What's Hot: Spine-tingling sound, visceral steering, sublime drivetrain, immersive drive experience, just about everything.
What's Not: Can struggle to get power down cleanly.
X-FACTOR: Arguably the greatest driver's car ever made.
Vehicle Style: Two door sports car
Price: $550,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 445kW/540Nm 4.5-litre petrol 8cyl | 7sp dual-clutch
Fuel Economy claimed: 11.8 l/100km
Photography: Jan Glovac and Karl Peskett.
Obvious statement warning: The Ferrari 458 Italia is a brilliant car.
It manages to combine supercar performance with everyday usability and offers a drive experience second to none. Well, it used to.
The “second to none” has now become “second to one” - the 458 Speciale.
The Speciale continues in the vein of its predecessors, the F355 Serie Fiorano, the F360 Challenge Stradale and the 430 Scuderia.
All were performance versions of their donor cars, and all were designed with the track in mind.
It's been lightened and fettled to produce more power, and to be faster, even debuting a mode called 'side slip control' (SSC), enabling perfect drifts around corners.
It's not hard to see why expectations were high before we were handed the keys.
Forms were signed, hands were shook and we set out for the greatest few days of driving available in this country in a road legal car.
Quality: It must be remembered that this is a stripped-out version of the 458 Italia.
Thus, it's not the last word on luxurious appointments. That said, the components and trims are of very high quality.
The alcantara dashtop is perfectly stitched with yellow cotton, while glossy carbon-fibre covers just about everything else.
The plastics which are dotted around the place are high-end, though the silver floor-covering does look a little cheap (weight reduction is the priority here).
Despite the door trim being a one-piece carbon-fibre skin, it shuts solidly and the switchgear all looks and feels similarly robust.
That said, the buttons for the indicators on the steering wheel feel a tad rubbery; certainly a solid 'click' would be a bit nicer.
Comfort: The Speciale is a two seat race car, so it's designed solely for a driver and their occasional passenger. Bear that in mind and creature comforts aren't missed.
The sculpted seats are very good at holding you in place during spirited cornering and the padding isolates you from the thudding and thumping over rough surfaces (which you'll notice far more).
Clearly, this car is designed for the glassy-smooth surface of a racetrack, however it could (just) be used every day.
Extended periods at the wheel can be a little wearing, as much through sheer exhilaration as for that very stiff ride.
Equipment: While the standard equipment for a $12,990 car is included (air-conditioning, power steering, power windows, etc), the Speciale is all about what's not there.
Fitted to our test car was the $815 “Radio Navigation System with Bluetooth”, which is entirely reasonable.
However, the $5430 stereo option is very average to listen to (and you'd rather hear the V8 symphony), while the Nero Stellato racing stripe is an absurd $19,000.
Add some parking sensors at $5700, yellow brake callipers ($2700), carbon-fibre front spoiler and aero fins ($7060), carbon-fibre engine covers ($13,242) and other bits and bobs and you have a car that ends up at well over $700K on the road.
To be honest, you don't need any of that - the car at $550,000 is as good as it needs to be.
Storage: There's a small under-bonnet recess which can stash a couple of overnight bags, and behind the front seats is a parcel shelf which can fit a backpack or handbag if need be. Apart from that, you're on your own.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Slide the key into the ignition, press the start button on the steering wheel and there's a brief metallic whirr, followed by a huge “WHAP!” from the exhaust.
Ah yes, this is going to be fun.
You can press auto on the transmission stalk or simply pull the right lever to engage first gear, and then a gentle prod on the loud pedal gets you off the mark.
In full auto mode, the dual-clutch gearbox behaves as any other, quickly and smoothly running through the gears.
Choose manual mode (by pressing the auto button again) and you start to discover the personality of the car. When in Sport or Race modes on the manettino, the gearbox responds to your commands in an almost telepathic fashion.
No hint of a delay, no lag - instant changes, up or down, even with several gears in succession.
While the gearbox is perfection, it's the engine that deserves the greatest praise. It's only 4.5 litres in capacity, but despite being naturally aspirated, still manages to pump out a massive 445kW.
And that adds up to something rather special.
There are a few figures that tell the story. Zero to 100km/h: 3.0 seconds. Quarter mile: 10.7 seconds. Top speed: 325km/h.
A lap of Fiorano is done in 1min 23.5 seconds, which is nearly a full second quicker than the legendary Ferrari F60, better known as the Enzo.
So, there's no doubting that the Speciale is quick. Very, very quick.
But it's the way all the elements come together to define the Speciale. No other car comes close to the intimacy that the feedback from each part of the car gives you.
No other car envelops your soul so you feel completely immersed in its behaviour.
