The Ferrari 458 Speciale is something very different. It may feature essentially the same engine as in the F430. And what an engine! But in all other respects it feels like a car not just six years later, but 16. Looks are subjective. But let’s face it, the 458 in Speciale trim is an extremely handsome car, and one with real presence, too. After the relative compactness of its two predecessors, the Speciale seems huge, and every inch the modern supercar.
It’s an impression that gains strength as I open the door. The 458 Speciale is on a completely different level to the older cars for design and build quality. Even if there’s a 90kg weight saving over the ‘regular‘ 458 Italia, it feels like a beautifully wrought product. The fact it still has bare floors seems to get lost in the acres of Alcantara and carbonfibre. The dear old F136 V8 is still a physical and audible presence at idle. But it’s not as close by as in the F430. At 4497cc, and the rev limit to a stratospheric 9000rpm, this 597bhp masterpiece intimidates by reputation. Even before you’ve squeezed the right-hand pedal (which now operates a vastly more refined and quicker-shifting twin-clutch gearbox).
In fact, the Speciale is no more taxing than a 458 Italia. The ride quality is astonishingly good – again, with ‘bumpy road’ selected where necessary. Everything the car does is so cohesive and so wonderfully coordinated. Driving becomes almost an extension of your own thoughts and bodily movements.
With nearly 540Nm of torque and a mass just under 1400kg, the Ferrari 458 Speciale hardly feels toothless at lower revs. Much has been made of the turbocharged 488’s anytime-anywhere shove, but I don’t feel short-changed driving this car. Open the throttle and it leaps forward; keep your foot in and get the shift lights on the steering wheel blinking and there’s acceleration and a purity of noise that literally takes the breath away. I giggle. I start laughing like a madman and talking to no one in particular. If you’re not moved by the Speciale’s extraordinary performance then we need to check for a pulse immediately.
It’s this wonderful engine that defines the Ferrari 458 Speciale, even more than its dazzling electronics, active aerodynamics and Side Slip Control 2 (yet another advancement in making the driver feel like a hero at the wheel of an intrinsically dangerous machine, just as the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer will develop further still with the 488 Pista), and herein lies the thorny topic of debate with all these cars. Whether the Dino V8, the Scud’s rowdy 4.3 lump or the Speciale’s other-worldly device, it’s these naturally aspirated engines that scream ‘Ferrari!’ at you like nothing else can. Not once when driving any of them do I wish for more torque, more driveability, or more performance.
Ferrari may point to emissions regulations for the adoption of turbocharging, but there’s still a very real worry that a major piece of the puzzle will be lost with the new car. In the regular 488 it didn’t seem to matter as much, but when you consider what the Speciale offers, that’s something altogether different. So sharp, so ruthlessly accurate is the throttle at higher revs, there’s a very real sensation of being directly connected to a supreme force, and an inevitable bond between man and machine takes root. It’s a ‘thing’, the Speciale’s V8; it doesn’t require any justification, it just is.
It’s also the last of its kind, unless Ferrari brings its rumoured hybrid tech down from the forthcoming V12 cars and applies it to the mid-engined V8s as well. Whether there’s any way back from the persuasive power and torque outputs enabled by turbocharging is a different matter – in this arena, more than any other, it’s almost impossible to market a less powerful, slower car – and more’s the pity. So it’s probably for the best that we view the Pista as the beginning of a new era, and cap the old one off with the Speciale, the last in a trio of lighter, faster, meaner, more purposeful Ferraris that represent a golden period, not only for the company, but for performance motoring in general.