Ferrari’s 458 Speciale is predictable, because we knew all along that it was coming, and also knew exactly what to expect. As the spiritual successor to the much-loved 430 Scuderia and, before that, the 360 Challenge Stradale, the 458 Speciale was always going to be lighter, more powerful, visually more aggressive and dynamically more hardcore than the donor model, in this case the 458 Italia. Ferrari’s 458 Speciale is also astonishing, because somehow, those wizards in Maranello have managed to improve on the already perfect 458.
As you can see from the photos, the Speciale announces its identity with a loud white-and-blue stripe running from nose to tail, down the car’s centre line. The colours are a nod to the iconic livery of the North American Racing Team (NART), which raced Ferraris successfully in the ’60s and ’70s. The stripes are also available in more subtle dark grey, and really attention-shy punters will be glad to know the Speciale can be had without any adornment at all, although after seeing the be-striped car, it does look rather naked without them.
The Speciale retains the lithe, pinched-waisted lines of the 458, and stripes apart, they look superficially similar. But peer closely and you’ll see that the Speciale is different in many subtle but significant ways.
To increase airflow past the radiators, the front bonnet is now punctuated by a large cooling vent, and there are smaller louvre vents lining the top of the front fenders. The front bumper is wider, squarer and “angrier” than the 458’s, and houses hungry air intakes at its extremities, as well as a trio of moveable flaps in its central nacelle. These are part of a host of active aero devices unique to the Speciale, which help maximise downforce around corners while cutting drag on the straights.
The two vertical vanes in the nose ease open under air pressure at 170km/h to direct air away from the radiators to cut drag, while a larger horizontal one, which normally sits at a slight angle, flattens out (also under air pressure) at 220km/h to direct a controlled amount of air to the underbody and shift the aerodynamic balance rearwards for greater stability.
Out back, the Speciale has what Ferrari describes as a Drag Reduction System (DRS). While this sounds all F1 cool, it’s not actually a variable rear wing, but a trio of horizontal flaps in the rear underbody diffuser that lower themselves at high speed (via an automatically controlled mechanical actuator) to cut airflow through the diffuser and reduce drag.
Incidentally, that diffuser is more pronounced than the one nestling beneath the 458, and its sharply inclined centre section required a repositioning of the exhaust system – the Speciale sporting a pair of tailpipes positioned on either side of the central diffuser outlet, in place of the 458’s centrally located trio of pipes. The re-sited and redesigned silencers also reduce back-pressure by up to 25 per cent over the 458’s. Further aerodynamic tweaks include vertical “turning vanes” ahead of the front and rear wheels to direct and control airflow along the car’s sides, and a taller rear spoiler that sits slightly further back.
The wheels are exclusive to the Speciale – absolutely gorgeous, skinny-spoked 20-inch forged alloy items finished in gunmetal, gold or black. Apart from being beautiful, they’re also ultra-light, shaving over 12kg off the car’s weight.
Extreme weight-saving measures are evident elsewhere, too. Carbon fibre is used freely on many cabin fittings as well as, less visibly, the rear diffuser and underbody trays. Further weight is saved in the cabin by eschewing leather in favour of lighter materials – the carbon fibre-framed seats are clad in a breathable, “technical” fabric, and the fascia is in Alcantara. Cabin floor carpeting has been deleted, replaced by thin aluminium treadplates, and there is no glovebox.
To really emphasise the Speciale’s readiness to race, the car comes with four-point racing harnesses instead of normal seatbelts. To some petrolheads, they add a real sense of occasion to the experience, but to others (including me), the non-retracting belts are a bother, especially when you find it impossible to stretch to insert a Cashcard or reach the carpark ticket dispenser without undoing the belts.
Further weight has been shaved by the use of lighter brakes, thinner glass for the windshield and side windows, and a Lexan (plastic) rear screen. The engine itself weighs 8kg less than the 458’s, thanks to redesigned intake and exhaust systems, the use of carbon fibre for the intake plenums and air filter box, and some exotic metal compounds for certain engine internals.
All told, the Speciale weighs 1395kg – an impressive 90kg less than the 458, itself no fatty. With that mid-mounted V8 delivering an immense 605bhp at 9000rpm (35bhp more than the 458’s), the Speciale’s power-to-weight ratio is 433bhp per tonne.
At 4.5 litres, that V8 engine is similar in capacity to the 458’s, so its power increase is purely down to cleverness and not an increase in swept volume. The compression ratio has been raised to a soaring 14 to 1, there are higher-lift cams, lightweight alloys for the pistons and conrod bearings, and low-friction diamond-like carbon for the conrod bushings. There are also changes to the intake manifold, cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds and silencers, to improve airflow on both intake and exhaust phases, and to optimise combustion.
All these, coupled with remapping of the engine management software, result in that incredible 605bhp from the naturally aspirated 4.5-litre V8. To put that in perspective, BMW’s 4.4-litre V8 powering the M5 and M6 delivers 542bhp, but with the benefit of twin-turbocharging. It’s no surprise, therefore, to find that the Speciale’s 135bhp-per-litre specific output is a world record for a naturally aspirated production car engine.
