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2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

The magnificent 458 is taken to the next level

Ian Kuah
Jul 28, 2014 SHARE

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale Details:

  • More power, lighter, better handling
  • 605 hp, 400 lb-ft | 14:1 compression ratio | 9,000-rpm rev limit
  • Ferrari's most powerful engine of its kind
  • 1-min., 23.5-sec. lap of Fiorano

2015 ferrari 458 speciale driver side view 03 Photo 2/31   |   2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

Technology Underbody flaps produce downforce or reduce drag as needed | Faster gear shifts than ever before | LaFerrari carbon-ceramic brakes

Electronics Side Slip Angle Control is perfect drift aid

+ Pros Lower weight | Better handling | More power | Awesome brakes | Drift control

- Cons Nothing we could think of...

2015 ferrari 458 speciale steering wheel 04 Photo 3/31   |   2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

One point five seconds: While driving in traffic on your way to work, this small segment of time takes longer to describe than actually experience. Yet at Fiorano racetrack, Ferrari hallowed home circuit of, 1.5 seconds is an eternity.

Ferrari originally built Fiorano in 1972 to give the company a benchmark for development and testing. The 1.86-mile circuit has 12 curves, and it takes a good driver in a very good car to lap 1.5 seconds quicker than the established class lap record.

2015 ferrari 458 speciale valve cover 06 Photo 4/31   |   2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

Officially clocked at 1 minute, 23.5 seconds around Fiorano, the 458 Speciale was exactly 1.5 seconds faster than the standard 458 Italia, and 1.4 seconds faster than the legendary Ferrari Enzo.

2012 Ferrari 458 Spider - First Drive

There's not much wrong with the 458 Italia to start with, and the improvements Ferrari has wrought for the Speciale are in the same vein as the 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia. They are derived from the classic trifecta of increased power, less weight, and better handling.

2015 ferrari 458 speciale rear view 05 Photo 5/31   |   2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

The Italia's naturally aspirated 4497cc flat-plane crank V8 motor has been heavily revised, turning it into the most powerful engine of its kind that Ferrari has ever produced.

Boasting a specific output of 135 hp/liter, the engine features a new crankshaft, pistons, rod bushes, combustion chambers, camshafts, and a host of mods that strengthened the internals. With its incredible 14:1 compression ratio and 9,000-rpm rev limit, it demands a strict diet of top-quality fuel.

The result is a power hike from the Italia's 570 hp to 605 hp at 9,000 rpm. Torque also improved across the board, even if the peak of 400 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm remains unchanged.

2015 ferrari 458 speciale engine bay 02 Photo 6/31   |   2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale - First Drive

Acceleration always felt strong, but in the Speciale it feels almost explosive. And the enhanced seven-speed F1 dual-clutch gearbox now fires 20 percent faster upshifts and 44 percent faster downshifts.

Between the first three ratios, the rev counter needle races around the dial so rapidly, the eyes and brain are grateful for the red warning flashes that arrive a split second before the rev limiter arrives.

Quite frankly, shift speed is now at the point where any further improvement is only of academic interest, but it all helps, and full noise through the gears delivers 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds.

At the other end of the scale, the 398mm front and 360mm rear carbon-ceramic brakes the engineers say are almost straight from LaFerrari bring a new meaning to the phrase "throwing out the anchor"!

They work so well, it feels as if the standard- fit four-point harnesses are going to leave a permanent impression on your shoulders. Mean-while, the steering is so direct and precise, it makes the remarkable 458 Italia's responses feel relatively sedate.

Aerodynamic fine-tuning reduced drag and increased downforce. Depending on speed, one horizontal and two vertical flaps in the front end move to increase radiator airflow at low speeds and reduce lift above 105 mph.

The larger rear spoiler increases downforce over the rear axle at speed, while active underbody rear flaps are adjusted as required to either produce more downforce or reduce drag by stalling airflow to the rear diffuser.

In the cabin, non-essential items such as the glovebox, leather interior trim, door panel armrests, and the standard center console were removed. Even the sound insulation was replaced with thinner, lighter materials. Lightweight race seats and thinner rear glass added to the list of weight- pruning measures.

The weight saving trail even led to the more effective air intake system, cutting 17.6 pounds off the 458 Italia intake. The result was a total weight reduction of 198 pounds and a much more intense soundtrack for occupants, even if the external levels remain EU regulation-friendly.