Just think it, and the Speciale obeys your command.
Whether it's a millimetre of adjustment on the steering wheel to accurately hit that apex or whether it's the fraction more throttle to tighten up your line, there's no thoughts of “I wish it would do this faster or feel better”.
If the back-end starts to slip, a little bit more lock is all that's needed. Want to hold it in a lurid slide? No problems, the car's stability control will help you out, rather than fight against you.
It's hilarious, intoxicating and altogether wonderful.
Refinement: The Speciale's refinement is certainly relative. It's pitched as a V8 race car for the road, meaning it's loud.
Like ear-bleedingly loud.
But through a tunnel, the metallic wail that deafens takes on a sweetness that will have you sacrificing your ear-drums on the altar of aural pleasure.
Ride and Handling: This car is designed to demolish a racetrack, and that's exactly what it does.
The turn in is ridiculously sharp, made even more apparent by the steering ratio; at 2.2 turns lock to lock, it darts left or right with the alacrity reserved for tiny animals.
What is so remarkable is the steering weight is completely independent of its feedback.
We've become used to heavier steering being more communicative, and at first, you may wonder if the Speciale's light rack-weight will impinge on its feel.
One corner on and you've completely forgotten that thought.
It feels wonderful and despite the short steering rack, the wheel doesn't jostle in your hands. You're in complete control of how hard or fast you want to get into that corner. Any notion of a mid-engine car lacking front-end-bite is completely dissolved.
This machine really gets under your skin.
The magnetorheological dampers have two solenoids to enable adjustments every millisecond, but that doesn't prevent it from being bone-shatteringly hard.
This is not a very comfortable ride, but then it's not the car you'd expect a Rolls-Royce glide from.
If you do encounter a cobblestone road, there's a “soft” button which, when pressed, transforms the ride into something entirely bearable. But it can't be used all the time. Expect rock-hard suspension and your dreams won't be shattered.
It can make it difficult to get the power down sometimes, as the back end starts to skip and stutter on rougher surfaces. It's not axle tramp, but unless the surface is completely smooth, it certainly feels like it.
The fabulous seats do help take some of the sting out of the ride, and once you're away from the rubbish tarmac of inner-Sydney, and at higher speeds, the Speciale gets a whole new lease on life.
Braking: With such serious speed potential, you'd be correct in assuming the Speciale brakes well. But nothing prepares you for the eye-popping blood-rush which accompanies a serious stab of the left pedal.
Brembo has supplied the braking system, which uses carbon-ceramic discs, but customised to have a higher percentage of silicone.
Pad size has also been reduced slightly from the 458 Italia to increase cooling, too.
Pedal feel is absolutely brilliant, and unlike a certain Italian rival, it's not an on-off switch; there's real progression underfoot.
ANCAP rating: As you can imagine, ANCAP hasn't crash-tested the 458 Speciale. Enthusiasts would probably picket the event…
Safety features: The Speciale certainly comes well-equipped with safety gear. There is one of the most intensive traction and stability control programmes around. There are several airbags. There's also enough carbon surrounding you to protect you in the event of a crash.
More importantly, the Speciale is so stable and predictable at any speed that it takes a hamfisted driver to overcook it.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Ferrari offers a three-year, unlimited km warranty.
Service costs: Servicing for the first seven years is included in your purchase, easing a lot of running cost worries.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
McLaren 650S ($441,500) - Every bit the equal in a straight line (and then some) or around a track, the 650S was built to set blistering lap times.
It also rides a lot nicer. But it never gets under your skin in the same way the Speciale does. That $90K price advantage makes it rather appealing. (see McLaren reviews)
Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4 ($428,000) - Like the McLaren, the Huracan is an awful lot cheaper, and it's also far quicker than its official 3.2-second 0-100kmh sprint time suggests.
But with all-wheel-drive, it doesn't have the adjustability or hilarity of the Ferrari's rear-drive dynamics. (see Lamborghini reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer's List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Describing an inanimate object as being alive would normally be cause for calling the men in white coats.
But in the case of the 458 Speciale, I'm ready to be hauled away - this car is the closest thing to automotive nirvana I've ever experienced.
Sure, it's a cliché, but the Speciale is, well, speciale.
It's arguably the greatest driver's car ever created, and we defy anyone to have a steer and not be immediately hooked and flail wildly for their cheque book. Unfortunately, this writer's cheques appear to be made from rubber.
It also appears the 458 Speciale is the end of an era for Ferrari - it's the last of the naturally aspirated V8s, with the 488 GTB being turbocharged. For a swansong, this is a helluva way to bow out.
Long live the Ferrari nat atmo V8.
MORE: Ferrari News & Reviews