What is it?
It's the 458 Speciale, a hardcore, track-focused, powered-up, lightweight version of the Ferrari 458 Italia.
A surprising amount, to be honest. When you're starting with a car as good as the 458, you'd forgive Ferrari's engineers for fiddling around a bit, adding some stripes and knocking off early for some fettucine carbonara and vino, but almost every part of the car has been modified in an attempt to unlock more speed.
The 4.5-litre naturally-aspirated V8 scores more aggressive cams, revised pistons and conrods, optimised crank geometry and a new carbon fibre intake manifold. Compression increases to a wince-inducing 14.0:1 and the result is 445kW/540Nm, the former produced at an incredible 9000rpm.
Thanks to a 90kg diet, which mainly consists of stripping everything out of it (including the carpets, and definitely the sound deadening) the Speciale sprints to 100km/h in 3.0sec, passes 200km/h 6.1sec later on its way to a 325km/h top speed.
It'll lap Ferrari's Fiorano circuit 1.4 seconds faster than the mighty Enzo, thanks in part to the extra power, in part to mighty carbon-ceramic brake discs measuring 398mm up front and 360mm at the rear with six-piston calipers at both ends, and in part due to the updated chassis electronics.
These include the incredible Side Slip Control (SSC), which effectively allows you to drive like a complete hooligan, safe in the knowledge the electronics still have your back should you overcook it in $550,000 worth of Italian supercar.
Well, that all sounds pretty good – what's it like to drive?
Beyond words, it really is. That's the only accurate description because as long as you're on a twisty road, for the first 10, 50 or 500 kilometres all you'll do is laugh with sheer incredulity that driving can be this good. Buy one, hire one, steal one – whatever you do, drive a Speciale hard at least once in your life.
Okay, in day-to-day existence the constantly blaring exhaust and ever present road noise could become tiresome, but that said, with the dampers set to 'Bumpy road' mode the ride would shame many a luxury car and that highly-strung V8 is happy to bumble along in seventh at 80km/h.
You could commute in a Speciale – we would – but the real magic happens when you get beyond city limits.
The engine is a phenomenon. With incredible response, a brilliantly linear surge of power and a seemingly unending appetite for revs – forget 9000rpm, it feels like it could rev to 14,000rpm. It's incredibly fast, of course, but never feels in the least bit scary or intimidating; it always feels like your right foot is in control.
It even sounds good. In fact, it sounds sensational. It may be sacrilege to some, but the truth is Ferrari's V8s haven't sounded particularly great for a while now; ever since the 355 there's been a bit too much flat-plane blare. The Speciale fixes that, from the inside at least. It's attached to a seven-speed dual-clutch 'box that is only rivalled by Porsche's PDK.
The Speciale's greatest trick is how easy it is to access the performance. Mid-engined Italian supercars with nigh-on 600hp are meant to be edgy and intimidating, but the Speciale feels like a Cayman – only friendlier and so much faster.
The steering is ultra-quick but after only a short while its alacrity becomes an advantage as you 'think' your way through bends. It feels incredibly agile, which gives you confidence to throw it around. Now, this confidence is largely a byproduct of the SSC system; knowing that there is an electronic guardian angel there should you run out of talent makes a big difference.
In short, in terms of an exhilarating driving experience, it is the best we here at MOTOR have ever encountered.
Can it really be that good?
Yes, it can, though perhaps the Speciale won't be for everyone. Those that want a 458 but only wish to spend a small fraction of their time at maximum attack might be better served with the regular model.
For our money, though, given the Speciale asks for such a small premium (relatively speaking, as $24,583 is less than five per cent of the purchase price), we'd gladly trade a bit of refinement for the extra aggression.
With the release of the new twin-turbocharged 488 GTB, the 458 Speciale is probably the last naturally-aspirated V8 Ferrari will ever produce. This leaves it as a high water mark and a guaranteed future classic from the crew at Maranello.
Read the full review on the Ferrari 458 Speciale and two other N/A superstars, the Lexus LFA and Lamborghini Aventador, in MOTOR’s March issue. Available in digital format on Zinio.
Engine: 4497cc V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 445kW @ 9000rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 6000rpm
0-100km/h: 3.0sec (claimed)
Top Speed: 325km/h (claimed)
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