So there it was, right in front of me. Just sitting, quietly, in its metallic black paint glistening seamlessly in the rays of the bright, early spring/late winter afternoon sun—one of the greatest supercars that history has ever produced. And this should go without saying, because Ferrari is an automaker that possesses one of the richest pasts filled with some of the most grandiose achievements in not just all of motorsports, but all of automotive history.
That said, the world-famous Prancing Horse automaker is the epitome and the embodiment of over a century’s worth of civilian and racing automotive technology combined and is as bang up to date as your Applesung smartphone. I can go on and on about Ferrari’s extraordinarily affluent history. In fact, I could dedicate an entire book to how iconic the brand is. But that’s not what I’m here to do, no sir-ee.
I’m here to talk about how the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia that has inhabited my presence and why it is the engineering marvel that it is. But not everyone understands that by experiencing the 458, I was living the dream of nearly every young boy around and inside of us car nuts. Even then, your average Joe tends to be oblivious to what specifically makes the Ferrari 458 Italia so special. As a gross generalization, a lot of those not familiar with automobiles—and even those who are—tend to attribute connotations to Ferraris such as, a “playboy’s car,” or a “status” symbol of wealth. Well, admittedly, yes, that is a bit hard to glaze over with a car that costs $230,000.
But truth be told, there’s much more to the Ferrari’s brilliance than just being a status symbol and there’s even plenty more to the 458 Italia than its righteous bloodline of pedigree and exorbitant price suggest. And you have to look deep below the 458 Italia’s luscious bodywork.
For instance, the brilliance of the 458 Italia isn’t just about its seductive, fluid and artful shape, which also wasn’t deliberately designed to be pretty. It was specifically designed with aerodynamics in mind, thanks to being modeled in one of the world’s most advanced wind tunnels, Ferrari’s Galleria del Vento in Maranello, Italy—the same one used make their fastest world-class Formula 1 professional race cars. There’s more to the fact that the 458 Italia’s chassis and body shell are constructed primarily of aluminum, which weighs less than traditional steel.
Even the attention to detail with the body doesn’t emphasize the 458’s brilliance, held together by a combination of precise machine, hand-welds and structural adhesives, all of which have made the 458 Italia weigh less, 3,042lbs vs. 3,175lbs to be precise, and structurally stiffer than its predecessor, the Ferrari F430. It doesn’t matter that these techniques are used at the forefront of Ferrari’s racing programs, making them some of the most advanced engineered cars in existence today.
Nor is it about the Ferrari 458 Italia’s special lower front fascia design that incorporates flexible carbon fiber winglets in the air dams that bend downward as the 458 attains high speeds to improve downforce, making the car more stable in the corners and in a straight line. It even goes beyond the fact that there are air outlets in the panels on top of the front wheel wells that channel air away from the wheel wells—an area of the car which develops backpressure during high speeds, translating into unwanted drag that can potentially slow the 458. And they aid in cooling the gy-normous 15.6-inch Brembo brakes, composed of carbon-ceramic rather than steel—a material that dissipates heat better than any alloy metal and is fade-resistant. In comparison, the rotors on my 2011 Honda Accord Coupe V6’s front brakes are a measly 11.8 inches in diameter. In fact, every hole, crease, crevasse, fold, and bend exists only to make the 458 Italia one of the slickest cars in the air, allowing for a maximum of 309 lbs of downforce at 124 MPH.
The body features at the rear of the car even serve the purpose of achieving the highest amount of cooling and heat dissipation for the engine, which sits at the middle of the car rather than in the front on most traditional cars—chapter one, page one of the supercar holy bible. And there’s even a massive rear lower diffuser made of carbon fiber fused into the rear bumper that reduces the amount of turbulent air produced when traveling at high speeds. But the byproduct of all of this is simple: the 458 Italia is by far one of the most beautifully sculpted Ferraris to ever grace the Prancing Horse logo in recent history. But no, when talking about the brilliance of the 458 Italia, its drop dead sexy looks aren’t the sole things that matter.
The engine surely does matter somewhat, a collaboration between Ferrari and Maserati. It won two 2011 International Engine of the Year Awards: the Best Performance Engine as well as the “Above 4-Liter” displacement category. The seductive heart of a unit is a 90-degree-angled V8 that displaces 4.5-liters, or 4499cc, or in Imperial measurements, 274.5 cu in. and is loosely based off of the same V8 employed in Ferrari’s and Maserati’s racing programs. It utilizes a DOHC (Dual OverHead Camshaft) design with four valves per cylinder—two for intake and two for exhaust, both variably timed and lifted. No forced induction (turbocharger or supercharger) here as this beast is naturally aspirated with a very high compression ratio of 12.5:1. It is also the first road-going mid-engined V8 Ferrari to utilize direct-injection—a type of fuel injection where the fuel is directly into the combustion chamber at extremely high pressures via Piezo injectors rather than inside the intake ports of each cylinder, the most traditional form of fuel injection (also called port injection).
