We know styling is a largely subjective business but if you think a 458 is anything but stunning, it might be time to get yourself to the opticians. Look closely and nods to the past (tail lights from the Enzo and air intakes like those on a 308) mix with a fashionably low waistline and the kind of deep windscreen you'd get on a modern endurance racer. Where Ferrari was extremely clever in designing this car was in mixing sharp angles such as the chamfered front wings with their sleek compound curves, while at the same time building solid aerodynamics into the exterior design.
At launch, this was actually the sleekest Ferrari ever, thanks to lovely details like the 'aerolastic winglets' in the nose that bend at speed to direct air under the car. Or the engine bay vents that use high pressure air in the wheel arches to increase cooling and further aid downforce levels that at top speed equate to nearly a third of the weight of the car. The science of managing airflow around the aluminium-crafted bodywork has clearly been taken very seriously at Maranello.
The rear haunches are a lot cleaner than those of the old F430 as there are no bulging inlets. Instead, the 458 has a neat inlet at the back of the glasshouse that sucks air in to feed the engine. You'll also get two underbody ducts to cool the engine, while at the back you see vents that cool the clutch and the gearbox.
Let's have a look at a few more details. The carbon ceramic brakes measure a huge 398 mm at the front and 360m at the back, with six piston calipers at the front and four-pot items at the back. You'll get through rear pads pretty quickly if you take your 458 on track and leave the car in 'Race' mode, as the stability control system will do a lot of work at the rear end. You'll need to either factor in the cost of replacement items of switch the control systems off, which might prove even more costly. Your call.
The long headlights are a real 458 signature design feature and contain a main lens that's a rotating bi-xenon light with low and full beam functions, which follow the car's movements in line with the curves on the road. Above it is a vertical stack of 20 high-intensity LEDs for the daylight running lights which increase or decrease their brightness with the intensity of ambient light.
And the cabin? Well, it offers decent headroom whether you choose the 458 Italia coupe or the 458 Spider open-topped version. Most of the controls are angled towards the driver with the main focus being a central rev counter bordered by two configurable TFT colour screens. The one on the left can help you monitor various temperatures and pressures and show you the exact level of electronic assistance the various driver aids, the diff or the gearbox are providing, plus you can see whether the brakes, tyres and engine are up to temperature or overheating. This screen also helpfully shows a small digital speed read-out at the bottom, which is fortunate, for very often, you'll have to do without the large speedo read-out, which is one of the functions of the screen on the right. That's because you'll more regularly want to use this screen to show radio or sat nav info.
At first it all seems a bit much to take in, especially as the designers have also taken the unusual decision to do away with traditional column stalks and mount virtually all the main controls on the steering wheel - yes, just like an F1 car. But F1 drivers don't have to bother about things like lights and wipers. It's a fiddly way to operate them and you often end up switching on the wipers when you're trying to flash the headlamps. It's even worse when you're trying to use the indicator buttons at the same time as wheel-twirling, say when you're coming through a roundabout. And the rim-mounted horn is just as awkward. Still, after a while you begin to figure out how things work. Frank Stephenson was the guy in charge of the Ferrari 458 design and he signed off the car's F1-style steering wheel. He was then poached by McLaren in order to try to whip the MP4-12C into shape and that emerged with a wheel which has precisely no extraneous controls on it. Figure that one out.
What we can't fault are the controls you'll find behind the steering wheel - the lovely, tactile gearshift paddles. We admit that we miss the look of the lovely old chromed open gate manual gear change that older manual Ferraris used to have but that was a dog to use and the 458's paddles give a very clean look to the cabin. Rather unsurprisingly, there's not a great deal of stowage space, though the 230-litres on offer is a lot more than is available from any of this car's rivals from this era (a Mclaren MP4-12C has just 144-litres, a Lamborghini Gallardo just 110-litres and even a Mercedes SLS only 173-litres). It's possible to get a laptop case behind the seats and many original owners took up the option Ferrari offered of buying a couple of very expensive tailored luggage sets that fit both the rear bench and the front boot. Go for a car whose owner did without these and you'll be down to trying to cram in a pair of squashy bags into the space provided: there's little room for much else, so it'll help if you pack light for a weekend away.
Should you choose the 458 Spider, you'll have to do without the glazed-in engine cover, but recompense comes in the shape of a folding aluminium hard top that's aesthetically cohesive and which can do its thing in just 14 seconds, with just two moving parts that slot neatly into a gap between the engine and the seats. Did chopping the roof off affect the handling? Not really; Ferrari strengthened the chassis to compensate, which added 50kilos, but torsional stiffness is the same as the coupe. Lopping a car's roof off is usually a first class way to ruin it. Not this time.
