This car is already, technically, obsolete. The Ferrari 458 Italia has been replaced by the 488 GTB and no doubt that will spawn a successor to the 458 Speciale reviewed here. But we're not yet convinced that progress is necessarily a good thing, as the 488 spells the end of the naturally aspirated V8 engine for Ferrari, making the 458 Speciale its valediction. Even those who could never afford such an extravagance should shed a tear in farewell to such an astounding car. To have had the opportunity to drive it hard on challenging roads is an experience we won't forget in a hurry.
In the Metal:
While I'd stop short of calling any modern Ferrari pretty, they are all impressive and the 458 Speciale is no different. In the metal you get a better appreciation of its proportions. It's very low, very wide and truly attention grabbing. Ferrari styling can be best described as technical these days and the Speciale ramps that up over and above the regular 458 Italia with active aerodynamics front and rear that cut drag and balance downforce across the car's body. When it was launched in 2013 this was the most aerodynamically efficient production car Ferrari had ever made. But those movable components are not the only new bits, as detail changes have been made to the bumpers and bonnet, while the glass is thinner to reduce weight and the rear screen has been replaced by a Lexan item. Regardless, the 458 Speciale drops jaws and attracts hordes of smartphone-wielding onlookers. Job done really.
The interior of the 458 Speciale is a lesson in expensive minimalism. Carbon fibre and Alcantara abound, from the dashboard to the centre console to the Sabelt bucket seats. The glovebox of the 458 Italia has been replaced by a simpler dashboard with extra padding. There's no stereo, no satnav, no Bluetooth. As you'd expect, all controls and readouts are for the driver's attention first and foremost. Most prominent of these is the huge yellow rev counter. Ahead of that is a chunky carbon and leather steering wheel featuring Ferrari's now-standard Manettino switch, a large red ENGINE START button and, controversially, buttons for the indicators, lights and wipers. There are no column stalks, which means it takes some practice to get used to the extra buttons on the wheel. In fairness, if you buy this car to be driven as Ferrari intended then you'll be glad there are no distractions to get in the way of the tactile gearchange paddles mounted behind the wheel.
Before I could go anywhere in the 458 Speciale I had to swing it out of a tight parking spot into a busy main road. It could have been stressful. After all, there's a highly strung engine sitting over my shoulder, I'm sat on the ground and visibility isn't usually a strong point of these supercar things. But the 458 is a modern Ferrari, so while you need to be careful with the long nose, it has parking sensors, and connecting that engine to the rear wheels is a well-sorted dual-clutch automatic gearbox. In short, it's a cinch to amble along in and it doesn't even feel all that big when threading through traffic.
But you do get the feeling that you're keeping the engine reined in, and once the road opens up and you get a chance to push the long-travel throttle pedal with any real conviction it's clear that this car has the ability to redefine your idea of 'fast'. The bare numbers in the tech specs tell some of the story, but the fury with which this car accelerates is, at times, uncomfortable for us mere mortals. Especially within the confines of a public road and speed limits. It takes seconds to broach those limits. But perhaps more life-changing than the rate of acceleration is the noise the Ferrari V8 engine makes. I challenge anyone to experience it and not have an emotional response. Small children and dogs (and some grown men no doubt) will whimper and cry on hearing the 458 Speciale at full chat, while others (me included) will laugh out loud, giggle and holler with delight. At low revs it's more functional than interesting to listen to, but in the mid-range it starts to get purposeful and as you approach the redline (at 9,000rpm no less) it's shrieking as loudly and as evocatively as many a motorsport machine. And then you grab the right hand paddle to summon up the next gear in the seven-speed transmission and it does it all again.
For a life-long car nut it doesn't get much better than this. Most of us would be happy to experience this car driven in a strange line up and down all day, but that would be to miss out on the 458 Speciale's rather sublime chassis talents. It features Frequency-Shaped SCM-E dampers for a start, which alter the viscosity of their damping fluid every millisecond depending on conditions, helping the car deal with all kinds of road surface. They work too, as we discovered on a wide range of different roads in the UK. The 458 Speciale is Lotus-like in the way it seems to fluidly move with the topography underneath rather than constantly fidget and fight it. Sure it's firm and the wide tyres introduce some tramlining, but it's far more forgiving of a bad road than you might expect. And the way it manages to find traction is startling. Even during a downpour we realised that there was little need to reduce our pace, such is the capability of this chassis and the grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres.
Included in the Speciale's armoury is Side Slip Angle Control, which is designed to allow the driver to drift the car safely and controllably. You'd need the space of a race circuit to truly experience that in action, but we did find the combination of the F1-Trac traction control and E-Diff electronic differential highly effective on the road. All these sophisticated electronic sub-systems make it relatively easy to explore the full performance of the 458 Speciale, though it never feels like you're anything other than deeply involved in proceedings. That's important for a car that is designed to engage its driver. Crucially, it's even the case when you're not worrying about points on your driving licence. The steering deserves a special mention for its communication with the tread blocks of the front wheels. It's a rich seam of feedback and in spite of hyper-direct steering it immediately forms a connection between the driver and the car. Nobody will ever tire of the excitement that driving this car brings.
What you get for your Money:
No, we've not lost our minds and yes, the 458 Speciale has been given five out of five for value, despite it costing well over €450,000 to import a new one into Ireland. Nothing logical determines the purchase of a car like this. To those that can afford such extravagances we can confirm that they won't be disappointed and it's worth every cent.
Many will dismiss modern Ferraris as expensive playthings for the super-rich; and in fairness, many examples are that. However, the 458 Speciale is a truly astonishing car on many levels. It engages its driver like few others; delivers performance that is, at times, uncomfortably fast for the public road, yet thanks to advanced technology it isn't really intimidating. The screaming engine is the beating heart of the 458 Speciale, but it's not the only reason to love it. We can only hope that Ferrari retains this magic in the turbocharged replacement.