The modifications list distinguishing the Speciale from the Italia is lengthy and even includes a first-for-Ferrari innovation. Some Maranello executives claim the car is so changed from the regular 458 it’s worthy of a new designation. That’s probably a slight exaggeration, but Ferrari obviously issued orders to its various engineering departments to exercise their expertise.
Inside, the high-revving 4.5-liter V8 redesigned pistons increase the Speciale’s compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 14.0:1, a stratospheric number for a gasoline-burning engine. The efficiency increase it brings is the main reason the engine produces 596 hp, 34 more than the regular 458 Italia’s, at the same 9000 rpm. Other alterations include new camshafts with higher lift, a redesigned intake manifold with shorter intake runners, and reshaped inlet ports. A new low-restriction exhaust with two tailpipes instead of three had to be packaged around the Speciale’s different rear aerodynamics, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Upgrades to the double-clutch transmission deliver measurably quicker shifting than in the 458 Italia. The seven-speed gearbox’s ratios remain the same, but a shorter differential was selected for the Speciale. Naturally, this improves acceleration. Along with the engine’s extra power, this helps counter the Speciale’s higher aerodynamic drag on the way to the same 202 mph top speed as the regular Ferrari 458.
The Ferrari 458 Speciale gets electrically activated aero tweaks throughout.
Even without the optional centerline striping, the Speciale’s nose-to-tail array of aero alterations is eye-catching. The Speciale’s hood has a large radiator vent, and the rear spoiler is larger, extended upward and rearward more than an inch. There are new slatted vents above the front wheel arches and a neat little vertical fin ahead of the rear wheel. The truly clever stuff isn’t so obvious.
Wanting both downforce-enhanced cornering grip but not the top-speed-reducing drag that goes with it, Ferrari’s aerodynamicists came up with a couple mobile elements for the Speciale’s nose, an active diffuser for its rear, and a flat undertray redesigned to make the most of both these features. Up front, movable elements include two curved, vertically hinged silver doors on either side of the chromed, prancing horse badge and, below these, a horizontally hinged flap. Air pressure alone pushes the doors open and the flap down, cutting drag. At the rear, three flaps in the diffuser are electrically opened but only when an algorithm decides reduced drag is a higher priority than cornering grip. If it’s not cornering, the Speciale switches to low-drag configuration at a little above 135 mph. Ferrari’s aerodynamicists claim the measures interact to deliver a desirable distribution of downforce between front and rear.
The Speciale’s standard 20-inch wheels wear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Inside them are new-generation carbon-ceramic disks clamped by Brembo calipers. While the braking system is claimed to deliver superior performance, especially fade-resistance and pad life, without increasing size or weight, the elegantly forged wheels shave more than 25 pounds from the Speciale’s curb weight.
Weight reduction was a major objective with the Speciale. Ferrari says it’s almost 200 pounds lighter than the 458 Italia. The biggest single savings was the interior. Carbon-fiber trimmings and lashings of much-lighter-than-leather Alcantara explain some of the weight loss, but certain things simply have been omitted. There are no door armrests or gloveboxes. Sat-nav – weighing around 12 pounds according to a Ferrari engineer – radio, and a track-worthy telemetry system are all optional extras.
The Speciale is a car heavy with electronic aids. It is the first Ferrari to be equipped with a system the company calls SSC, for side-slip control. Developed in house with the LaFerrari hyper-hybrid in mind, the system aims to take chassis-control electronics to a higher level. Essentially, Ferrari’s new algorithms can make a judgment call on whether the Speciale’s driver would appreciate more stability or more agility. Accessible only in the “Race” and “CT Off” settings on the Speciale’s steering-wheel, SSC makes adjustments mainly via the car’s electronically controlled locking differential.
The Speciale’s high-end enhancements won’t be cheap. It will cost $298,000, or around 25 percent more than a 458 Italia, when it goes on sale in the U.S. starting around March next year.
The Ferrari 458 Speciale makes lovely noises, especially from this angle.
What’s it like to drive?
Models like the 458 Speciale and its predecessors, the 430 Scuderia and 360 Challenge Stradale, attract hard-core customers. Some are interested only in this kind of Ferrari. Almost half participate in track days. Lapping Ferrari’s famed Fiorano test track, those extra dollars spent on the 458 Speciale feel wisely invested.
The powertrain is brilliant and not just because the engine delivers a little more power. That’s almost irrelevant. Rather, it’s the V8’s sharper throttle response, the extra urgency the lower final drive ratio adds to acceleration, and the now truly lightning-fast shifts of the double-clutch that are breathtaking. Oh, and the sound, too, of course. There’s nothing quite like the metallic howl of a V8 Ferrari engine reaching redline.
There’s a kind of hyperactive harmony in the way the rest of the car matches the engine and transmission. The Speciale has a more direct steering rack than the 458 Italia for a just-right extra helping of quickness. The carbon-ceramic brakes have instant bite, too.
The car’s chassis electronics, especially the new SSC system, make its elevated limits really approachable. Especially with “CT Off” mode selected, a skilled driver can take great liberties with the Speciale, secure in the knowledge that the SSC safety net is there. And for those a little less skilled, it positively encourages accessing the car’s limits because the system intervenes with almost magical subtlety. The Speciale, on a track, is a mass driving talent amplifier.
Yet, despite its track prowess, it’s not an unbearably awful road car. There’s a spartan elegance to the interior that’s kind of charming, although there are discomforts. You don’t realize what an essential role the simple door trim armrests plays until you find a car that doesn’t have them. And yes, the Speciale is rather noisy, too.
Set the controls to ‘Sport’ mode and the transmission to ‘Auto’ and the Speciale isn’t all that bad on a public road. The magnetic dampers do a surprisingly decent job rounding off road shocks, and the V8 is smoothly torquey at low and middle revs. You wouldn’t want to drive it across the U.S., but Italy, maybe—it’s not a very wide country…
Do I want it?
The Speciale is the most able version of the most beautiful shape Ferrari makes. It combines traditional thrills and skills with a level of technical sophistication guaranteed to make you feel like a very special driver. Doesn’t that sound positively irresistible?
Ferrari 458 Speciale
ON SALE: March 2014
BASE PRICE: $298,000
DRIVETRAIN: 4.5-liter, 596-hp, 398-lb-ft V8; RWD, 7-speed double-clutch automatic transmission
CURB WEIGHT: 3,070 pounds
0-62 MPH: 3.0 sec (est.)
FUEL ECONOMY: TBD