First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari
2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale. Click image to enlarge

Review by Michael Bettencourt, photos by Michael Bettencourt and courtesy Ferrari

Maranello, Italy – Some sports cars live to be flogged. Literally. Mercilessly.

The 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale is just such a car. It was born with one overarching design goal: to lap Ferrari’s famed Fiorano test track faster than the 458 Italia coupe. No easy task, as the 458 is already one of the elite performance cars in the world – and the best handling one, bar none, in my book.

To do this, the 458 Speciale has been hardened internally, lightened externally – and overall – and given more power to further improve its power-to-weight ratio. But as usual for Ferrari, the Italian exotic carmaker had some Formula One–inspired tech tricks up its sleeve. And to make sure we’d experience all those tricks, Ferrari invited us to its Maranello headquarters not only to learn about and drive Ferrari’s latest V8 missile, but to experience it at its limits on the Fiorano race track.

First, it was time to learn all about the car. Our first evening in Maranello took us to the track under cover of darkness, where an F1-style pit setup complete with a full bank of TV monitors overlooking the track and a 458 Speciale was arrayed for detailed inspection. The Speciale’s head of development Matteo Lanzavecchia detailed how Ferrari had improved performance not only compared to the regular 458, but also went more extreme from its donor car than either the F430 Scuderia or F360 Challenge Stradale, this mid-engine V8 car’s philosophical predecessors.

Lanzavecchia, who worked at Toronto-area race outfit Multimatic in 2000 when they made history as the first Canadian team to win their class at the 24 Hours of LeMans, detailed how the 458 Speciale’s 4.5L V8 engine is the same size as the Italia’s, but pumps out 35 extra horsepower. From there, it’s not only more power and more aggressive styling mods, but also engineering advances to the active aerodynamics, now in the rear as well as more active moving flaps in the front, and a new track-oriented stability control system to allow more pointability with the driver’s foot.

The brings the 458 Speciale’s power up to a European-rated 605 hp, though its SAE ratings will bring it down because Ferrari includes here some ram air effect at high speeds, while torque stays exactly the same at 398 lb-ft at a lofty 6,000 rpm. If you think that sounds as high as a rampaging mayor, that extra power came from upping the car’s rev limiter to an orbit-scraping 9,000 rpm, which is exactly where those ponies peak. The noise generated is a glorious Ferrari V8 wail, and it comes through notably louder and less refined than in the Italia, due to the missing carpets and jettisoning thicker sound-deadening material to cut its weight by 90 kg.

This is the first clue that drivers of this car should be willing to flog this car mercilessly to achieve its greatest potential.

Next was a quick stop at Ferrari’s Renzo Piano–designed wind tunnel, or at least a presentation room within the master architect’s Galleria del Vento, as the prancing horse–marked sign out front says. There are prancing horses everywhere in Maranello, with Ferrari and technical partner Shell logos on every shirt, jacket and Puma sneaker of every factory employee. Ferrari head of aerodynamics Enrico Cardile explained how the 458 Speciale has a relatively brick-like 0.35 co-efficiency of drag, but the design priority was a fast time around Fiorano, not a low Cd number.

First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari First Drive: 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale luxury cars first drives ferrari
2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale. Click image to enlarge

As such, there are two new active aerodynamics systems used in the Speciale. Two silver vertical flaps just behind either side of the chrome prancing horse are normally closed, but open up when the car hits 170 km/h to reduce drag. Keep pushing to 220 km/h, and a small horizontal panel opens up just below the flaps to increase downforce. In the rear, there’s an electrically actuated flap ahead of the rear diffuser that adjusts the rear downforce up and down based on speed and cornering forces.

Various new high-tech innovations make their way onto the 458 Speciale that will help it to appeal to the track enthusiast. The first is a new system called Side Slip Angle Control (SSC), that instantly analyzes which end of the Speciale is sliding or close to sliding when it goes hard into a corner, compares it to the steering angle and other metrics, then apportions power to allow for optimal balance or even as much yee-haw tail-out sliding as possible, without the electronics cutting into the fun.




About Michael Bettencourt

Michael Bettencourt is on the World Car of the Year jury, has been a long-time AJAC member, and is on its Technology of the Year judging panel.