2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale First Drive
Extra Special: Didn't Think This Italian Could Get Better? Well, It Did
Reading up on the 458 Speciale during my flight to Bologna, Italy, I had to stop and wonder for a minute. I had evaluated the "regular" 458 Italia extensively during our 2011 Best Driver's Car competition -- a competition it won unanimously -- so I feel confident in saying that it is one of the best-driving vehicles on the planet. So how on earth were the speed gurus at Ferrari going to make it any better? Simple, really. Ferrari has been improving exceptional sports cars for decades, and, boy, did it ever continue that tradition with the 458 Speciale.
That tradition, of course, harkens back to the 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia, the extreme editions of Ferrari's mid-engine rear-drive V-8 sports cars that came before. As with the Challenge Stradale and Scuderia, Ferrari has changed just about everything on the Speciale. At the heart of those enhancements is the all-new Side Slip Angle Control (SSC) system, designed to give drivers the ability to more controllably explore and reach the vehicle's limits, thus taking the enjoyment factor even further off the charts. With SSC, the system's software analyzes the dynamic aspects of side slip angle—lateral acceleration, yaw angle, steering wheel angle, and speed -- compares it with reference data, and then optimizes torque management and differential torque distribution to the drive wheels via the car's F1-Trac traction control system and E-Diff 3 electronic differential. Naturally, this all occurs in mere fractions of a second and is completely invisible to the driver, who can only appreciate the car's quicker response times and improved controllability of oversteer.
Now, let's get to the real heart of the changes: the revised 4.5-liter V-8. The direct-injected 9000-rpm screamer nets a small 40-hp bump in power, now to 597 horses, while torque remains status quo at 398 lb-ft. But those numbers don't tell the whole story. The intake runners have shorter ducts, while the intake ports get new internal geometry to increase flow. Thanks to modified piston geometries that increase the compression ratio from 12.5:1 to a stratospheric 14.0:1, cylinder pressures rise by an incredible 145 psi, spreading torque more widely across the power curve. Ferrari even went so far as to add copper to the pistons, making them conduct and dissipate heat more efficient while increasing tensile strength.
As the engine is only part of the Speciale equation, Ferrari also reworked the transmission, braking system, and suspension, and added lighter wheels and stickier tires. The seven-speed F1 dual-clutch got a new control logic resulting in 20 percent quicker upshifts and 40 percent quicker downshifts. The Brembo carbon-ceramic braking system borrows cues from those on the LaFerrari hypercar, which translates to "Extreme Design" calipers, next-gen HT2 brake discs with added silicon, and smaller front pads made from a hybrid material, all of which significantly help to reduce and dissipate heat. The forged 20-inch wheels cut 26 pounds from the curb weight, while the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, made specifically for the Speciale and the only OE rubber available from the factory, deliver 6 percent more grip. The last piece of the getting-power-to-the-ground puzzle is the magnetorheological suspension, whose new Frequency-Shaped SCM-E dampers sport twin solenoids as well as a new CPU and software that modifies the magnetic field every millisecond. All this work results in a claimed 1.33 g lateral acceleration -- a stunning number for a street car -- not to mention more precise body control and faster response to bumps and imperfections.
With the Speciale's redesigned exterior, Ferrari focused on increasing downforce and drag when you need them. The center of the nose on the Speciale has two vertical flaps with a horizontal flap just underneath. At low speeds, the vertical flaps stay closed, directing air to the radiators. But at 106 mph, the flaps open, cutting airflow to the radiators and thus reducing drag. At 137 mph, the horizontal flap opens to balance downforce between the front and rear of the car. Turning vanes on either side of the front bumper and aero fins just ahead of the rear wheels also aid in downforce and stability. The rear spoiler is taller and was shifted back 1.4 inches to improve airflow efficiency, while the rear diffuser has three mechanical flaps that help generate downforce when closed, and reduce drag when open. All these bits make the Speciale the most aerodynamically efficient road car Ferrari has ever made.
The interior is what you expect in a car of this uniquely specific design, and what's not carbon fiber is covered in Alcantara. You'll find no glove box, no carpet on the floors, not even an armrest on the doors. There is, however, a stereo, navigation, and an available advanced telemetry system that gathers data via GPS then lets you download it via an iPad or laptop so a Virtual Track Engineer can analyze and constructively criticize the performance. The Sabelt seats are made of a carbon-fiber shell skinned in Alcantara and a breathable 3-D fabric. A carbon-fiber wing over the tunnel houses the F1 gearbox's controls, while just under that are the window controls. Optional stereo and navigation controls are on the dash, to the right of the instrument cluster. And all the important driving aides, mode selectors, and even the blinker switches are found on the steering wheel itself.
My initial seat time came at Ferrari's famed private test facility, Pista di Fiorano. To be exact, I got six laps. But even with that limited amount of time, I quickly felt at ease and was able to push the $300,000 exotic to a comfortable limit. Turn-in and throttle response are on an ESP level of reaction time; front-end grip is tenacious; rotation seems to occur in perfect fluidity; and if you happen to kick the rear end out, it's completely controllable. In the hands of a professional around Fiorano, the 458 Speciale is 1.5 seconds quicker than the 458 -- a lot of time on this short 1.9-mile course.
In my humble opinion, the Speciale sacrifices nothing on the street, while gaining everything on the race course. My time on the roads around Fiorano led me to conclude that it's a completely livable daily driver -- just as livable as the Italia -- yet the most dynamically rewarding and viscerally pleasing track tool ever. Keep the suspension in the bumpy road selection, and the car is as comfortable and docile as a Camry. But one push of a button flips the switch to track-attack mode -- the red-headed V-8 wailing to 9000 rpm, the twin-clutch firing off upshifts in milliseconds, the carbon brakes attempting to detach retinas, the F1-inspired suspension wizardry beautifully balancing the ragged edge. Best of both worlds? More like best of both out-of-this-worlds.
Having driven the Italia and now the Speciale, I can say that without a doubt, the Speciale is the finest driving car I have ever had the pleasure to pilot. It is perfection, magical, unforgettable. In a word: Speciale.
|2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||4.5L/597-hp/398-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3100 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||180.0 x 76.8 x 47.4 in|
|0-62 MPH||3.0 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||First Quarter 2014|