First drive: Ferrari 458 Speciale Aperta

First drive: Ferrari 458 Speciale Aperta

What is it?

Pretty self-explanatory, really. It's the Ferrari 458 Speciale ­ the quicker, harder, more aggressive 458 variant ­ now with the retractable hard top from the Spider. There are only 499 being made, all for Ferrari ‘collectors', unfortunately. I say ‘unfortunately', because this is one of the greats ­ and I can see it being seen in the same light as the 360 Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia before it.

The mechanical bits for the roof add about 50kg over the standard Coupe Speciale (making it 1340kg dry, 1445kg kerb weight), but the rest is pretty much the same. Interestingly, Ferrari says this is the most aerodynamically efficient Spider in its history, with a drag co-efficient of 1.37 that delivers high downforce (Cl 0.485) combined with low drag (Cd 0.355). I just know, having driven it, that it’s very fast, hitting 62mph in 3.0 seconds dead and 124 in 9.5. The top end is a possible 199mph, but we weren’t in a position to test that. Or I’d now be in jail, or smeared across the Italian countryside in an abstract manner.

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The Speciale? Remind me?

Well, you know how lovely the 458 is to drive? It’s that, but turned up. So it’s a mite less gentle, but a lot more focused.

It contains one of the loveliest engines ever, a 4.5-litre flat-crank V8 with natural aspiration. Chucking out 597bhp (up from 562bhp for the standard car), it revs to 9000rpm, with 398lb ft of torque all the way up at 6000. Which means that it’s necessary, or rather your absolute duty, to rev the hell out of it at every opportunity. Bit of engineering for those that need detail: new cams, higher valve lift, redesigned (shorter) inlet manifolds and different pistons. It’s got a slightly bonkers compression ratio of 14:1, and posh materials and general millimetric shaving mean that the engine actually weighs 8kg less than the normal one.

There’s also the usual seven-speed double-clutch gearbox, this time with faster shifts. How they keep getting faster when they’re supposed to be instant in the first place is beyond me, though the Speciale does feel more aggressive, especially in downshifts, and it does exactly what you tell it. I couldn’t shift this fast or well in a manual, so it proves the point.

There are also other weight saving measures for the Speciale Coupe, carried over to the Aperta: lighter glass, lighter bodywork and exhaust, 20kg of mass out of the cabin and forged wheels that save 12kg. Altogether it should weigh about 90kg less than a standard Spider, which never felt like a fatty anyway. There are various active and passive aero flaps that change the car’s behaviour at speed, and bespoke tyres­ more of them in a minute.

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What’s it like to drive?

With the roof up, pretty much like the Speciale. Which is to say, sublime. You can’t beat a naturally aspirated engine for connection and response, and this is one of the greats. A cliché, but you really do wear this car, not just sit in it. And when you drop the roof ­ goodness, it’s a special car. Yes, you can feel a slight shimmy on rough roads, but not enough to spoil the fact that you get every aural ounce of that exhaust and engine’s effort unfettered to your ears. You have to rev it ­ it’s docile-ish at the bottom end ­ but get it going and there’s just nothing like it. Other cars are faster, more brutal, but this is just poetic. Seriously. I got a bit emotional after one Italian hairpin-filled blast and had to sit for a minute and take it in.

Hard work, then?

Not especially so ­ Ferrari’s Side Slip Control and various diff settings look after you ­ but fling yourself into a corner and the way that the car slingshots around the curve is unbelievable. It’s just so solid, and reliable. The grip is immense, and it’ll let you slide out of a curve with just the right amount of counter-steer release. The engine is so beautifully linear and progressive that you’re never caught out. Even the most boost-addicted 800bhp GT-R owner would
appreciate it.

Verdict?

Future classic, without doubt. Incredible noise, incredible handling, incredibly evocative drive. There’s a new turbocharged 458 due in the next generation, so this is the last of a line. A spectacular way to exit, mind.

Source: www.topgear.com