2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

Warning: Can be harmful and injurious to spine, eardrums and nerves. Best applied on track day.

By Shahzad Sheikh

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

The 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale is more than just a ‘special’ edition of the gorgeous 458 Italia – in my opinion the best current Ferrari. It’s also considerably more than a slightly sportier version of something already turned up to 10 on the ‘sporty’ scale as it is. It does, quite frankly involve a lot more meaningful and deeper development than a nose job, a set of new stripes and a typically exotic accented badge addendum.

Ah, but is it any good though? Is it actually better than the 458 Italia? Well let’s just hold fire on that verdict, don’t worry, you’ll have it momentarily. But first this…

What’s actually different about it?

New bonnet, vents in the front fenders for better cooling and of course redesigned front end. Like the regular car, it has bits that move with the wind to improve airflow and downforce at speed. There’s a more aggressive spoiler at the back that works in tandem with racier a new diffuser and again more active aero aids.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

Inside there’s well, not a lot actually, the carpets have been ripped out, the doors just have basic carbon panels, not even anywhere to lean your elbow, there’s no glovebox though there’s space behind the seats to store stuff, there’s no infotainment screen (just the brilliant configurable digital dash) and the seats are slim and carbon-light although body-hugging and supportive.

As well as the lightweight body panels, there is thinner side glass and a polycarbonate rear window – all in all losing about 90kg compared to the Italia. Combine this with the improved aero and extra 35bhp taking it to over 600bhp from the same 4.5-litre V8 (though torque remains at 400lb ft) and the -0-100kph acceleration drops from 3.4 seconds in the Italia to 3.0 dead. It’ll get to 200kph in the time most cars make it to 100kph, and tops out at 325kph.

To help it manage all this performance the suspension is stiffer, the brakes are bigger and the transmission is even faster. Plus it is shod with grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – this thing is not messing around.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

The bad

After 20 minutes driving it through town I wanted shot of it, quite frankly. It’s noisy, mostly engine noise, but also plenty of road roar and some wind noise – we actually measured it at over 90 decibels at 125kph compared to around 60 in a normal car. There is a stereo – with Bluetooth – but it’s a bit pointless as you can’t hear it, and due to the stripped out nature of this car, it’s not a particularly good sound system either.

The A/C works well which is nice, and yeah there’s electric windows and cruise control, though initially you wouldn’t know because it’s dressed up as something that appears to be a pit lane limiter – which tallies with the overriding raison d’être of this car and its natural habitat: the track.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

For regular driving the Manettino is not your friend. That’s the little red knob on the steering column that gives you access to its varied levels of traction and stability assistance along with dash displays telling you how near-death you are driving. Its default setting is Sport, I suggest you leave it in that most of the time.

There is another button on the steering wheel which is your friend – that’s the suspension button that puts the car into ‘bumpy road’ setting. You’ll want to keep this on, it’s the difference between a tolerable ride and a visit to the Chiropractor at the end of every drive.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

Make no mistake, this is one stiffly set-up, solid and unforgiving car, that in actuality is a bit of a chore to drive in the city, leaving you both exhausted and slightly traumatised by the relentlessness of it all. This is not a car for cruising, for preening, or for courting.

The good

We never got a chance to try it out on a track – which is a bit of shame. But we did the next best thing, we headed out towards the East on some of our favourite driving roads.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

Get the Speciale up to speed and your perceptions of this Ferrari start to change exponentially. The slippery-when-cold tyres get up to their optimum stickiness, the aero-trickery starts to kick in and bed the car down, the droning and almost oppressive engine noise starts to evince that shriek-tastic cry we expect from a Fezza (though it’s still more guttural and less melodic than you’d hope), and that hard-work cumbersome steering starts to emote and engage.

At speed, silly speeds in fact, through fast sweepers or tightening bends, there is little to touch the Speciale. It sucks up the surface bringing to bear the sort of adhesion you wouldn’t have thought possible in a two-wheel drive car. It responds faithfully, accurately and assuredly to your inputs, it creeps into the red zone of vulgar velocities in the passing of a few breaths, and it revels in attacking a challenging road, but rewards smooth and committed pedalling in equal measure.

Basically it’s a joy to drive – if you’re driving fast enough, that is.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

The verdict

At this point, the verdict should be fairly easy to deliver if you’ve read the above pros and cons, however if you’ve also read my previous edict on supercars (read it here), you’ll discover my dilemma, with some relish I might imagine, as I write myself into a dead end of hypocrisy on what makes a supercar, a supercar.

In that column I decried modern supercars for being too soft essentially, for not really being anything other than staggeringly fast cars your granny could drive; whilst on the phone. And the 458 Italia is almost like that, admittedly.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

The Speciale on the other hand is a very wild and untamed prancing horse by comparison. It requires total buy-in on your part and it’ll leave you panting and wanting in equal measure depending on where, when and how you pilot it. So it would seem that Ferrari has answered my calls and delivered what I asked for. Except I don’t want it.

Because, you see, there is another part of that supercar riddle that I pulled out and pulled to pieces in that previous exposition, and that was that a supercar should be desirable at any speed. The Speciale, however, is hateful and painful on the stop-go, even if it is near-nirvana on the go-go.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

In conclusion then, the Speciale is an utterly sensational car and one hell of a driver’s delight, as long as that driver happens to be in a safe environment where he/she can really exploit the cars incredible potential – that would be a track. Anywhere else you’re having to go so quickly to enjoy it, that you risk losing your licence or your life.

The 458 Italia on the other hand, does manage to feel rather special even at pedestrian momentum and that’s the one you should continue to buy if you’re enough to be able to park a Ferrari out front.

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

However the folk at Ferrari are probably going to respond with a dramatic throwing of arms up in the air, overdone shrugs and elaborate expressions of dismissive disgust at what I’m about to say next. But if they can get past the justifiable irascibility, I would like to request a 458 that sits somewhere in between the Italia and Speciale, but lowers its threshold for invincibility, making that mythical driving knife-edge more accessible at less life-threatening speeds.

Or maybe that’s just a Ferrari 328. Hmm…

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review

2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale Review – The Specs

Prices: AED1,095,000 – about AED140k more than a 459 Italia ($298k)
Engine: 4.5-litre V8, 605bhp @ 9000rpm, 400lb ft @ 6000rpm
Performance: 3.0secs 0-100kph, 325kph, 9.7L/100km
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, mid-engined, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1290kg

Would you drive a Speciale rather than an Italia? Let us know in the comments below

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