In Sport mode, the re-calibrated magnetorheo-logical frequency-dependent damping is noticeably firmer than the standard 458, but Comfort mode can be used to dial some semblance of normality back into the ride when you're sauntering along. The Comfort setting also retards the engine and gearbox reflexes back from Defcon Two, lowering your adrenalin rush at the same time.

Race mode is like Defcon One. Too edgy for most public roads, its natural environment is the racetrack, where full throttle and full braking-with little else in between-is the order of the day.

While Pirelli continues its long-standing partnership on most Ferrari models, the Speciale's 20x9-inch and 11-inch forged wheels wear 245/35 and 305/30 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. This is the very first time track day tires have featured on a production, street-legal Ferrari-with these allowing the Speciale to pull 1.33 g of lateral acceleration.

While some rival manufacturers are adopting similar footwear for their limited edition lightweight models, Ferrari has always been wary of the reduced tread depth that makes hydroplaning more likely if the driver pushes too hard in wet conditions. However, the Italians were finally convinced that Michelin's latest Cup 2 tires won't relinquish their grip within the bounds of common sense. So Ferrari adopted the bespoke rubber to maximize the car's steering response, handling, and grip.

In my experience, track day rubber is worth a second or two a lap, so I was frankly surprised that the performance trifecta didn't actually produce an even larger gap between the two 458 variants. Looked at another way, rather than being an indictment of a more expensive Speciale, it's actually a testament to how good the standard Italia is, more than three years on.

It also shows-and you'll only realize after driving both cars-that the extra money isn't for purely empirical improvements against the stopwatch. Your cash pays for the more visceral experience that reaches out to you through the steering wheel, grabs the seat of your pants, and hammers at your eardrums when you're in attack mode.

The Speciale delivers a level of involvement few cars at any price can match, and in an accessible way, even if you're only piloting this low-flying machine at two thirds of its ability.

An extra setting on the familiar Manettino controls a new function with addictive potential. Ferrari's rather tortuous name for the system is Side Slip Angle Control (SSC). It allows you to drive sideways under power with the ESP fully engaged by balancing the interplay between the ESC stability control, third generation E-diff, and engine torque. Unofficially, it's the perfect drifting aid.

The high-resolution sensors and ECU mapping were designed to differentiate between a situation in which the car is running out of grip, and one in which the driver is deliberately provoking oversteer.

In the latter situation, the sensors ascertain the optimum steering angle, throttle position, engine revs, and tire slip for a given point in a bend. As most drivers tend to apply too much throttle when a car begins to lose adhesion at the driven wheels, by reacting in milliseconds, the system removes exactly the right amount of throttle as required, while adjusting the E-differential's locking action to help you achieve the most suitable cornering attitude.

Working seamlessly, you never feel the SSC is intrusive or abrupt like some traction control systems used to be. Smooth and progressive, it makes an average driver look good, and a good driver look like a hero.

Of course, you can still turn everything off, but then you're on your own with a good chance of spinning if you overcook things.

While electronics play a major role in the Speciale's dynamic makeup, making them transparent and ensuring they support the car's immense speed, excitement, and driver involvement is a major achievement. Retaining the user friendliness and driving ease of the basic Ferrari 458 is another. The Ferrari 458 Speciale is certainly well named.

The 458 Speciale will be coming to North America later this year, which is great news because it represents one of the finest driver's cars currently available.

Tech Spec

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

Layout
Mid-engine, RWD

Engine
4497cc 90-degree V8 DOHC

Drivetrain
Seven-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission, third-generation electronic differential

Brakes Brembo six-piston calipers, 398mm carbon-ceramic rotors f: four-piston, 360mm r

Suspension
Double wishbones, magnetorheological control with frequency analysis and twin solenoids

Wheels & Tires
20x9" f, 20x11" r wheels, 245/35 ZR20 f, 305/30 ZR20 r Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires

Exterior
Active flaps front and rear to increase drag or downforce

Performance

Max Power
605 hp at 9,000 rpm

Max Torque
398 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm

0-62 mph
3 seconds

Top Speed
202 mph

Weight
2,844 pounds (curb weight)

Economy
19.9 mpg

MSRP
$298,000

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale

Photos by Ferrari

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By Ian Kuah
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