The 458 is basically a strong car but there are issues to look out for. There have been numerous reports of transmission failures for 2010-2011 model year Ferrari 458 Italias and for the same period, Ferrari issued a recall for a faulty crankshaft that can cause sudden engine seizure, possibly resulting in a crash. It was found that some crankshafts were machined incorrectly during manufacturing and need to be replaced. If the car you're looking at is from this period, make sure the remedial work was done. An issue that affected 2010-2014 model years was that the secondary component of the trunk latch may not release when car is stationary. And Ferrari issued a recall to 2010 458s due to the adhesive in the rear fenders. At high temperatures this adhesive can ignite, leading to a fire in the engine bay itself and potential loss of the entire car.
For those that end up buying an early 2010 or 2011 model year, the Ferrari 458 is actually considered a low maintenance car. Outside of routine service like oil changes, the 458 Italia needs little. The DCT transmission is built to last the life of the car and does not require clutch replacement. The brakes are standard carbon ceramic and also meant to the last the life of the car - but may have been trashed in track excursions. Just like the previous Ferrari F430 model, the 458 Italia utilizes timing chains, not timing belts, and these don't require replacement either.
The interior is a bit of a mixed bag, with hardwearing fabrics alongside plastic finishes that can easily scuff. Check the body for parking damage as visibility isn't great to the rear three-quarters when you're manoeuvring into a space. Kerbed alloys are common as well. The Spider's fabric roof is not entirely fault-free and some owners have reported water ingress and cases of the mechanism jamming, so look for any interior water staining and check the seals with a fine-toothed comb. Check for uneven tyre wear, evidence of accident damage, wear to interiors not corresponding with the car's documented mileage and insist on a full service record.
(approx based on a 2012 458 Italia) Rear tyres will run you around £350 each, while an alternator is around £300. Should your camshaft position sensor go on the blink, you'll need around £75 to replace it although you'll pay many more times that figure in labour should you require a Ferrari dealer to diagnose your issue. A wiper blade is around £25. An appropriate battery will be between £150 and £180, but pricier brands can run to well over £200.
Welcome to the definitive Ferrari experience. So what's it like? Well turn the key, then thumb the red big red button on the steering wheel. You expect the big flare of revs you'd get in a Lamborghini Gallardo or even a Mercedes SLS - something to scare small animals and children. What you get instead is simply a purposeful clearing of the throat as the big 4.5-litre V8 settles back to a crisp idle. But of course, what you're listening to is merely a prelude to the main event. Just a couple of flexes of your right foot will be enough to deliver a roar loud enough for the neighbours to be reporting you to the environmental health. Enough also to remind you that this throttle has quicker reactions than Ali at his punchiest.
At first, it's a slight disappointment to find the classic chromed Ferrari manual gearshift gate missing. This model isn't even offered with a manual shift and few future Maranello models will be. So you get instead a dual-clutch semi-auto transmission, produced for the 458 by Getrag, one of those clever systems that selects the next gear before you've even left the last. Click it into the first of its seven speeds, roll away and the next thing you'll notice is that the steering is virtually as hypersensitive as the accelerator.
With just two turns lock to lock, this car has a really pointy front end. Normally that'd make it feel really nervous, but somehow, that's not true of this 458. Yes, it still feels as if it's drinking Red Bull rather than 98 RON but the suspension is so well planted that it gets away with that fast rack. The other advantage of having such steering is that most corners require no more than a roll of the wrists, keeping you in touch with the shift paddles and the wheel-mounted controls. That would never work if you were always grabbing great armfuls of steering lock.
This Getrag twin-clutch gearbox is something very special. Throw a few gears at it and it just keeps pace with virtually no interruption in the flow of power. Gearchanges take just 50 milliseconds and the soundtrack is straight from supercar central casting. All right, so there's the nagging doubt that it's been heavily massaged to sound like this - but who cares? It'll have you searching maps for the nearest tunnel and making a thorough nuisance of yourself. Only the centre exhaust outlet is open at light throttle, but the outer pair spring to life as soon as you push on the throttle a bit harder.
Like most modern Ferraris you can change the car's dynamics with a little dial on the steering wheel that the company calls the 'manettino'. Here you can alter the configuration of the engine, transmission and chassis electronics, including the traction control, stability control, electronically controlled differential and the ABS brake system. You have your choice of 'Wet', 'Sport', 'Race', 'CT Off' (traction control off) and for the brave, foolhardy or very skilful, the ultimate 'you're-on-your-own' 'EST Off' (traction and stability control disabled).
Whereas before, in models like the old F430, the car would default to a firm suspension damping setting if the driver wanted a fast gearshift, it's possible on a 458 to select the most aggressive engine configuration and yet make the dampers compliant enough for a bumpy road. Just prod the appropriate button on the steering wheel, the one with a damper graphic, and it'll keep your sharp gearchange settings but switch to a softer suspension mode.
