The Ferrari 458 Italia has set a new standard by which supercars are now judged

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The classic mid-engined V8 berlinetta layout seen here in the Ferrari 458 Italia actually began with the 2+2 Dino 308 GT4 in 1973. In more recent history, it is the elegant 1994 F355 that many think of when considering the best and most memorable of the two-seat ‘baby’ Ferraris that make up the 458’s predecessors.

Since the 3.5-litre F355 ended production in 1999, two new generations – the 360 Modena and F430 – had rolled out of Maranello before the 458 arrived.

The 458 sports what many will regard as the classic Ferrari layout

There has always been a bit of a contradiction about the notion of a junior Ferrari. But, with a few notable exceptions, that is how the mid-engined V8-powered cars from Maranello have come to be known.

So it was with the 308 GTB, and the line of cars that followed. Now, though, things are changing at Ferrari. In the California, it has a fourth model line designed to cater for those wanting a slighter softer experience from their Prancing Horse. 

That in turn has given this 458 Italia, the latest V8 Ferrari, the licence to move into more serious territory. There is nothing remotely junior about 562bhp or a top speed in excess of 200mph.

Not only does it outpace the V12 599 GTB to 60mph and 100mph but, once you plunder the massively tempting options list with its array of performance and luxury enhancing gadgets, this also is a car that can easily cost in excess of £200,000.

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For the 458 Spider (note the lack of Italia nomenclature for the open-top car), this reality is even more attainable; its basic price is almost £200,000 before you even look at the options list.

Numbers are one thing, though. What we are here to find out is if the new 'junior' has not only moved the game on, but also entered the rarefied ranks of the truly great Ferraris.


Ferrari 458 xenon headlights

Any observations about the Ferrari 458 Italia’s styling are, of course, entirely subjective but, in our office, the consensus is that it marks a return to sensational-looking Ferraris.

With a flat undertray, but without any obvious aero aids, the 458 generates more downforce than the F430 (360kg flat out) and yet it is also more aerodynamic.

The 458 Italia is one of the most striking Ferraris in an age

One obvious change from the styling of the car it replaces is that the intakes for the engine bay cooling have been moved from the car’s rear flanks to the undertray, improving the overall efficiency and the operation of the rear diffuser.

The striking air intakes on the 360’s and F430’s rear haunches have been dropped in favour of a triangular intake that blends into the tapering windowline. It's a more elegant solution. Clever aerodynamics haven’t harmed the beauty of the car: the distinctive vent that leads up to the headlight allows in air to cool the brakes and then feeds it out of the channel on the other side to reduce lift over the front arches.

Then there are the inlet wings. These angle air upwards so enough is pushed through the radiators at low speeds but they then deform to reduce drag at higher speeds, when you don’t need such a large inlet area for adequate cooling. These wings also generate downforce.

Ferrari says the small lip on the boot provides plenty of downforce, and a movable wing is not necessary. We never found any reason to disagree. 

Finally, there is a touch of Enzo in the 458’s overall design, particularly in the shape and position of the rear lights (although the Enzo had twin units). Vents below the rear lights are for radiators to cool the gearbox and clutch.

Having said all this, the 458 Spider arguably ups the desirability stakes even further. Its aluminium roof is 25kg lighter than the 430's fabric set-up, and can be retracted in just 14 seconds. Whilst it loses the Italia's glass engine cover, the cohesive packaging of the roof means choosing a convertible Ferrari is no longer rife with compromises.


Ferrari 458 dashboard

If you sit in the F430 and then step into the 458 Italia, it feels as though you have skipped two generations of Ferrari rather than one. Everything in the 458 feels modern and exudes a sense of handcrafted workmanship that was missing from its predecessor.

The protruding, almost abstract-looking vents give the dashboard the appearance of wrapping around the driver, and with most of the controls placed on the steering wheel or to the right of the driver, it is an extremely driver-focused cabin.

It’s hardly high up the priority list, but it’s still impressive how much clobber can be stowed under the 458’s nose

It takes some familiarisation to get used to the indicator, windscreen wiper and headlight controls being placed on the steering wheel, but in practice it’s a convenient set-up. There is the problem that, with lock applied, the required button could be out of thumb’s reach but, given the 458’s quick steering, it’s rare to need to shuffle the wheel.

Visibility isn’t great; looking straight ahead is fine, but the three-quarter view at junctions is a little awkward. Space for luggage isn’t bad, though; there’s some storage behind the seats and a deep, if narrow, boot at the front.

Our test car came with carbonfibre racing seats, which are pricey by any standards but also hard to fault, other than for their lack of height adjustment.

A vast personalisation scheme means that the success of any Ferrari 458 interior will depend on its owner’s choices. Anything from materials and colours to the width of the stitching can be personalised. Even so, we think that the standard kit could be slightly more generous. Sat-nav should be standard on a car of this price.


4.5-litre V8 Ferrari 458 engine

Think of a set of performance criteria that a modern supercar should meet and, chances are, you’ll have drawn up a list of performance figures that all but mirror those belonging to the Ferrari 458 Italia.

Its 0-60mph time starts with a three, its top speed starts with a two and, on the way, it passes 100mph in around 7sec, eases to a standing quarter mile in less than 12sec and breezes past 150mph before a standing kilometre is out.

By moving the Manettino to the ‘low grip’ setting, you keep also the exhaust flaps closed for longer. Useful if you don’t want to attract too much attention

More impressive than the numbers themselves, though, is the way with which the Ferrari 458 goes about setting them. Not too many years ago, extracting 562bhp from a naturally aspirated 4.5-litre engine – some 125bhp per litre – would have produced an undriveable, snarling fire-breather of a powerplant. Not too many years before that, it would never have happened in a road car at all.

