February 18, 2014 3:15 PM | By Michael Bettencourt for MSN Autos

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale first drive



2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
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  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
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2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale

Nudging up the already lofty 458 bar

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)

Maranello, Italy – The day had finally arrived: after numerous visits to the shrine that is Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, hearing prototype Ferrari sports cars and Formula One racers alike screaming up and down the mythical curves of the onsite Fiorano circuit, this day was my first opportunity to drive it myself. Behind the wheel of the Ferrari 458 Speciale, no less, a vehicle based on what I and many who have driven most supercars consider the best handling car in the world.

A car now made quicker and lighter for the track in the 458 Speciale.

The prior evening had covered all the new car’s technical details, teasing us with a nighttime visit to the Fiorano circuit cloaked in darkness, a black sea among the majority of lit factory buildings, which run on three shifts, 24 hours a day six days a week. Fiorano’s paddock area mimics a true Formula One weekend setup, complete with banks of monitors, with a Speciale gleaming there in anticipation of much poking and prodding. The Speciale’s head of development Matteo Lanzavecchia detailed how Ferrari had improved performance not only compared to the regular 458, but also went more extreme from its donor car than either the F430 Scuderia or F360 Challenge Stradale, this mid-engine V8 car’s philosophical predecessors.

Same displacement engine puts out 35 extra ponies, but same torque

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Ferrari)

Lanzavecchia, who worked at Toronto-area race outfit Multimatic in 2000 when they made history as the first Canadian team to win their class at the 24 Hours of LeMans, detailed how the 458 Speciale’s 4.5-litre V8 engine is the same size as the Italia’s, but pumps out 35 extra horsepower. It’s now up to a European-rated 605 hp, while torque stays exactly the same at 398 lb.-ft., peaking at a lofty 6,000 rpm. If that torque peak sounds as high as a rampaging mayor, its extra horsepower came from upping the car’s rev limit even more, to an orbit-scraping 9,000 rpm.

It’s not a huge amount of extra power, especially when you’re starting from a generous 570 already. Still, like many small upgrades, they’re all likely to show up on the track in the form of quicker laps times, whether in seconds or tenths or hundredths of a second.

Then came a quick stop at Ferrari’s Renzo Piano-designed wind tunnel, or at least a presentation room within the master architect’s Galleria del Vento, as the prancing horse-marked sign out front says. (There are prancing horses everywhere in Maranello, with Ferrari and technical partner Shell logos on every shirt, jacket and Puma sneaker of every factory employee.) Ferrari head of aerodynamics Enrico Cardile explained how the 458 Speciale has a relatively brick-like 0.35 co-efficiency of drag, but the design priority was a fast time around Fiorano, not a low Cd number.

More advanced active aerodynamics help improve downforce above 170 km/h

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale (© Photo: Ferrari)

As such, there are two new active aerodynamics systems used in the Speciale. Two silver vertical flaps just behind either side of the chrome prancing horse are normally closed, but open up when the car hits 170 km/h to reduce drag. Keep pushing to 220 km/h, and a small horizontal panel opens up just below the flaps to increase downforce. In the rear, there’s an electrically actuated flap ahead of the rear diffuser that allows for less down-force when you don’t want it (straights) and more when you really do (cornering).

Next came a visit to the Ferrari foundry, bustling even at 9 pm, where Vittorio Dini, the deputy head of Ferrari’s powertrain division, continued to tease us by detailing how this car’s engine makes the most horsepower per litre of any non-turbocharged road-going vehicle in the world, at 135 hp/litre. On top of the power bump, the company cut the Speciale’s curb weight by 90 kg, including lighter engine components, thinner glass all around plus a Lexan (plastic) rear window, even jettisoning the glovebox and any interior carpeting.

Our heads ached with all this theory by the end of the evening – and jet lag. And perhaps most with the anticipation of experiencing it all at high speed on Fiorano the next day.

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