around tells you they’ve got it spot on. This is simply the best-looking Ferrari in the past decade. Gone are the traditional massive air intakes behind the doors, and that simple move – which leaves an expanse of countered bodywork in their place, – changes the whole character.
The visual changes continue throughout. There are small engine air intakes hidden behind that tiny triangular window to the rear of the doors. There are others that intake air from the edge of the headlights and exit shortly above the front wings, with the sole purpose of balancing the air pressure built up in the wheel arches.
Those small winglets in the very front actually deform at speed to redirect air beneath the car instead of to the radiators – cooling is easy at higher speeds. The Italia is simply full of clever, well thought-out details like this.
The engine and transmission are derived from those in the California. That means a 4.5-litre direct injection V8 and a seven-speed DSG box instead of the old F1 paddle shift of the F430.
And there’s much more power: 570bhp is reached at a piercing 9,000rpm – and boy, was it fun making the most of the power in the hills above Maranello. With the police absent in a way that only Italy seems to manage, the 458 Italia would slingshot between corners with such astonishing vigour.
It’s so fast, in fact, you rarely make use of the full 570bhp, flicking the paddles instead at 7,000rpm just to get more of those lightening changes in and to hear more of the delicious Wup-Wup-Wup from the trio of exhausts.
This is such a flattering car to drive really quickly, tempting you to push further and harder towards the edge of the envelope.
To help you keep this Ferrari in shape it has heaps of electronic chassis controls that continuously monitor the conditions and brake individual wheels if things start to get out of line. You have a choice of five settings via the Manettino switch on the steering wheel, though most, it must be said, are orientated to race track use.
Still, it makes the 458 Italia a highly entertaining drive, and you don’t need to suffer from a bone-jarring ride either – it really is rather comfortable.
Ferrari has done it again, but this time with more conviction than ever. Yes, £160k-plus is
expensive, but McLaren and Mercedes, with their new MP4-12C and SLS, must be wondering how they can get close to the all-round appeal of the 458 Italia. The dealer order book for mid-engined Ferraris has already bounced back.
by PETER BURGESS
Ferrari 458 Italia
Price: £170,000 (est)
Engine: 4.5-litre V8
Top speed: 202mph
0-60mph: 3.4 seconds
Economy: 21.2 mpg