There’s also dry-sump lubrication where the oil circulating inside the engine is stored in a separate reservoir, rather than at the bottom of the crankcase (called wet-sump). The lubricant is driven by a series of pumps to ensure that every moving internal mechanical bit is properly oiled. This prevents oil starvation and foaming from happening when high g-forces are generated during hard cornering, causing the oil to slosh around from side to side inside the crankcase as exhibited in a traditional wet-sump system, used in majority of road cars. A dry-sump system also allows for a lower center of gravity because the engine can sit lower inside the bay. Only professional racecars and high-end sports cars—like this 458 Italia—use a dry-sump system because they’re the only cars that can generate the g-forces strong enough to disrupt the moving oil flow of an internal combustion engine.
And unlike mass-produced V8s say from BMW or Cadillac, Ferrari’s V8 engines have been using flat-plane crankshafts as opposed to cross-plane crankshafts since the 1973 308 GT4. A flat-plane crankshaft has its crank pins (the part where the piston connecting rods are mounted to the crankshaft) alternatively opposite of one another at 180°. Cross-plane cranks have them angled at 90° in relative to one another to reduce vibrations and require heavy counterweights to offset opposing forces when rotating. Resultantly, the upside to this is that a flat-plane crankshaft is lighter, resulting in less rotational mass. That boosts engine response and maximizes performance, hence why Ferrari is one of the very few manufacturers that have always produced flat-plane crank V8s—the only other users of flat-plane crank V8s are those in professional motorsports. Though none of that matters. And neither does the 562 horsepower matter when that flat-plane crank is spinning at 9,000 revolutions per minute.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission supplied by Getrag and controlled by steering column-mounted paddle shifters deserves honorable mention. It has an electromagnetically controlled twin-clutch pack compared to the conventional manual that uses a manually controllable clutch operated by a third pedal. The clutch pack also has two clutch discs instead of one so that while one clutch is engaged to the rear-axle providing power to the rear wheels, another clutch is spinning in tandem with the engine speed, ready to engage the next gear. The result is a system that can shift gears faster than the human eye can blink. But this doesn’t encapsulate the brilliance of the 458 Italia that I’m trying to portray.
Neither do the magnetorheological dampers, where unlike traditional pressurized hydraulic shock absorbers, the Ferrari 458 Italia’s shocks contain a fluid that consists of tiny magnetic metal filings mixed in. And when specific electrical signals of particular voltage are pumped through the dampers, the filings change shape, altering the viscosity of the fluid within the shock absorber. That allows the shocks in the 458 to actively adjust themselves automatically several thousands of times per second for the highest precision, optimizing handling and ride quality. These shocks are also controlled by the same on-board computers that measure the car’s body movements such as pitch, roll, and yaw when in motion.
They also work in collaboration with Ferrari’s F1-Trac traction, stability, and anti-lock brake systems, which help inhibit the amount of wheel spin for the utmost control. And then there’s Ferrari’s patented E-diff electromechanically controlled rear differential, which compensates for the difference in rotation speeds of the drive wheels when the 458 Italia travels around a turn. It operates using hydraulic actuator valves, which control two multi-disc clutches, each of which drive one of the rear axles. Then sensors factor in throttle-pedal position, steering angle, wheel rotation speed and yaw acceleration to actively determine the right amount of power needed for each drive wheel. Those same sensors also play into the function of the shock absorbers. But wait just a second. As you’ve guessed, none of this trickery defines the brilliance of the 458 Italia either.
At this point, you might be wondering why I’m saying that none of these marvelous bits of engineering matter. And that’s because they don’t. Nope, not in their individual purposes. Not in the slightest bit in this particular feature. What matters however, is how all of those feats of engineering come together to work harmoniously to provide one of the most visceral, theatrical, and thrilling drives that anyone could experience from a factory-built supercar. From the moment you press the bright red “Engine Start” button sitting at seven o’clock on the steering wheel, an item that beckons to be pushed as you snuggle your bosom into the bucket seats finely trimmed with premium Italian cowhide—which are extraordinarily supportive and comfortable, I might add—to the moment you tug back on the right steering-mounted F1-style paddle shifter made of the same brushed aluminum that graces the latest line of Apple MacbookPro laptops. You know you’re in something special.
