By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
Ferrari really nailed it with the 2012 458 Italia and its new drop-top stablemate, the 458 Spider. The mid-engine design allows for a near-perfect 50/50 front-rear balance ratio and the car's 4.5-liter V8 is simply a masterpiece in aluminum and steel. That the 458 can rocket to 60 mph in less the 4 seconds isn't really surprising, but that it can manage that power so precisely in the turns is what truly makes this exotic stand out. We do lament the lack of a manual transmission, but Ferrari's 7-speed automatic with paddle-shifting manual mode won't disappoint. The fun only increases with the Spider that not only lets you enjoy the wind in your hair, but the sound of the V8 engine directly behind your head.
If you're a driving purist, Ferrari's mid-engine 458 Italia for 2012 is the Holy Grail of high-end performance cars. Its look is more exotic than the Audi R8 and its interior more organic than that of either the R8 or Lamborghini Gallardo.
The R8 may not have the Italia's seductive Italian good looks, but it certainly can match the Ferrari in power, handling and performance and does so for about $100K less.
A convertible Spider joins the 458 Italia coupe for 2012. The Spider's retractable aluminum hardtop fits neatly below the clamshell engine cover and can be retracted in about about 14 seconds.
Driving Impressions There isn't a single bad thing we can say about the way the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia drives. It's like a go-kart on steroids, doing everything the driver asks without...the annoyance of numerous electronic nannies stepping in to spoil the fun. The perfectly balanced chassis is so composed at high speeds it can create in the driver a false sense of F1 -like confidence he or she won't be able to replicate in any other car. From the brilliant dual-clutch transmission whose shifts occur in just nanoseconds to the precise steering that so utterly connects driver to car, the 458 is quite possibly the best Ferrariand maybe even the best carbuilt today. Because we don't want to sound one-sided, here is our short list of complaints: The steering wheel has too many controls (wipers, turn signals, starter) attached to it, legroom is somewhat lacking and none of us can afford one.
7-SPEED DUAL CLUTCH AUTOMATIC
While a manual might feel more engaging, Ferrari's 7-speed dual clutch automatic can beat the best driver every time. Ferrari says there is zero power loss to the rear wheels between gear changes and that means no performance loss whatsoever when the driver is doing the shifting.
It's simply mind boggling to think Ferrari can milk a modest-sized V8 engine for 562 horsepower and do it without turbochargers or gimmicks, but that's exactly what the 458 Italia and Spider provide.
Because the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia and 458 Spider are mid-engine cars, the bulkhead separating the driver from the engine compartment can restrict the ability to recline the front seats when they are at their rearmost travel. Legroom, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. The 458's gorgeous cockpit is covered in fine leathers and eye-pleasing shapes, all of which can be enhanced via the numerous interior upgrade options. We think placing so many controls on the steering wheel is unwise, and the instrumentation could be a bit less complicated, with simple gauges replacing the dual-purpose LCD screens for both speed and navigation.Exterior
Enthusiasts may call the Ferrari's 458 for 2012 a work of art, but it's really all about efficiency. From the open vent louvers atop the fenders to the available integrated carbon fiber rear diffuser, the 458's design is all about channeling air to improve handling and efficiency. On the Spider, Ferrari has created an aluminum retractable hardtop that actually weighs less than most soft-top mechanisms, adding a mere 100 pounds over the coupe.
Standard on the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia and Spider is a full leather interior, electronic traction and stability control, seat-mounted side airbags, adjustable suspension settings, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, ceramic brakes with 6-piston calipers, 20-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, bi-xenon automatic headlamps, Bluetooth and heated power side mirrors. The Spider includes a power retractable hardtop.
Among the 2012 458's more notable options are numerous paint and interior color choices, upgraded leather, carbon fiber racing seats, a choice of three different seat styles with power-seat upgrade, cruise control, navigation, adaptive front headlights, front and rear parking sensors, various carbon fiber add-ons, 1000-watt JBL premium audio system, various 20-inch wheels and a rear backup camera.
The Ferrari 458 Italia and 458 Spider are both powered by the same hand-built aluminum 4.5-liter V8 engine. Pumping out an amazing 562 horsepower, the 458's engine barely seems to strain to move the car to its nearly 200-mph top speed. And with an insane 9,000-rpm redline, why should it? The 7-speed dual-clutch automatic does just fine by itself. But, if the driver wants in on the action, a set of steering-wheel paddle shifters allows for instantaneous up/down shifts perfectly rev-matched.
562 horsepower @ 9,000 rpm
398 lb-ft of torque @ 6,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 12/18 mpg
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia starts around $235,000 but we doubt you'll find one for that price, if you can find one at all! The 458's limited production and high demand mean most if not all will be spoken for. The same is true of the Spider, which will likely start around $260,000. Of course, you have many options that may be more attainable, such as the V8- or V10-powered Audi R8 5.2 at about $155,000, the Lamborghini Gallardo starting around $200,000 or the McLaren MP4 12C at around $241,000.