Car news

11 September 2013

Welcome to the Ferrari 458 Speciale

Maranello reveals new race-bred version of one of our favourite ever cars. And it’s pretty special…

Jason Barlow
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There was a rumour that it was going to be called the 458 Monte Carlo, and Ferrari apparently toyed with reactivating the magic letters LM. But in the end the men in Maranello settled on Speciale. Perhaps not quite as evocative as 360 Challenge Stradale or 430 Scuderia, the two race-bred Ferrari models the new car follows, but get the intonation right on the last letter and 458 Speciale still sounds pretty... special.

It'll need to be, if it's going to top the Scud. Much more than a tricked-up run-out special for the F430 with a distinct lack of carpet inside, that incredible car actually paved the way for the 458 Italia, specifically in the way its electronic diff and chassis electronics were harmonised to deliver nothing short of supernaturally effective handling. Ferrari F1 test driver Marc Gene was on hand the day TopGear drove the 430 Scuderia round Fiorano; ‘you will definitely go faster with all the electronics working for you,' he assured us. And he was right.

But enough of the old car. The 458 Speciale strips 90kg of weight out of the regular - if you can call it that - Italia, clips four-tenths of a second off the 0-100kph time to run it in just 3.0secs, and can hit 200kph in 9.1secs. Changes to the combustion chamber and new materials in the crankshaft help pump up the normally aspirated 4.5-litre V8's power output from 562 to 597bhp (its specific power is now a record 133bhp-per-litre). Yes, this is some way short of the McLaren 12C's 625bhp, but that's not the point. It's what the 458 Speciale can do with it that matters, and horsepower bragging rights aren't important. This could be significant in itself...

Instead, the emphasis is on active aerodynamics, with Ferrari claiming that many of the solutions adopted by the 458 Speciale are getting their first outing here. Ferrari's design centre and aero boffins worked closely to rework the car's front and rear end, the net result being that this is the most aero efficient Ferrari road car ever. The Speciale's nose features moveable flaps, which activate at around 170kph to reduce drag across the front of the car and generate more downforce. There are side vanes ahead of the rear wheelarches, more active aero at the rear - using similar tech to that seen on the LaFerrari hypercar - and a completely new rear diffuser and spoiler. Note also the new dual exhaust system, as opposed to the 458 Italia's distinctive triple exits. If the Scud redefined a Ferrari's handling potential, the 458 Speciale's focus is on optimising high-speed balance and stability.

But it can also pull 1.33g in lateral acceleration, which is another new record for a production Ferrari, and the sort of figure that sucks your jowls to the side windows. There's more. Thanks to something called the Side Slip Angle Control System (SSC), it looks like Ferrari is prepared to indulge the driver in a bit of sideways action. Feeding yet more information into the car's electronic control unit, SSC instantaneously monitors slip angles, compares them to a target value, and then plays with the amount of torque available, via the Speciale's traction control system and the E-diff, to make the car more obedient on the limit. This is one piece of software we can't wait to try.

A shout out, too, to Michelin, whose Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres have been developed specially for the Speciale, and promise improved durability, even more feel, and better wet weather performance. Tweaks to the dual clutch, seven-speed gearbox have made the shift times even more lightning quick, and minimised torque interruption yet further. Like the 458 Italia, the new car uses magneto-rheological dampers, but there are new shock absorbers on the Speciale. No doubt it'll trade some of the regular car's impressive ride comfort for even more intense body control, but we can live with that.

Ferrari's interior quality has never been better, and while the Speciale is stripped for action it's hardly brutal. There's more exposed carbon fibre inside, a two-point race harness, and a new spar on the central tunnel houses the gearbox control buttons. Exterior changes are up to the buyer, of course, but it looks good with go-faster stripes, no?

Tags: italia, 458, ferrari, frankfurt 13, 458 speciale

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