And I will say it again, it’s not about that aerodynamically lightweight designed body, or the racing-derived engine, or the trick e-differential, or the superfast and fancy Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual. It’s about how that blisteringly fast cog swapper and racing-derived engine work in unison to shove you into the seatbacks of those richly upholstered leather seats to propel you past 60 MPH in less than 3.4 seconds and onto a top run of over 200 MPH at wide-open throttle comfortably and stably. It’s about the pandemonium created by the from the 4.5-liter V8, bellowing through the cockpit as it climbs through its rev range and onto the redline whenever you feel the need to curtail that childish craving for speed and g-forces, combined with an open road and a fully depressed right pedal—a feat worthy of comparison to Andrea Bocelli and the Houston Symphony at the end of a crescendo.
It’s about how those magnetorheological shocks work transparently with the racing-derived onboard control systems, consistently and actively adjusting shock rates and stiffness while stiffening the shocks on opposing sides of the car when cornering for flatter body control, all of which allow you to hug corners at speeds you’d never think of achieving even in lesser sports cars. It’s about how the point-and-shoot precision of the steering, the lightweight body, and superior dynamics supplied by the weight distribution of having the engine sit closest to the center of gravity translates into a car that is so responsive, so balanced, and so accurate that you wouldn’t think anything else could beat it. It’s about how as a whole entirety, those automotive engineering marvels work so flawlessly and precisely in unison to create the Ferrari 458 Italia and the grand experience along with it. It’s one that reeks of the idea that you’re at the helm of one of the fastest, most technologically advanced pieces of engineering and art that Western society has been able to cultivate. Yes, it literally is as good as you think it is.
It’s an experience that’s so good, so satisfying, and so enlivening, it gives the Ferrari 458 Italia proper authority to be the kind of car to end up on the walls of nearly every youngster out there with an interest in machines on four wheels in the form of a poster. It gives the 458 Italia the right to be a source of inspiration for dreams worthy of turning every human being in the making into a potential petrolhead wanna-be. And as some who can whole-heartedly admit to once being one of these youngsters, I can very much say that this is a dream come true.
However, what is even more astonishing is that the Ferrari 458 is a modern day example of an absolutely no compromise machine built with almost no limitations set forth for its mission. Not only is it blisteringly fast with razor sharp handling and built with the intention of setting some serious performance times, it’s also manageable, comfortable, and in my experience, no more challenging than a BMW M3 to drive. It’s easy to get a feel for the car’s batshit-insane fast tendencies with the 458’s uncanny refinement and spot-on precision and in no way did I feel overwhelmed…well, maybe a little, considering this was the fastest car that I’ve ever been behind the wheel of.
But that said, I now have an absolutely positively concrete idea of what a true performance benchmark is. And that’s exactly what the Ferrari 458 Italia is, a benchmark. Sure, it was built to get the very few who could afford one from point A to point B. And sure, it was built with only the most serious considerations for luxury and superior track and road-going performance. But so were many of its other competitors. Though separating the pack from the 458 is the fact that the 458 has been the dog to beat from the get-go. It’s an automobile that can tick off all the checkboxes in its purpose. But most of all, it can do it all while tingling every single sense that matters to put the biggest and most unnerving grin on your face. And that’s what makes it an all time great.
Ferrari 458 Italia – Technical specifications
- Length: 4527 mm (178.2 in.)
- Width: 1937 mm (76.3 in.)
- Height: 1213 mm (47.8 in.)
- Wheelbase: 2650 mm (104.3 in.)
- Dry weight: 1380 kg (3042 lbs)
- Weight/power ratio: 2,42 kg/CV (7.16 lbs/kW)
- Weight distribution (front/rear): 42%/58%
- Type: V8 – 90°
- Displacement: 4499 cc (274.5 cu in.)
- Maximum power: 570 CV (425 kW) @ 9000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 540 Nm (398 lbs/ft) @ 6000 rpm
- Specific power output: 127 CV/l
- Compression ratio: 12.5:1
- Front: 235/35 ZR20 8.5″
- Rear: 295/35 ZR20 10.5″
- Maximum speed: >325 km/h (>202 mph)
- 0-100 km/h: <3.4 s
Fuel consumption + emissions
- Fuel consumption: 13.7 l/100 km
- Emissions: 320 g CO2/km
Dual-clutch, 7-speed F1
E-Diff3, F1-Trac, high-performance ABS
– By: Chris Chin
All photos copyright Chris Chin for egmCarTech