The 4.5-litre direct injection engine is of course quite something, developing an eye-watering 562hp in standard form or 596hp in a Speciale model, so you might well expect it to feel a little highly strung, but it'll lug from 1,500 rpm without a problem. Some 80% of the power output is available at just 3,250 rpm, reassuring the driver with the knowledge that the remaining 5,750 rpm to the power peak of 9,000rpm offers lots of room to play. The steering wheel could be specified like with built-in shift lights at the top of the rim. It certainly adds to the drama when you're approaching the redline - as if any more was required.
But is it properly quick? Well of course, you knew it would be. The stats say that in a standard 562hp model, sixty from rest is just 3.4s away and you'll flash past 100mph at about the 7s mark. 0-124mph takes just 10.4s and the flat-out maximum is 202mph - but these are just figures. What's important is a reality that little prepares you for quite how exciting that will feel. So many supercars from this period are hugely capable but make the experience of going fast feel wholly anodyne, but the genius in the 458 is that it does completely the opposite. It always feels alive, and you don't need to be going round corners all bent out of shape for it to offer a real experience. Get it onto a track, loosen off the shackles of the electronic control systems a bit and you'll have a real hoot, but just be careful of your own limitations. The unforgiving tyres, square footprint, mid engine and lightning quick steering mean that if you do bring the back end into play, you'll need to be very handy indeed if you're not going to end up facing the wrong way. Like the previous F430, the 458 features a launch control mode. The twin-clutch transmission can handle full-bore starts a bit better than the old F1 box, but it still feels incredibly violent.
On a circuit, you'll really appreciate the huge carbon-ceramic brakes as they'll offer repeated fade-free reassurance long after a set of steel discs would have sent the brake pedal to the carpet. On the road, if we're honest, they're probably a little over-specified for the task, but you can modulate the brakes well when diving into a corner. The pedal feel is really good; certainly a lot better than that of a Gallardo. For all Lamborghini's specialism with carbon, they've never quite managed to get the brakes right. The 458 will hang you off your belts with a punchy stop and it never feels squirrelly when braking into corners. In fact, the way all the electronic systems talk to each other is extremely good. Porsche always used to be held as the benchmark for this sort of dynamic performance, but we think Ferrari are these days matching them.
The ride, as we've said, is adjustable but even in its most accommodating 'bumpy road' setting, it's firm-ish, though not what you'd call choppy. Nor is wind or road noise too intrusive. This isn't a car for bumbling about in though. It wants to be pushed hard and when it is, you get an enormous amount of reassurance from the front end. You feel you can place the thing with millimetric precision through a corner. Ferrari reckoned this steering accuracy stemmed from improvements in the rear multi-link suspension. By better controlling the camber angle and wheel centre movement, the Italian engineers were able to increase roll stiffness and run this 458's faster more precise steering. It certainly never feels as if it's going to flop into roll oversteer and the car's centre of gravity feels agreeably low, something that hasn't always been the case with mid-engined Ferraris. This 458 Italia was engineered from fundamentally correct first principles. In other words, believe the hype.
Rumour has it that when McLaren was developing its MP4-12C supercar just after the turn of the century, it had a couple of Ferrari F430s in as benchmark comparison models. The British engineers stripped these down, re-built them and made sure that their car would knock Ferrari's finest into the middle of next week. There was only one problem. They used the wrong benchmark. Nobody, you see, in Woking - nobody in the supercar industry - was quite prepared for just what a massive step forward the F430's replacement, this car, the 458 Italia, would prove to be. Apparently it all went a little quiet at McLaren back in 2010 the first time they got hold of a car for appraisal. The supercar game, they realised, was tougher than it at first seemed.
This 458 proved to be one of those rare 'right first time' designs. You see, what Ferrari understands - and some of its rivals have yet to grasp - is that with building a supercar, 90% of the challenge is getting the intangibles right. The styling detail, the sound, the tactile feel, heck, even the smell. In this car, every one of these things is exactly as it should be, which is why this model established itself so firmly as a benchmark in the supercar sector in its period.
It's as charismatic and exciting as every Ferrari should be, but better built, higher-tech and more beautifully appointed than any of Maranello's V8 supercars from the past. These were stepping stones to the model you really aspired to but this one is a journeys' end in itself if a classic Ferrari is what you've always wanted. More extreme machines have rolled from the Modena factory gates, but few of them have been faster than this one and none have been easier to drive or more daily usable. It's this blending of practicality with such pure operatic drama that makes the 458 what it is. Drive this and in comparison, a McLaren MP4 feels like a domestic appliance, a Porsche 911 hopelessly outgunned and a Lamborghini Gallardo positively ancient. In truth nothing really comes close. Because in truth, nothing is ever quite like a Ferrari.