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Supercars that make sense: 458 Italia

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  January 27, 2011 05:25 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)


One in a three-part tour of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Ferrari 458 Italia.

I'm lounging in the back of a Lincoln Town Car as my driver crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, en route to take delivery of a yellow 458 Italia at Ferrari of San Francisco. Granted, it's got a few thousand miles and is mine for only 24 hours, but I feel like a customer nonetheless.

The Ferrari experience goes like this: Wait two to three years for a new one, or pay well above sticker and drive away with a lightly used one. Unlike Chevy and Porsche franchises, a Ferrari dealer never keeps new cars. They're all built to order, and the production runs are so limited that more money isn't often a persuasion to cut the line — you've got to own one first to join the club.

With a $1 million Enzo in the showroom and a flock of Maseratis outside, this is quite the used car lot. I'm driving the same car I read about on the cover of Road & Track during the flight from Boston, so I know this model won't have navigation. Papers signed, I drop my luggage into the crevice of a trunk, stick a Garmin to the windshield, and I'm off. Gosh, that was easy.

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A single piece of carry-on luggage is all that fits in the 458's bonnet.

Truth be told, this test took two months to negotiate. But one full-throttle explosion through the Waldo tunnel justifies every hurdle — driving a 458 is worth trading in your afterlife. Everything Ferrari has learned from decades of Formula 1 racing is here: a covered underbody with a rear diffuser, flexible front air intakes that provide downforce at high speed, and a squared-off, carbon fiber steering wheel with an LED rev counter.

Inside, Alcantara and buttery Italian leather cover every surface, save for the rhomboid air vents, which protrude in carbon fiber at odd angles from the yellow-stitched dash. A yellow-faced tachometer is the only physical gauge, the speedometer reduced to a small readout in one of two LCD screens. Look for yourself, officer, I didn't see how fast I was going!

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Along mountain passes and coastal highways, the 458 is a tarmac scalpel. My Bay Area friend says he's never seen so many drivers pull over to let us pass, but he drives a Prius and our bright yellow Ferrari is shrieking harder than a Californian earthquake. There's as much grip as the 911, only the 458 reacts in neurons. Its balanced, mid-engine layout trumps the tail-heavy Turbo and front-biased Corvette.

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Steering is instantaneous and incredibly responsive — scratching an itch can point you into a tree. Slide it a little and the Ferrari hangs on with greater finesse than the mighty all-wheel-drive Porsche. The crisp 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and the "bumpy roads" option on the magnetic shocks are perfection.

For any amount of money, a Ferrari 458 is the supercar to have. But with its frequent service schedule — and the oft-chance you might ignite, as was the case in a September recall — tuck that Chevy in the garage for good measure.

Part 2: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1


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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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