Whenever an automaker departs significantly from its own standards and norms, it raises certain questions about the maker, the marque, and the industry as a whole.
Manufacturers — and sport and luxury car manufacturers in particular — invest millions of dollars in creating “attitudes” consistent with their products, and for these attitudes to stick, it is important that any car manufactured under their marque be recognizable down to the smallest detail. Customer loyalty depends on consistency. Radical innovation, even if it means radical improvement, is always something of a gamble.
So what do we make of the Ferrari 458 Italia? The Italia is, in the company’s own words, “a completely new car from every point of view,” and demonstrates both the company’s experience in Formula One (F1) racing and increasing global awareness of acceptable levels of fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
The F1 influence is apparent from without as well as within the car: the bodywork is compact and aerodynamic, favoring elegant simplicity and light-weight materials, though some may find the Italia’s rounded rump less appealing than its predecessors, the 430, as Ferrari has halved the stoplights from four down to two, while also trimming the tailpipes to three. From the driver’s seat though, the parallels are unmistakable, as the steering wheel and dashboard both hew strongly to racing lines.
Under the hood, a new 4499 cc V8 employs the low piston compression height characteristic of racing engines. Capable of 570 CVs at 9000 rpm, the Italia has the highest power output we’ve seen not only in its range, but in the history of the company as well. However, equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Italia may leave the fundamentalist Ferraristas longing for the more raw F1 sequential gearbox.
With all that power, you’d expect fuel consumption to be egregious — sports cars have largely ignored the current auto market trend toward increasing fuel efficiency and lowering emissions. Instead, they’ve enjoyed riding high above the storm on the checkbooks of their clients.
The Italia, however, is one of the first to make a serious stab at fuel economy, largely by fine-tuning its component parts to utilize light-weight materials and reduce internal friction. Thus, despite the fact that its engine is significantly more powerful than any other in its class, the Italia produces only 320 grams per kilometer of CO2 – another benchmark for the maker and something of a novelty within its segment.
This shows that growing environmental awareness has reached even the upper echelons of the auto industry. More interesting is what the Italia can tell us about Ferrari itself, as a company, a brand and an image.
In many of Ferrari’s recent models — the California being a prime example — the company has added versatility to provide customers practicality as well as performance in a bid to enter new territory for the speed-centric superbrand.
The Italia, on the other hand, is sporty to the 10th degree, entirely focused on the driving experience. Ferrari is, at its core, Italian. That it would name its new model Italia is, in effect, an affirmation that Ferrari’s finest qualities are encapsulated here. Though a step forward in terms of handling, power and fuel efficiency, the Italia is also a reversion to Ferrari’s core principles. Whatever differences from the past it displays can be taken as signposts to the company’s future — the Italia is Ferrari’s new flag-bearer.
NADIM MEHANNA is an automotive engineer and the pioneer of motoring on Middle Eastern television since 1992