Ferrari 458 Italia 2014 review
The only way to map the outer edges of Planet Ferrari is to go exploring on a racetrack.
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Imagine signing up for a brand-new Toyota Yaris and paying the dealer a hefty premium to remove the floor mats, the carpet, the radio and other bare necessities -- only to pay over the odds yet again to have those so items refitted.
Welcome to what is possibly the best business model in the car game: the rarified world of the lightweight super-sportscar.
For some people, regular Porsches and Ferraris aren't fast enough.
So the exotic car brands create special editions that have a smidgeon more power and a lot less weight.
As anyone who has trained for a Fun Run will know, weight is enemy of speed.
The exotic car brands have figured out the easiest way to trim weight is to remove life's little luxuries from a car.
And boy don't you pay for it. The regular Ferrari 458 Italia (not that there is anything regular about it) starts at $525,000 plus on-road costs.
Expensive? Pah! It's no longer higher than the median house price in Australia (which is $535,000 in case you're wondering).
Then there is the car we have here: the Ferrari 458 Speciale. Oh it's special all right.
It starts at a neat $550,000 plus on-road costs (including approximately $163,000 in Luxury Car Tax alone). And that's before you've made it to the options list.
Racing stripes for the roof, bonnet and boot: $19,000. That's more than the cost of an entire Toyota Yaris. For stripes.
Front and rear parking sensors: a cool $5700, or more than one-third the price of a $14,990 Honda Jazz, Australia's cheapest car with a rear-view camera. And yet the $5700 doesn't include a rear view camera!
The Ferrari's camera is part of an “integrated audio system” that costs $5430. So you pay to have the radio removed (to save weight) and then you pay to put it back in. Genius.
Carbon-fibre covers for the engine (which don't make it go any faster but look nicer) are $13,242. You can buy a whole Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback for that ($12,990) and still have change.
The pretty carbon-fibre treatment in the rear bumper is an eye watering $15,480. A few hundred dollars more will buy you the aforementioned Toyota Yaris or, as of this month, a runout model Hyundai i20 with automatic transmission and some change for a year's supply of coffee. Or fuel.
Perhaps the real genius is getting Ferrari customers to pay a premium for a fancy exhaust.
Presumably the way a Ferrari sounds is one of the key selling points of the car. But if you want it to sound like a Ferrari, that's an extra $4080 for pipes made from titanium, thanks very much.
The cheapest option on the list is rather surprising: Bluetooth is only $815. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.
Only $815? That's an insane amount of money for Bluetooth. You can get a kit from SuperCheap Auto for less than $200.
The list goes on (would you like wheels with that? $4500, ker-ching) but you get the idea.
Armed with the knowledge of just how much damage I could cause, I nervously slip behind the wheel.
I don't care what anyone else says. Even seasoned car hacks get a flutter in the stomach when they're handed the keys to a Ferrari.
It can be masked as excitement, but really you're wondering if you'll be able to return it in the same pristine condition.
Which is why, despite this Ferrari's agility and speed, if I was in a race with a Toyota Yaris right now the Yaris would win, because it would already be out of the car park.
I spent five minutes going nowhere, just adjusting the mirrors, the seat and learning what all the buttons do.
Then I had to play with the dash. And I don't mean the instruments. Admiring the stitched suede material on the dash I found it compulsory to rub my fingers across the grain, and then make it neat again. Is that a bit OCD? It probably looked like I was patting the car. I was.
The air vents look like miniature Opera House sails. They were little works of art. The Ferrari 458 Speciale was delighting the senses and I hadn't even moved it an inch.
It was time to stop delaying the inevitable and take the plunge into Sydney traffic. In peak hour. Oh goodie.
If this car got damaged it would not necessarily be through any fault of my own; the car is so low other drivers often don't see you in the adjacent lane. Even if it is bright yellow.
Pulling up at the lights, I'm staring at other cars right in their wheel nuts. No wonder SUVs have a sense of superiority.
Fortunately, I eventually got clear of the city and found some open road. And then it occurred to me that I took for granted just how easy the 458 was to drive in traffic.
Super-sportscars of years gone by would have either over-heated, or spluttered between gears. The Ferrari 458 Speciale, despite its sporting intent and race-track focus, was as tame to drive as a Volkswagen Golf.
The other revelation is that the Ferrari 458 Speciale did not break my back or hurt my bones. Track-focused road cars are supposed to jar over the slightest crack or bump.
Indeed, many chiropractors have bought new houses, installed pools, taken lavish holidays or even retired on the business generated by limited edition lightweight sportscars.
But I have a warning for anyone is this profession: your game is up. Ferrari has cut your grass by creating a track-focused car that's supple in the daily bump and grind.
So what happens when you do get to an open road? As predictable as this may sound, it's superb.
The steering has the accuracy of a go kart, the grip from the tyres feels like you're driving on Velcro and the brakes are so powerful they hurt your eyes and your chest if you apply them hard enough.
The acceleration to 100km/h is almost beyond comprehension. It reaches the speed limit in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Just three seconds.
Although I did not try to prove it, Ferrari figures show it can reach 200km/h in 9 seconds, the same time it takes a Toyota Corolla to reach half that speed.
It accelerates and responds so quickly, it is bordering on being too quick for your brain to comprehend.
Driving is always about planning ahead, but never a truer word was spoken when it comes to cars with this much pace.
By the time you've hit 100km/h it's time to kill the speed, and it feels like walking pace after the roller-coaster rush you've just felt.
But the best feeling of all? Handing it back in the same condition as when I picked it up.
Having started out wondering why two dozen or so Australians will pay a premium for a lightweight Ferrari with a bit more power and a lot less standard equipment, I came to the realisation it's a relative bargain. Here's hoping Powerball jackpots another week.
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