Full 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia Review
What's New for 2012
For the 2012 Ferrari 458, a new Spider convertible model debuts, featuring a clever retractable hardtop.
There's nothing quite like the sound of the 2012 Ferrari 458's V8 -- a mechanical 562-horsepower scream that's only a few inches from the driver's head. There's really only one way to make it better, and that would be to remove that pesky roof and back window unfortunately placed between your ears and its addictive wail. For 2012, that's exactly what's been done, as the convertible Spider model joins the 458 Italia coupe.
Together, the 458 Spider and Italia represent a stunning leap forward not only for Ferrari but also for supercars in general. Naturally you expect the perfect fore-and-aft balance of the handling, the precise steering and the fantastic high-tech electronics that combine to keep the car poised on the road while still making you feel fully engaged in the process. There's also the 4.5-liter V8 that can deliver the 458 from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. The act of driving doesn't really get much better -- at least when you've got a sparsely populated back road and a friend in the local sheriff's department to watch your back.
With the Spider added to the lineup, the 458 stands above the crowd in another way. Its clever retractable hardtop roof provides a quieter, more secure cabin and a better top-up appearance than a conventional convertible, yet the aluminum pieces of the top and its operating mechanism are actually lighter than a traditional folding soft top. Although the 458 sacrifices some structural integrity in the process of losing its roof, the Spider is still remarkably rigid, and it's hard to argue with the wind in your hair and sound of the high-revving V8 in your ears.
Even though the Ferrari 458 Italia and Spider are incredible to drive, they can be a little irritating to live with. Besides the inherent problems associated with any midengine supercar (limited passenger space, cargo room and visibility), the Italia features some rather bizarre ergonomics. The turn signals are triggered by buttons on the steering wheel, for instance. Still, we've lusted after Ferraris since the days when their electrical systems rarely worked, the pedals were halfway in the passenger footwell and you needed a man named Carlo on retainer just to keep the thing running.
As such, we can't think of a true deal-breaker for the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia and Spider beyond the obligatory high price. There are obviously other exotics plying for your ample money, but when it comes to driving thrills, only the McLaren MP4-12C comes close. It doesn't (yet) offer a convertible version, but it's certainly an incredible machine in its own F1-bred right and doesn't suffer from the 458's ergonomic shortfalls. The Audi R8 coupe and convertible and Lamborghini Gallardo are in the game as well. Yet when it comes to overall driving involvement and pleasure, the Ferrari 458 remains the car that will deliver the most chills up your spine.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Ferrari 458 is a two-seat exotic sports car available in two body styles. The coupe is known as the Italia and the convertible is known as the Spider.
Standard equipment includes 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, performance tires, carbon-ceramic brakes, adjustable driving and vehicle settings, automatic xenon headlights, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery and trim, a power-adjustable tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (with buttons for the turn signals, wipers, lights, ignition, suspension and other vehicle settings), Bluetooth and a sound system with an auxiliary audio jack. The Spider includes a fully powered retractable hardtop roof.
Both body styles can be equipped with forged alloy wheels, carbon-fiber body pieces, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, adaptive headlights, cruise control, auto-dimming mirrors, power seats, carbon-fiber race seats (available in three sizes), four-point belts, a navigation system, an iPod interface, satellite radio and a premium sound system. The Italia can be furthermore equipped with run-flat tires.
The 458 is also highly customizable, with items that include three different standard seat designs (regular, Daytona-style and diamond quilt), multitone interior schemes, contrasting stitching, extended leather or faux-suede interior trim, four color choices for the instrument faces, carbon-fiber interior trim, a carbon-fiber steering wheel with built-in LED shift lights and, finally, specialty fit luggage. The Italia gets the option of contrasting roof colors.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia and Spider are powered by a 4.5-liter V8 that sends 562 hp and 398 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Ferrari says it will go from a standstill to 60 mph in about 3.4 seconds, which makes it one of the quickest cars in the world. As if anyone cares, EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined.
In the off chance you do care, or are simply interested in sampling every dollop of technology Ferrari has to offer, the optional HELE system adds a number of technologies designed to reduce fuel consumption and increase performance. These include an engine stop/start system, a different air-conditioning compressor, changes to the electrical system, and adaptive transmission programming and throttle response.
The 2012 Ferrari 458 comes with antilock carbon-ceramic brakes, traction and stability control and side airbags. A rearview camera and parking sensors are available.
Interior Design and Special Features
To free up space for the enlarged transmission paddle shifters, Ferrari did away with traditional steering wheel column stalks. While it's one thing to change the light and wiper controls to buttons on the steering wheel, it's quite another to reinvent the turn signal stalk as buttons on each spoke of the steering wheel. It's unintuitive, just a bit silly and likely destined to eventually become only a footnote in history.
There are also other ergonomic faux pas. The stereo, navigation and other infotainment systems are controlled via buttons on knobs that flank both sides of the steering column. This makes it a wee bit difficult for the passenger to control anything, but the bigger deal is that the display shares real estate with the gauge cluster. Want to see your speed and the navigation system? No can do. You can either know where you're going or how fast you're getting there, but not both at the same time.
On the upside, the cabin is still slathered in beautifully soft leather, while the refinement and build quality are better than that of any previous Ferrari. Even the driving position is more comfortable than ever. So even if it can be a little frustrating to use, the 458's cabin at least offers the luxury one now expects from this rarefied segment of sports cars. The Spider also stands out with the first retractable hardtop applied to a midengine supercar. Not only does it maintain the look of the Italia coupe, but it also provides improved security and road noise isolation than the soft top of the previous-generation Ferrari F430 Spider. Top operation is also fairly quick, taking just 14 seconds to open or close.
The 458's V8 is a legend in the making, with brutal acceleration bettered by only a scant few cars on the road. The powertrain has been blessed with a mechanical whine that is at first gruff and then intoxicatingly vibrant as the engine revs fly toward 9,000 rpm. The only way it could sound sweeter would be to remove the roof, and that's been done for 2012 thanks to the Spider. We'll always lament the absence of a traditional manual transmission, but the dual-clutch automated manual whips through its seven gears with a quickness and smoothness that perhaps only Porsche can match.
Of course, a Ferrari is also meant to be characterized by its poised handling. In this respect, the Italia shines even brighter. The steering effort is weightier than other Ferraris and the action is remarkably quick, and the response to even small inputs creates a sense of hyper control. The chassis is beautifully tuned, showcasing incredible talents around corners in a way that makes it easy to exploit those talents. There is an abundance of high-tech wizardry going on to keep you safe and the car perfectly composed, but the 2012 Ferrari 458 never feels as if it is relying upon digital 1s and 0s rather than old-fashioned analog engineering.