Is there a car brand more recognised on earth? Is there a person on the planet who wouldn't be able to identify a badgeless Ferrari? It's unlikely anyone with a TV or access to any media whatsoever wouldn't be able to spot the Ferrari 458 Italia and name it as one of Maranello's finest.
And only a tiny proportion wouldn't want to drive one.
Thoroughly impractical, especially in Australia with our silly speed limits and even sillier fellow road users, the Ferrari 458's talents are almost impossible to explore on the road. But we gave it a go anyway.
Ferrari 458 Italia Overview
The Ferrari 458 Italia is Ferrari's 'baby' sports car, sitting below the bellowing Ferrari F12 Berlinetta and all-wheel drive Ferrari FF. Powered by a glorious, high-revving V8 mated to a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, this is the car that most typifies the brand.
Ferrari 458 Italia Interior
The Ferrari 458's interior is beautiful and simple. Two deep bucket seats, a sliver of carbon fibre to separate driver and passenger (and carry a few big buttons), leather and aluminium covering everything else.
Obviously, it is a strict two-seater. A window in the back of the cabin serves as both the rear window and a portal to see the V8 engine with fiery red intake covers. In front of you in the driver's seat is a slightly squared off steering wheel featuring Ferrari's now-famous manettino switch.
This little switch, inspired by the many switches now found on F1 car steering wheels, allows you to choose between several modes of driving - low traction, Sport, Race, Most Things Off, Everything Off.
There's also a button to change the suspension mode, the indicators, the engine start mode and the windscreen wiper/washer controls. Behind the wheel is a pair of gorgeous aluminium paddles to control the transmission should you choose to shift yourself, which you will.
The dash is dominated by a gigantic rev-counter which is flanked by two LCD screens, programmable to show things like sat-nav, various information about the car and whatever else you can snatch a glimpse of.
The construction is tight and beautiful, but low-fuss. Ferrari clearly wants you looking ahead, without distractions or impediments.
Ferrari 458 Italia Exterior and Styling
The Ferrari 458's edgy styling goes back to the ground-breaking Millechili concept from 2009 as well as drawing inspiration from the Enzo. The result is better than either, with an aggressive low stance, courtesy of design house Pininfarina.
There's vents and scoops and aerodynamic devices everywhere but all integrated into a stealth-bomberish frame with uncommon grace and elegance. It's unmistakably Ferrari and to most eyes is sensational. LED driving lights up front and fantastic afterburner LEDs at the rear complete the ultra-modern look.
Ferrari 458 Italia On the Road
It's hard to imagine before you drive a Ferrari 458 how good it could be, particularly if your frame of reference stops at a Porsche 911 or something similar. Chuck away everything you know about how a car can go, stop and turn, because the 458 will punch you through the stratosphere.
At an incredible 9000rpm, the mid-mounted 4.5 litre V8 develops a scarcely believable 425kW. Down at a mere 6000rpm comes 540Nm of torque. While the power is amazing, that amount of torque in such a light car makes all the difference.
Pull the right hand paddle to grab first and floor the throttle - you can use launch control if you want to show off. The mid-mounted 90-degree V8 will hurl you to 100 in 3.4 seconds with just the slightest waggle of the tail. The V8's noise is an ecstatic expression of automotive nirvana - it sounds like an F1 car even though it has only half the revs.
The gears shift so fast and the engine revs so hard you're in third before you realise it and you may as well just shred your licence yourself at this point. Despite the intensity of the shifts, they are smooth even when you're flat to the floor - there's not let up, just straight through.
The carbon ceramic brakes are wooden when cold, but as they warm up, so will you. Their stopping power is immense. The magnetorheological suspension makes the most of the huge contact patch of the tyres, keeping them firmly on the ground, but without upsetting the the order in which your vertebra are arranged.
Mere mortals like me would have to do something incredibly stupid to crash a Ferrari 458. It doesn't dive into corners - that is far too pedestrian a term - it simply tears them apart, you can fire through them with impunity. Together the feedback, the turn-in and the grip allow you to forensically examine the corner while you fire through it, letting you adjust everything - speed, steering, angle of attack, the lot - as you go.
Much of this is to do with the serious piece of hardware that is the E-Diff and because this does such an amazing job with the rear end, the steering speed can be dialled right up to 11.
The rack is whip crack fast, but tuned just right that you're not constantly correcting. The 458 never does anything you don't tell it to. It's perfectly weighted and you know exactly what's going on beneath the tyres without it being overwhelming.
Which is just as well, because that acceleration will have you coming back for more, time after time after time. The bark on the upshift, the crackle and sizzle on the downshift will ensure you rip through a tank of premium without ever breaching the speed limit, just to hear the racket from the tailpipes. The noise is that good. People will wave at you to rev it - be a good stick and oblige.
What it can also do is potter around town with just slightly elevated vigilance - watch the kerbs, avoid the big bumps and stay away from gawping pedestrians. For such a low car, there's plenty of vision and even decent ride quality. Only the highest speed bumps will cause the Italia any grief.
Ferrari 458 Italia Challenges
Anyone buying a Ferrari probably knows what they're in for and won't care, but the obvious initial challenge is the price - $525,417 plus on roads is a lot of money.
Other drivers go insane when they catch sight of it, either swerving towards you to laugh and grin or panicking and hamfistedly try to get out of the way.
Its limited practicality and usability in every day life, these are things that will be obvious to any buyer. Oh, and it's a bit tricky to park, even though you can see the rear wheels in the rear vision mirrors.
Ferrari 458 Italia Verdict
It's addictive, it's mad, it's rambunctious but it is also amazingly delicate. Its brilliant predecessor, the Ferrari 430, is an old truck by comparison which is saying something because that still stands up as a brilliant performance car.
The Ferrari 458 was a genuine leap and remains brilliant almost four years after its introduction. It's an event every time you slide behind the wheel and push that big red starter button, blip the throttle and make it howl.
It is pure magnificence.
Ferrari 458 Italia Competition
McLaren 12C: The 12C starts at $398,000 and has a grand prix racing pedigree almost as good as Ferrari's. The twin turbo V8 has less character and the styling isn't to everyone's taste. But with 460kW and 600Nm, it goes like a rocket strapped to another rocket.
Lamborghini Gallardo: It's highly unlikely anyone pays 'just' $409,500 for a Gallardo V10 manual. Amazing looks and 5.2 litre V10 power make it a true rival to the 458. It's got less power at 405kW but the same torque figure. And it just went out of production...
We drove the Ferrari 458 Italia courtesy of Shell V Power.