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Ferrari’s new 458 Italia marks the end of an era for the Italian supercar maker, with Maranello’s most track-focused model only available with a self-shifting transmission.
The head of engine development at Ferrari, Vittorio Dini, says manual transmissions have had their day, with the latest twin-clutch automatic transmission offered in the 458 Italia providing quicker acceleration and better fuel economy than a manual.
“The manual gearbox has been a tradition for us but almost nobody buys one anymore,” he says.
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He says the take-up of manual transmissions on the forerunner to the 458, the F430, was just five per cent, while demand for a self-shifting box on the recently released California convertible was even less.
“I don’t even think we have sold one yet. We offered it because some customers said they wanted it, but that hasn’t been the case,” he says.
Ferrari’s decision to offer an automatic gearbox on the softer California but not on the sportier 458 is a puzzling one, but Dini says the company’s new dual-clutch seven-speed auto makes the new car more hardcore than its predecessor.
He says the auto accelerates quicker than the manual because power isn’t interrupted by gear changes.
“With the auto, the car is actually accelerating during the gear changes, while on the manual, the power delivery is interrupted,” he says.
A dual-clutch transmission can accelerate faster than a manual because it can pre-select gears before they are engaged. While one clutch engages first gear, the other clutch has already engaged second gear, so that gear changes are instantaneous.
Ferrari’s twin-clutch auto claims are borne about by the acceleration figures for the new Italia, which is more than half a second quicker than the F430 was when it was launched in 2004. The 425kW Italia completes the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.4 secs compared with 4.0 secs for the F430. The new car reaches 200km/h in 10.4 secs on its way to a maximum speed of 325km/h. The rev limit has increased by 500rpm to a stratospheric 9000rpm.
The added performance comes from a combination of the dual-clutch transmission and a new 4.5-litre, direct-injection V8 that is roughly 20 per cent more powerful than the original F430, yet more than 25 per cent more fuel efficient (13.3L/100km compared with 18.3L/km).
It’s a common theme among supercar makers. Porsche has gone down a similar path with its iconic 911, using direct injection and a twin-clutch auto to deliver better performance and fuel economy. The 911, though, is still available with a manual shifter.
Ferrari says its engine development is now tightly focused on CO2 emissions.
“We all talk in grams per kilometre these days,” Dini says.
The Italian maker has cut emissions by roughly 35 per cent from the F355 in 1999 to the new 458 Italia, reducing emissions from 470 grams per kilometre to 307g/km. At the same time, power has increased by 50 per cent.
The improvements have come largely from direct injection of fuel into the cylinders and the use of low friction components. Many of the engines moving parts have been coated in graphite to reduce friction.
The fuel consumption improvements have come despite the fact that the 458 Italia is about 30kg heavier than the F430. The extra weight is a combination of the extra bulk (roughly 10kg) of the dual-clutch auto, more equipment and additional safety gear.
“There are several new crash regulations that the F430 did not have to comply with,” Dini says.
The extra weight has been offset by a new aluminium chassis, lightweight components – including some borrowed from the aviation industry - and improved aerodynamics, which have cut drag and increased downforce. Ferrari says the new chassis is 15 per cent more rigid than the F430.
Most of the car’s intake vents serve a double purpose, cooling vital components and either reducing drag or increasing downforce. At the front, the massive air intakes both cool the car’s radiator and direct airflow under the car to improve downforce. The intakes have winglets that deform at high speed to reduce drag.
The prominent air intakes on the flanks of the F430 have been replaced by more discreet vents integrated behind the side window and in front of the rear wings.
The engine is cooled by air intakes incorporated into the car’s underbody. The end result is a cleaner, more streamlined look for the car, as well as reduced drag and greater downforce than the F430.
The better aerodynamics are complemented by a 50mm longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs designed to make the car more stable at speed. Ferrari says the car’s new double wishbone front suspension delivers a better ride and transmits less road noise to the cabin, while reducing body roll through corners.
The F458 also has a new-generation version of the F430’s magnetic ride control, which adjusts the stiffness of the car’s dampers according to the road surface and driving style.
There is a new “bumpy road” setting designed to deliver better compliance – and more tyre contact with the road - on pock-marked surfaces. The car’s new “Manettino” switch offers five settings that alter the performance and handling characteristics of the car, as well as the level of intervention from the array of driver aids on the F458. Ferrari has also developed a more direct steering ratio for sharper responses to driver inputs, while the car’s ceramic brakes now prime themselves for use as soon as the driver lifts off the accelerator.
The new set-up was influenced by seven-time world Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, who drove the car during the development phase and gave feedback to Ferrari engineers.
Ferrari says the German travelled to Fiorano ten times, carrying out a four-hour test drive each time.
Inside, the Ferrari 458 Italia is a big departure from the F430, with a more driver-focused cockpit that doesn’t have a traditional centre stack with a display screen.
Instead there are two screens in the instrument panel on either side of the dominant centre tacho, with radio and satellite navigation readouts on the right and trip computer/vehicle setting readouts on the left.
The new Ferrari also does away with indicator stalks. The indicators are now push-button controls on the steering wheel itself. The car’s headlight and windscreen wiper controls are also on the steering wheel, along with the Manettino switch, the push button start and the suspension adjustment.
The launch control, reverse gear and auto shift selection are on the centre console.
The Pininfarina-designed exterior is cleaner than the F430, with new daytime running lights, single tail-lights replacing the F430’s quads and a distinctive three-pipe exhaust, with F1-style rear diffuser.
The new Ferrari 458 Italia is expected to arrive in Australia in June next year, with pricing – expected to be close to $600,000 – announced in March.
Local distributor Ateco is taking expressions of interest in the car and expects the car to have a two-year waiting list when it finally lands.
Ferrari 458 Italia
Price: $580,000 (estimated)
Engine: 4.5-litre V8
Power: 425kW at 9000rpm
Torque: 540Nm at 6000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption and emissions: 13.3L/100km and 307g/km
0-100km/h: 3.4 seconds ADS