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Ferrari, Supercars

Ferrari 458 Italia: Next-Gen Italian Speed

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The Ferrari F430 is dead.  Long live the Ferrari 458 Italia.  The latest creation from the Maranello, Italy-based automaker further draws from the company’s racing pedigree.  The Formula 1-inspired steering wheel, powerful V8, and aerodynamic styling makes the 458 the closest most people will ever get to driving an F1 racer.  Assuming, of course, you’ve got a few hundred thousand dollars to spend on a car.

The F430 has become an iconic vehicle with some very big shoes to fill, so how does the 458 stack up?  The V8 powerplant has gained a bit of size, up to 4.5-liters from 4.3, and has also gained a fair amount of power.  The 458 has 570 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque compared to the F430′s 483 and 343, respectively.  These improvements rocket the 458 from 0-to-60 mph in a mere 3.4 seconds and hit a top speed of 202 mph.  A fair amount of this power upgrade is thanks to a new direct injection fuel system and also the regular tuning advances made since the F430′s debut in 2004.  That tuning also leads to more efficiency as, despite the power increase, the 458 will have better gas mileage (17.2 mpg combined), and lower carbon emissions (320 g/km).

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All of that power flows through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that was developed by Ferrari’s F1 racing team.  The F430 had a six-speed variant of the dual-clutch transmission, in addition to the option for a traditional six-speed manual, but the latest iteration of the dual-clutch is the main cause for excitement.  The shifts are smooth and lightning-fast.  And, finally, the shift paddles have been made larger.  On the F430, the paddles, which are fixed on the steering column, were smaller and completely out of reach if you wanted to shift while turning.  The larger paddles on the 458 will make for a much more controlled driving experience.

On the outside, the 458 definitely owes a lot of styling cues to the F430, yet it has somehow become even more beautiful.  While the F430 had the sweeping, supercar shape that has come to define street-ready supercars, the 458 takes it to the next level.  The styling is so evocative of speed that it wouldn’t be surprising to see a 458 get a speeding ticket while standing still.  It just looks that fast.

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But all of these improvements are expected in a new generation of Ferrari supercar.  What’s different?  What exceeds expectations?  Well, of all things, it’s the steering wheel.  In an F1 car, there is a big premium on space, so a lot of controls that would normally be in on the dash or console are moved to the steering wheel.  The 458 adopts this same design and the result is a mix of traditional steering wheel, F1 steering wheel, and a bit of videogame controller thrown in for good measure.  As you can see from the photo below, there’s a lot going on, but the design is surprising user-friendly.  The Engine Start button is on the left side of the wheel, track and suspension settings are on the right.  Turn signal switches are integrated into the steering wheel, within easy reach of the driver’s thumb (why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?), as are headlight and wiper switches, and, on the back side of the steering wheel, at the driver’s fingertips, are stereo controls.

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The wider upper arc of the steering wheel perfectly frames the gauge cluster which delivers a relevant stream of information to the driver.  The Ferrari 458 Italia is about the driving experience, the feel of gripping the wheel at 10 and 2, then attacking a twisty mountain road.

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The 458 is set to debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show later this month and will be hitting dealerships sometime in 2010.  No prices have been released yet, but expect a well-equipped 458 to cost around $225,000, which was the upper end of the cost spectrum with the F430.  Definitely way out of the price range for most of us, but just knowing that a car like this exists is enough for most car lovers.

Pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia

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