Ferrari's current V8 sports car and a technological world leader.
I know that, technically, between the debut of the F430 and that of the 458 Italia, Ferrari debuted the California, another V8 car. I've decided to skip it partly because, nice as it is, it didn't do much for the evolution of the V8, but mostly because it was recently covered in the Grand Touring series. So we will skip to the 458, an awesome testament to what the automobile is capable of. This is the V8 which almost makes you forget about V12s.
The 458 saw a return to Ferrari's traditional non-V12 naming scheme, and as the name implies, it boasts a 4.5-liter V8 engine. This engine is an evolution of the power plant developed for the F430, but it has been enlarged and now produces 562 horsepower. As with the previous version, the engine is notable for the unusually large (for a Ferrari V8) amount of torque available to lower engine speeds. Thanks in part to this torque and in part to launch control, the 0-60 time is just 3.4 seconds. In fact, the 458 once famously lapped the Top Gear track just 0.1 second slower than an Enzo.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission built by GETRAG. This is actually the same gearbox that is found in the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, although Ferrari has tuned it differently. The highly sophisticated design of the body was handled by Pininfarina, and is one of the few examples of a design at the forefront of functionality and aerodynamics which is also achingly pretty. The 458 has done away with the gaping intakes on the flanks which have characterized previous mid-engine Ferraris, and the engine now sucks air from the underside of the car.
Active aerodynamics keep the car firmly planted at all different speeds, and the aggressive looks are meant to help distinguish it from the also V8-powered California. Car and Driver said that "It is perhaps the closest man has come to creating an animal," and that doesn't sound too far off. My first experience seeing one on the street was while waiting for a light to cross the street in Geneva in 2010. A 458 in matte black tore past me and all I could think was that I have never seen such speed look so effortless. Indeed, the car's handling is other-worldly. So precise, and yet easy to handle, thanks to all of that expensive F1 technology.
And there is quite a lot of that. One need only look at the steering wheel and it's obvious that Ferrari wanted to incorporate as much F1 tech as was feasible, and arguably, some that really wasn't. This brings us to the couple of the 458's downsides. Namely, it's a confusing mess of buttons. Ferrari has never been too concerned with confusing its customers (to again quote P.J. O'Rourke on the subject of the 308, "The manual was translated from Italian into English by someone who spoke only Chinese."), but not like this. The dashboard shows a labyrinth of menus and displays and even the turn signals are operated by buttons on the steering wheel.
But this really isn't such a big deal. Automotive reviews often forget that the people who will buy the cars they're reviewing will have them for more than a weekend. Sometimes a few controls are a bit counter-intuitive, but if you're going to own the car for at least a couple of years and can't get used to where the turn signal buttons are, then you have bigger problems. The 458 is a really remarkable car, and this just might explain the existence of the 599 GTO. Without such 12-cylinder monsters as the Testarossa, the F50 or the Enzo in the lineup for some years, Ferrari might have felt as though its only real relevance in the field of out-and-out performance was coming from V8 models.
This, as any brand purist will tell you, shouldn't be. So perhaps Ferrari had to bring out something that was stupidly fast and powered by a V12 just that you don't lose sight of it while building the F70. Automakers have certainly done weirder things, and Ferrari gets very defensive about its V12s. It's fairly amazing how far Ferrari's V8 models have come in a relatively short period of time. V8 models started out as something treated with such distain that they weren't even allowed to wear Ferrari badges, and now they are on the cutting edge of automotive technology.
You don't get the impression that corners have been cut on the 458 the way they so obviously were on the Mondial 8. It is simply one of the best cars on the road which just happens to have a V8. There is finally, absolutely no question that this is a proper Ferrari.