So it’s a testament to advances in production, materials, injection and electronic technology that the 458 happily spins into life without drama and, as early as 3000rpm, is pulling with as much torque as the outgoing Ferrari F430 gave in total – and this despite spinning to 9000rpm. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is the speed with which the 458 builds its revs. There is no hang, no lag. You ask of the throttle and the engine delivers in an utterly predictable, linear fashion.

As with the California, the 458’s power is directed to its wheels via a dual-clutch transmission that, some might say (although not us), dilutes the thrill of a single-clutch robotised manual. The efficiency with which it goes about swapping cogs comes with no loss of mechanical feel.

The 458, like all current Ferraris, comes as standard with carbon-ceramic brakes capable of stopping it repeatedly, from high speed, in no time at all.


Ferrari 458 hard cornering

Until the Ferrari 458 Italia, the two best-handling mid-engined cars on sale were the Lotus Evora and Noble M600.

The Ferrari hasn’t totally eclipsed them but it sits very comfortably in their company. However, the other things it can do are what sets this car apart.

You’ll be surprised by the lack of progression when brushing the 458's carbon-ceramic brakes, but when asked to do a more serious task, the Brembo-sourced items are thoroughly up to the job

For a start, the 458 outrides the Noble – no surprises there – regardless of whether the two-stage adjustable dampers are set to normal or the softer ‘bumpy road’ setting.

Regardless of setting, the 458 is (for a supercar) a supple-riding thing whose fast, light steering, at 2.0 turns lock to lock, instantly feels agile. That doesn’t translate to a nervousness around the straight-ahead, mind.

It just means that it feels more willing to turn than the Noble M600 and Lotus Evora (and any other rival), despite being heavier. It’s true that the speed and lightness of its rack does rob the 458 of some of the intimacy enjoyed by the Lotus, Noble and, say, a Porsche 911 GT3, but a surprising amount of feel maked its way to the rim.

There’s enough, certainly, to make the 458 enjoyable even at the sensible speeds that road conditions generally allow. Such is the 458’s ability that you can cover ground at a fair lick without delving into the depths of its reserves as you would have to in a GT Porsche, a Lexus LF-A or, dare we say, the Noble, despite its power advantage.

Even when modest things are being asked of it, the 458 is tactile enough to reward. Closer to its limit, it has all the poise, and more, that we’ve come to expect from a mid-engined V8 Ferrari. Rivals that do things better are few.

It's a similar story when evaluating the Ferrari 458 Spider, although with a smidge less intensity. Ferrari has softened the dampers slightly in the transformation from Italia to Spider, but otherwise the suspension is identical. While a slight tremor through the bodyshell can be felt on really rough roads, the structure always feels resolutely stiff.


Ferrari 458

You don’t buy a Ferrari because it’s cheap, and the Ferrari 458 Italia is no different.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that, after options, it could be nearer (or in excess of) £200,000 than the sticker price.

The 458's four-year warranty gives huge piece of mind

Browsing the array of options is an experience in itself. In addition to the 26 standard exterior colours, Ferrari’s personalisation scheme will let you choose pretty much any colour your heart desires – for a price.

Then there are four types of wheels, five colours for the brake calipers, an almost endless array of leather combinations with an equal number of contrasting stitching options (or carbonfibre) for all parts of the cabin, different seats, carpets (inside the car and the boot) and even four colour options for the rev counter.

The options list also reveals the Ferrari to be pretty poorly equipped; you have to pay extra for sat-nav and iPod connectivity, just two things that should really be standard.

Ferrari's official claimed economy is 20.6mpg, although in reality you’ll be lucky to achieve that. The CO2 rating is predictably high at 307g/km.

Depreciation is predicted to be excellent – thanks to strong demand and Ferrari's excellent Genuine Maintenance Programme, which covers all scheduled servicing costs for an incredible seven years, massively reducing the Ferrari’s running costs.

There’s also a four-year, unlimited-mileage warranty where rivals only offer three years’ cover. Given that the few and varied rivals will offer running costs that are no better, if not significantly worse, the Ferrari 458 is a tempting prospect in every respect.


5 star Ferrari 458

The Ferrari 458 Italia is proof that, when it comes to building road cars, Ferrari is definitely on a bit of a roll at the moment. But even considering the wonderfully desirable 599 GTO, arguably it is the 458 Italia that is Ferrari's greatest achievement. 

That isn’t simply because the 458 weaves scintillating ground-covering pace with impressive practicality but also because, for all of its technology, it remains an interactive and deeply satisfying car to drive – be that at three-tenths on a back road or fully committed at your favourite track.

Everything Ferrari does best, only more cutting edge. A landmark car.

It can hold its own in handling terms with some of the best-handling cars we’ve ever driven, notably the Lotus Evora and Noble M600, while its performance is at a level that matches, and in many cases beats, hyper-expensive and hyper-exclusive supercars from not that long ago.

The interior is more usable and more interesting than ever before, and with a notable step up in quality. And almost as impressive as the 458’s sheer pace is its ability to do more mundane driving chores without batting an eyelid; this is an extremely comfortable car that rides superbly. Not exactly what you expect given the headline performance figures.

It is a shame, perhaps, that in the process the price has moved yet further into lottery winner territory, but on sheer ability the 458 Italia entirely justifies the premium over the F430 that it replaces. The junior Ferrari is now every inch the complete supercar.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Ferrari 458 Italia 2010-2015 First drives