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Wed 28 Oct 2015 10:21 AM

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Car focus: The prancing horse just got better – and faster

The Ferrari 458 Speciale is one of the most engaging driver’s cars on the market today, and for those who’d prefer to hit the track than the boulevard, very little compares.

Car focus: The prancing horse just got better – and faster

There’s a group of Ferrari customers who are a more extreme than most. They’re happy to exchange a little comfort for extra performance, and they’re not the sort of people who require a glovebox, cup holders or stereo. For these people, Ferrari has built the 458 Speciale – its most extreme road-going V8 car ever.

The 458 Speciale is the successor to the 360 Challenge Stradale and F430 Scuderia and is not a limited edition, nor is it a replacement for the Italia. It’s an additional, hardcore version for track day drivers. Just how hardcore? Try 0- 100 km/h in 3.0 seconds flat (0.3 seconds faster than the Italia) and the standing quarter mile dash in under 11 seconds. It has the same top speed as the Italia, but achieves it sooner.

To achieve it, Ferrari’s engineers spent two years tackling the car on three fronts; the engine, the car’s aerodynamics, and the vehicle’s driving dynamics.

Because the customer base is different, Ferrari had to develop a car that gave them what they wanted. The 458 Speciale is yet another Italian masterpiece, one loaded with improvements that you wouldn’t have thought possible or necessary if you’ve driven the 458 Italia. The Speciale shifts faster, turns in quicker, and stops shorter. Thanks to an additional 35 horsepower (597hp or 605cv all up) and 90 fewer kilograms, it is swifter than the car on which it’s based, in a straight line and around a track. Best of all, Ferrari has improved on the 458’s sublime chassis with a fresh dose of clever technology and engineering.

The engine was completely revised with new combustion chambers, pistons, shorter inlet runners and reshaped inlet ports. It has a new carbon fibre manifold and airbox, and has a 14.0:1 compression ratio, usually found in high performance race engines.

The car’s aerodynamics were sorted with a new front air dam that had two spring loaded doors either side of the prancing horse and which open when the car hits 170 km/h. The air is directed across the grilles and through the new turning vanes on either side of the car. At higher speeds, a lip spoiler extends under the prancing horse and helps shift aerodynamic balance to the rear of the car. At the back, three motor-driven flaps can be opened in the rear diffuser to help reduce drag and lift. The car’s real trick, however, is a little piece of software Ferrari calls Side Slip Control. It’s an algorithm developed in tandem with the LaFerrari hybrid supercar which lets you power out of a bend with impunity.

The system works with the electronically controlled rear diff and traction control system to stop the rear from overtaking the front if you get on the throttle too aggressively. The system flatters the novice and encourages more experienced drivers to push the limits of the car – which are incredibly high thanks to the bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Ferrari claims the car will general up to 1.33 g while cornering, so finding those limits on track is pretty thrilling.

On the road, it’s even more exciting. In the wet, the car’s unflappable front end seems guided by other forces and even when skipping over bumpy roads, the suspension delivered a compliant ride that simply never felt challenged.

Inside, the car is all business. Ferrari has been liberal with its alcantara – far lighter than leather and sporty to boot. The seats are trimmed in alcantara and a 3D material which is also lightweight. There’s no stereo, and just a couple of pads where the glovebox should be. The four-point safety belts are fine for the track, but not really suited for everyday driving.

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