Dario Benuzzi surveys his domain from the canopy of the pit garage as an angry-sounding 458 circles the Fiorano test track. His eyes, as always, are hidden behind shades, but Ferrari’s legendary test driver of the last four decades is watching all right. Critiquing. Scoffing, even. Driving a new Ferrari at Fiorano on a press event is as good as this job gets, but, by God, it’s intimidating. Or it was, until Ferrari launched the 458 Speciale, a supercar designed to make even us mere mortals feel as handy as Dario.
Like the 430 Scuderia and Challenge Stradale before it, the Speciale takes the current mid-engined Ferrari sports car and turns up the wick. Ferrari’s CEO, Amedeo Felisa, reveals the company considered re-using the Scuderia name and creating a performance sub-brand, but decided not to because each car has a subtly different character and set of objectives to meet. I can’t say I’m convinced, because the headlines—more power, less weight and a dynamic character biased towards track work—are quite similar.
When it comes to performance, though, the Speciale lives at a loftier level than its predecessors. Starting with the Italia’s 4.5-liter V8, Ferrari’s engineers fitted new camshafts with 5 percent more lift, redesigned intake runners and new pistons that deliver a barely believable 14:1 compression ratio. Topping all that with an exhaust system offering 25 percent less back pressure pushes power from 570 to 605 ponies. (The Scuderia, for reference, produced “just” 510 hp.) Torque remains the same at 398 lb-ft, but it feels like there’s more of it because the Speciale is 198 pounds lighter than the Italia.
Contributing to that weight loss are lighter engine components, forged 20-inch alloy wheels, a carbon-fiber underbody and thinner front and side glass, along with a Lexan rear window. The interior is similarly pared down; there’s no glove box, for instance, and buyers can delete the radio to save around nine pounds. The carbon-fiber sport seats do without leather, as do the dash and door panels (the latter are beautifully done carbon-fiber items). The floors receive textured aluminum plates instead of carpet, and there’s no evidence of sound deadening. Ferrari specifies a curb weight of 3,075 pounds, but, from the way the thing changes direction when I dive into my first corner, I’d swear it was 400 pounds lighter still.