Road test: Ferrari 458 Italia

Ferrari 458 Italia
Bank bailouts, European country crises, Euromillions lottery wins – they all involve numbers that are so big, they're actually hard to put into context.

Millions, billions, trillions – the figures are so huge they don't really mean anything. And it's the same with the Ferrari 458 Italia. Yes, it costs a ridiculously large sum of money, but because most of us will never be able to afford one it doesn't really matter because dreaming of owning one doesn't cost a penny.
The thing is, Ferrai 458 buyers don't really care about the price. Those who can afford to spend upwards of £150k on a car won't even look at the price list. All that matters is when can they have it and how can they make it look completely different to everyone else's.

So, with this in mind, the £245,355.87 our 458 test car cost shouldn't really come as too much of a surprise. The stunning metallic 'Rosso Fuoco' red paint and 'Nero Daytona' black roof? That'll cost about the same as a Kia Sportage at £17,280. The iPod connector? £580. That bit of carbon fibre in the passenger footwell? A 'respectable' £5,683.

With a few more options ticked – the full kit is too extensive to list – the £173,172 base price rises by a whopping £72,183. Or a base-spec Porsche 911, depending on which way you look at it...

But then buyers shouldn't really care about what leather to choose, or what colour their 458 is. It wouldn't matter if the seats were made from balsa wood and the outside tartan, because what really counts here is what it's like to drive. And (gushing words alert), oh my word is it good.

Firstly, that engine. Not only is it a true work of art, a stunning heart of car, but it's as good to listen to as it is to look at. The howl the 4.5-litre V8 makes as it shrieks towards its 9,000rpm red line is intoxicating.

It sounds like you can hear every millilitre of super unleaded being combusted just inches behind your head, and it's combined with a wail from those triple exhausts that's pure F1. It's a noise quite unlike anything I've ever experienced before – but so addictive it should come with a health warning.

Then there's the power it deploys at the same time that's enough to make simple bodily functions – like breathing – hard work. Its 562bhp feels like double that on the road and the way it slices through the morning mist on our Welsh test route is out of this world. Traction is found in the most unlikeliest of places and realising that 60mph benchmark time of 3.2 seconds really isn't far from grasp.

Much has been written about the steering. Some like it, some don't. I can't see what's not to like. The rack is super fast and the feedback like putting your hands on the front tyres and guiding the change of direction with your fingers. It's faultless.

But it's the gear changes that are really astonishing. The dual clutch, paddle shift box is the same as you'd find in a Mercedes SLS, but Ferrari is quick to point out their software has been installed. And their software seems to have done the job: Changes are so quick it feels like one continuous gear from standstill all the way past prison-stay speeds. If you've ever changed up on a sportsbike without using the clutch you're some way to knowing what it feels like.

Handling is predictably perfect too. With top notch feedback the suspension copes well with some appalling surfaces in Wales. The 'bumpy road' setting, switchable on the steering wheel, helps hugely – in fact it would help if it was the default setting and you had to turn it off.

The 'Manettino' button on the steering wheel, which controls the 458's traction control settings, works wonders too. Most of our test time was spent in the third mode, 'Race', where traction control is active, but a faster gear change and improved sound from the exhaust are on offer.

But even with the traction control disengaged the 458 is still compliant and incredibly predictable on the limit.

Over three days spent with the Ferrari, it becomes quite clear that I'm driving a benchmark of the best. Explaining what it feels like, what it's like to drive and just how good it is really is tough.

It's so much of a leap forward that if I was forced to mark it I'd have to give it a 10 and the next best car I've ever driven, probably a seven or maybe even a six and half. In terms of percentages it's simply that much better than anything I've ever experienced before. It's incredible.

Check out 458 gallery here.
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