It's comfortably warm in Maranello. The sun is shining, and I can't wait to get behind the wheel of one of the most highly anticipated Ferraris in years, the all-new 458 Italia. Just need to get through a technical briefing of the car, and the keys are mine. Oh, and the small matter of waiting on the registration for a replacement car following a misadventure a few days prior involving a foreign journalist and a 458 off-road excursion into a vineyard, but I digress. I'm thinking this is Ferrari and we're in Maranello. Who's going to stop me for lack of plates and registration? Thankfully, another car had been prepped and the paperwork arrived a couple hours later.

Giddy with anticipation, I can't help but smile as I approach the car. It's drop-dead gorgeous. A Pininfarina supermodel.

It's not every day one is tossed the key to such a magnificent vehicle, and with time ticking, I'm finally off to get better acquainted with Ferrari's latest berlinetta in the hills North of Modena.

Pulling away from the historic main gate, I notice a few people waiting to catch a glimpse of anything that rolls out. They're in luck. Their cameras poised, I goose the throttle. Their jubilant expressions are as evident as mine.

The 458 is a quantum leap forward for Ferrari, with a slew of track-derived technological innovations. This is a completely new car from every respect; engine, gearbox, chassis, suspension, electronic controls, aerodynamics, instrumentation, ergonomics-it's all new. The vast improvements over the outgoing F430 is like comparing the F355 to the 360. In other words, there's really no comparison. Sure, it's still a mid-rear engine V8 berlinetta, but that's about where the similarities end.

Deep swooping lines stretched over the slightly longer all-aluminum body make for one of the most beautiful Ferraris ever. Bold angular lines, especially at the front and rear, wonderfully bisect each corresponding curve. The contemporary styling is further carried out with the use of elongated headlamps, which feature rotating bi-xenon beams, as well as a vertical stack of 20 high-intensity LED running lights.

While the new open mouth grille meshes well with the overall aesthetic, I suspect some owners who have grown fond of the former nose may consider painting the center section to match the exterior. Most however, including those who see the new face as a welcome nod to the classics, will agree it couldn't look any better. The rear is all business with in-your-face center-mounted triple exhausts, flanked by the massive rear diffusers. Single circular taillights prominently extend to the upper corners.

Thanks to innovations from Ferrari's F1 experience, and extensive wind tunnel testing, the 458 produces better cooling, less drag, and increased downforce. The former large side intakes behind the doors have disappeared within the C post, leaving a smooth open span that draws your eye up and over the rear shoulders. It also creates a clear aerodynamic path by which airflow is directed within the bodywork. New inlets at the headlights direct airflow through the front wheel arches, and small winglets in the front intakes help to reduce drag and generate downforce, as well as increase cooling for the repositioned radiators. The flexible winglets actually deflect downward as much as 20mm at speeds starting at 125mph, further optimizing directional airflow, and reduce lift over the front fenders by a full 40 percent. A new flat underbody with engine cooling ducts, and rear diffuser also show a marked increase in overall aerodynamic efficiency. Even the transmission radiators, now located in the tail, act as spoilers, creating an FXX-derived base bleed effect. The resulting aero-sharp styling and optimized aerodynamics provide a slippery 0.330 drag coefficient (down from 0.343), and up to 795 lbs of increased downforce at 200mph.

By Rob Hallstrom
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