As you’d expect, there are also chassis revisions. Reworked software for the electronically controlled magnetorheological dampers gives even more resolute roll resistance and better traction. Roadholding is further enhanced by Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres specifically developed for the Speciale. They’re 10mm wider than the 458’s all round and feature bi-compound technology – one compound for the outer part of the tread to maximise dry grip, and another for the inner part of the tread for more precise steering. Ferrari says dry grip is up by 6 per cent and wet grip by 5 per cent compared to the 430 Scuderia.
The standard Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes are improved from the 458’s, with redesigned calipers, a higher percentage of silicon in the discs and, remarkably, smaller brake pads made from a special hybrid material. Stopping distances have been reduced, with the 100-0km/h distance just 31 metres, while the heat-dissipating properties of the customised materials for the discs and pads mean even better fade resistance, which is useful for sustained track use.
There’s also a fancy new electronic system called Side Slip Angle Control, or SSC, which allows you to hold an ideal oversteer angle around bends and turns ordinary drivers into drift kings.
Theoretically, at least. Because we never got to try it for ourselves, greeted as we were with soaking wet conditions on the day we were set to drive the car.
Our handful of laps on Ferrari’s private Fiorano test track were spent tiptoeing through puddles and slithering about in the braking zones, rather than pushing the bounds of the Speciale’s abilities. Ferrari says the Speciale shaves 1.5 seconds off the 430 Scuderia’s Fiorano lap time – we’ll have to take their word for it.
Worse, our planned test route through the beautiful, snaking Appenine mountain roads to the west of Maranello was cancelled due to snowfall, leaving us to try and explore as much of the Speciale’s dynamics as we could on the flat, featureless country roads connecting the various Emilia Romagna towns surrounding Maranello. With the rain still bucketing down mercilessly, of course.
Short of a blizzard, the conditions couldn’t have been worse for evaluating the talents of a hardcore, track-developed supercar. Still, the Speciale endears. Just as with the 458, there’s ample, effortless torque right from idling speed, with urge building inexorably to a fearsome crescendo as you home in on that 9000rpm redline; just that in the Speciale, there is that noticeable extra degree of punch at the top end.
The 0-100km/h sprint is obliterated in 3 seconds flat (458: 3.3 seconds), 200km/h is done in 9.1 seconds, and from anywhere above 4000rpm, the car just bolts forward the moment you tickle the throttle.
As with the 458, the engine note gets louder and harder at 3000rpm, but in the Speciale’s case, it’s a deeper, grittier and fiercer note rather than the 458’s slightly hollow bark. While we’re on the subject of aural differences, the Speciale’s reduced insulation and bare-metal cabin floor let in more road noise (to the extent that normal conversation is difficult at speed on certain surfaces), but rather than detract from the enjoyment, this just adds to the car’s hardcore mien.
Gearshift duties are, as before, handled by steering-mounted shift paddles, but as with every other aspect of the car, the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox has been improved yet further. Ferrari says the on-limit upshifts are 20 per cent faster and downshifts a stunning 44 per cent faster than the already lightning-quick 458’s. And you can certainly feel this. At higher revs and with the Manettino in “Race” or “CT Off” mode, the transmission’s reactions to paddle commands are instant and thrillingly brutal in their immediacy.
The steering is ultra-high geared like the 458’s, but has a bit more weight, which is welcome. It is a bit more communicative than the 458’s, too, although yet more analogue feedback would still be good to eradicate that lingering video-game sensation, not helped by the quick gearing and small wheel festooned with buttons and dials.
Given the streaming wet conditions, exploration of the limits was impossible, but even driven within its limits, the Speciale feels very agile and balanced, flicking into tight corners without an instant’s hesitation, and scything through longer, faster sweepers with no discernible body roll and with reassuring stability and composure.
Given the vehicle’s extreme, single-minded nature, I had expected the ride to be tooth-rattling, but it is, if anything, slightly better than the 458’s, being surprisingly compliant over bumps and ruts, while always maintaining tight body control. That pliancy also helps its real-world handling, allowing it to shrug off mid-corner bumps and undulations, and to remain planted even when charging over dips and undulations.
And so the 458 Speciale surprises on yet another front. Focused and uncompromising it may be in the pursuit of ultimate lap times, yet this is no extreme, barely road-legal track weapon. It is still fabulously civilised and perfectly useable for the daily drive. There is no trade-off, no compromise compared to the 458. The Speciale is simply better in every way – faster, sharper, better sounding and just painfully desirable.
TYPE V8, 32-valves
BORE X STROKE 94mm x 81mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 14:1
MAX POWER 605bhp at 9000rpm
MAX TORQUE 540Nm at 6000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 433.7bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear
0-100KM/H 3 seconds
TOP SPEED 325km/h
CONSUMPTION 8.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 275g/km
FRONT Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
SIZE 245/35 R20 (front), 305/30 R20 (rear)
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with ESC
KERB WEIGHT 1395kg
TURNING CIRCLE Not available
PRICE EXCL. COE $1,190,000
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
+ Record-breaking engine, mind-blowing performance, razor-sharp handling, daily useability
– Lacks steering feel, fiddly four-point harness, twin tailpipes less distinctive than Italia’s triple pipes