You can't fault Ferrari's passion for detail, but sometimes you just want to get on with things. So, while an exhaustive technical briefing on the new 458 Italia is all well and good – the highlight is the assembled experts enthusing about how the car “reduces windage” – it's with some relief that I finally slot in the ignition key and fire it up.
Now at this point you may be expecting phrases like “erupts” or “bursts into life,” but they'd be entirely inappropriate because, er, it doesn't. Probably for efficiency reasons or noise regulations, the 458 simply catches before quickly settling into a smooth, calm idle. It'll get you noticed, but it's no hell raiser.
Worried? Me too. But like most modern performance cars, the 458 has trick exhaust bypass flaps, so let's just hope that its tone will be more entertaining with revs.
Still, we've got seven hours to play with the 458, so before setting off we take 15 minutes to study its external details. This is entirely subjective, but I think the latest Ferrari looks sensational – not pretty, but modern, sleek, exciting and different. There are hints of Enzo, particularly in the rear wheel arches and short rear overhang, and aspects of the Pininfarina-designed P4/5 one-off in the high-rising front arches and prominent twin rear lights. Yet it looks completely fresh. The jump between the F430 and this is much greater than the step from 360 Modena to F430.
In styling, that is; for the rest, we have to move off. And it only takes a few feet to register the first significant dynamic step change over the 458's predecessor. The steering is much quicker – two turns from lock to lock, in fact, and that despite a very reasonable turning circle. Too quick? Maybe. More miles and turns will tell.
The next thought is how well the gearbox works. Like the California, the 458 uses a dual-clutch, 7-speed gearbox (DCT), albeit with different ratios, and in the very ordinary role of maneuvering the 458 in traffic, it's much more civilized than the F430's single-clutch F1 transmission.
There is some sadness, though, for DCT is the only gearbox to be offered on the 458. Is this goodbye to the iconic open-gated manual Ferrari? It certainly looks that way.
Free of traffic and up in the hills, I'm keen to explore whether a twin-clutch 'box can deliver the sense of occasion and drama expected of a 200mph-plus Ferrari. Arch-rival Lamborghini doesn't think so, believing that seamless changes aren't what its customers want. To an extent, it is a personal choice, and depends on whether you feel the jolt you get with a super-fast single-clutch transmission – such as that fitted to the 430 Scuderia – to be a highlight or a shortcoming.
The 458's DCT is much smoother and faster than the F1 'box, and yet, in my opinion, it feels no less mechanical. Plus, if I don't have the option of changing gears myself, I'd rather have a system that does it as accurately as possible.
The gearbox is also well matched to the engine character, not only in its speed of reaction but also its exactness. Upon leaving the casting, the 458's aluminum engine block is identical to that used in the California, but from that point on the two diverge – not least because the 458's engine is stroked to 4.5 liters (instead of 4.3), but also because it revs significantly higher. To 9000rpm, in fact, where, with the benefit of “dynamic supercharging,” it produces 562hp. Or 125hp per liter, from a naturally aspirated engine.
When you think that is a jump of 70hp over the regular F430, you get some idea of the step up in performance, but to truly understand you need to consider where the power (and torque) is produced. From 3500rpm the 458's engine is already producing as much torque as the F430's and, at 6500rpm, has eclipsed its peak power.
Making the engine rev so fast and cleanly, while retaining flexibility, is where the aforementioned “windage” comes in. Fitting two scavenge pumps prevents oil from splashing between the central and external crank throws and reduces the pressure in the sump. The result is more torque (especially at low revs) for no additional fuel. Such detailed changes, along with the high-pressure direct injection, mean that despite the power increase, the 458 uses less fuel and emits less CO2 than an F430.
If all that makes the latest Ferrari sound worryingly worthy, don't panic. While the smoothness it exhibits at idle is maintained right through the rev range, it is anything but clinical or soulless. Even at 9000rpm it produces 332lb-ft (from a peak of 398lb-ft at 6000rpm), meaning the rate at which the crank speed is accelerating hardly diminishes. And, over the last 2000rpm, the energy and vigor is massively addictive.