Multimedia Ferrari's 458 Italia deserves a decent road. So Kevin Hackett takes his to Jebel Hafeet – while Neil Vorano finds it's just as capable on the race track at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina.
Ferrari 458 Italia treated to the UAE's two best pavements
It's the meeting of two of the greatest things in the UAE. Ferrari 458 Italia, say hello to one of the world's finest roads: Jebel Hafeet. Somehow I don't think disappointment is on the agenda today. The 458 can get around Ferrari's Fiorano circuit in one minute and 25 seconds; the same time set by the mighty Enzo, which just goes to show the enormous strides made by Ferrari in recent times. While the mantra of so many manufacturers is "evolution, not revolution", Ferrari simply designed the 458 on a blank page. And it shows.
It actively uses the air around it to increase performance. There are deformable blades inside the nose section that flex at speed to send the air directly underneath. Engine and transmission coolers increase their efficiency by flowing it through their matrices and sending it back through the car's tail. There are engine bay vents that employ the high-pressure air within the wheel arches to help cooling duties and, despite the lack of visible spoilers, downforce at its 325kph top speed is 360kg. This is an extremely clever car.
A thoroughbred stallion like this needs a strong heart and its magnificent engine revs like a superbike all the way to a heady 9,000rpm. I'm a bit giddy. There's a weaving ribbon of perfect tarmac stretching out in front of me. If you've never ventured up Jebel Hafeet, in Al Ain, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It's as though nature itself has carved out the road, with more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel. I have a tank full of fuel to get through and four fresh tyres to liquidise. Bring. It. On.
You can drive the 458 at pedestrian speeds without any histrionics - it's smooth and docile but that's not what I'm here for today. The V8 revs incredibly freely. Every millimetre of throttle travel produces an instantaneous result and, even with all the electronic stability aids switched on, a stab of the loud pedal sends the back end trying to swing wide before the computers regain decorum. Switch off the stability system entirely at your peril - this thing is seriously lively. The torque curve is incredibly flat, meaning it will pull and pull all the way up to the screaming red line no matter which of the seven speeds you're in.
The Ferrari simply decimates the road in a full-bore blast that leaves me shaking like a leaf. You have to be careful on public roads because it's astonishingly fast, but for it to feel so much quicker than the F430 is a massive achievement. The steering is quick, too, with just two turns lock-to-lock - and it's only on twisty roads like this when the wheel is in any position other than dead centre. It's comfortable and refined, thanks to its comprehensively overhauled and redesigned suspension and the carbon ceramic brakes wind things down with almost contemptuous ease. But it's the sound that leaves the most lasting impression - a nape-tingling yell that will never leave you. It's epic.
It's difficult to find anything to criticise here but worthy of a mention is the overly fussy dashboard housing, which looks like it was designed by a teenager with a Playstation obsession and the air conditioning is frankly not up to the job of keeping driver and passenger cool in the extreme Al Ain heat. Still, I can live with these flaws.
One of the greatest cars I have ever driven is the 430 Scuderia; a car I seriously thought they'd never better, but I was wrong, because this is faster and more usable. It looks better, too, and feels more modern; the thought of a 458 Scuderia is enough to have me breaking out in a sweat. I've worked out that if I don't spend a single dirham for the next three years I could buy a 458, so if I'm found sleeping under the desk at work, you'll know why. It will be well worth it.
Yas Marina Circuit
Oh, now there's a sight I like to behold. Under the lights at Yas Marina Circuit, a low, swoopy sports car glistens in the pit box, just waiting for me to get behind the wheel.
But this is more than your average high-end sports car; the new 458 Italia isn't just one of the most beautiful Ferraris to come out of Maranello in the last decade or more, it also represents - as a replacement to the F430 - the company's reputation in the sports car market.
I'd say it has nothing to worry about.
I sit inside it; beautiful, purposeful, with leather everywhere. I glance over the climate and sat-nav controls and then dismiss them; I don't have much time, and comfort and convenience will take a back seat to what a Ferrari is really meant to do: go as fast as possible on a race track.
A turn of the key and press of the start button brings the engine to life behind my head.
The dry-sump, 4.5L V8 (hence the "458" in the name; clever, no?) with 570hp delivers the highest horsepower per litre from any naturally aspirated engine, with 127hp. How does it do that?
Partly because the cylinders get not one, but two direct injections of fuel, one on the intake stroke and one on the compression stroke, for better fuel/air mixture. As well, the mill is littered with other innovations, such as a racing-inspired flat-plane crankshaft and low-friction coatings on moving parts.
So, of course, it's incredibly quick - 0 to 100kph happens in 3.4 seconds with the launch control. Well, so Ferrari says; the drivers wouldn't let us try it because, according to them, the clutches would have to be rebuilt after three or four tries. Ouch!
It's also touted as having a top speed of 325kph.
Don't worry, as I find after rolling out of the pits and onto the track, even without trying the launch control, the car is blazing when the throttle is pushed. But despite all this power and acceleration, everything feels, well, calm - relatively so.
Yes, the engine is roaring in its typical Ferrari V8 blat behind you; but the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox is incredibly smooth, even at higher speeds around the track.
Shifts are almost seamless in manual mode and there is no unsettling of the car going up or down the gearbox.
That calm demeanour also shows itself in the handling.
This is an incredibly neutral-handling car in the corners. With 58 per cent of its weight over the rear wheels, understeer is almost nonexistent, but of course, care has to be taken when applying the throttle, lest your rear end slips out. A revised, multi-link rear suspension and magnetorheological shock absorbers help keep the car under an even keel, and when driven properly - and fast - it just dances in the curves with no tyre screeching or smoke.
The Manettino switch on the steering wheel that controls the various traction control modes only confirms how good the platform really is.
Use the sport or track mode, which allow varying degrees of slip while still keeping a safety nanny in the wings, shows that the 458 doesn't rely on electronics to control the car, it keeps itself stable when driven properly.
And, on a wet skidpad kicking the rear end out, a calm use of the throttle will instantly bring it back under control with nothing unexpected.
My only beef with the 458 Italia? It's so good that it doesn't bring me to the level of excitement and feeling of danger that I would expect from driving so fast.
That feeling of danger could only be reached by professional, experienced race car drivers who could actually take the car to its limits.
Price, base Dh910,000
Engine 4.5L V8-cylinder
Gearbox seven-speed dual-clutch DSG
Power 570hp @ 9,000 rpm
Torque 540Nm @ 6,000 rpm
Fuel economy, combined 13.3L/100km