In reviews of Gran Turismo 5, the long-anticipated PS3 version of the ultra-realistic driving sim, critics pointed out the difficulty of distinguishing screen grabs from the game with actual photos of real-life cars. That's one of the better indications of just how effectively video games have shrunken the gap between reality and digital representations of reality. But after driving the 458 Italia, Ferrari's latest and greatest feat of hot-blooded automotive audacity, I realized something: the merger of digital and real realities works both ways. What makes the 458 Italia so remarkable is that Ferrari has made piloting a $230,000 sports car feel like playing a video game.
I approached our test drive, on a sunny and crisp November day, from what I imagine is a fairly unique perspective among the lucky journalists who've had the chance to test-drive the 458 Italia. I haven't owned a car for the last five years, don't really drive much, and have never buckled into anything as remotely powerful (or expensive) as the 458. I love high-performance cars, but my admiration is from afar.
Click to launch the test drive gallery
So to prepare, I did what in hindsight is probably among the better things I could have done. I purchased the 458 Italia in Forza 3, switched on the manual transmission, and logged some laps from my couch, just me and the Xbox.
Getting behind the wheel for real twelve hours later, it's striking just how similar the two experiences are. The Italia's semi-automatic, dual-clutch transmission has no clutch pedal to work (good thing, because I'm not the handiest with a stick-shift). Which makes firing off gear changes with the massive metal paddles behind the steering wheel (described beautifully by someone who has more grounds for comparison than I as "buttered-lightning") feel not at all unlike working through the gears with the A and B buttons on my Xbox controller. Had I been driving hard on a track, the Italia's state-of-the-art traction control system would be there to keep all four wheels on the ground. Just like in Forza, purists can opt out of the car's digital assistance with the flip of a switch (something we were strongly discouraged from doing by our considerate handlers at Ferrari, who were looking out for us). In reality, there are no bonus points for eschewing safety; just thrills.
Which brings us to the very important thing that the Xbox cannot yet provide: the truly indescribable feeling of stomping on the 458's waiting gas pedal and hitting 60 mph from a rolling slow-start in 3.4 seconds, popping off gear shifts at the behest of the blinking LEDs on the top of the steering wheel (right there in between your white bloodless fists). I've ridden some serious roller coasters. I've sat in the passenger seat of some pretty fast cars burning out. I've even been shot into the sky from the top of a 1,000 foot tower. None come close to matching the giddy brain fizz of 0-60 behind the wheel in the Italia.
Trading lucky Ferrari stories with another non-gearhead in the days following, this feeling naturally came up. "It's like...hooo," she said, shaking her head and tapping on the inside of her elbow with two fingers, implying heavy intravenous narcotics use. Neither of us have ever shot heroin, but the metaphor seems apt; I can see how that full-body rush of endorphins could become dangerously addicting.
So does the 458 Italia provide the ultimate raw automotive experience, or the ultimate digital driving simulation? I would argue both. With so much of the car's operations handled via perfectly responsive automation (it's trust, really), everything but the pure joy of driving fast and hard drops away. I'm no expert, but that's sounds an awful lot like the perfect Ferrari to me.
Ferrari or Porsche? Gotta love them both. The cream of the crop, period.
Seriously guys? There's like four days of science discoveries to catch up on and it's already 1 o'clock where I'm at. So you cover a ferrari test drive... cmon get to work!
That's a bit harsh. It's the Monday after Christmas and John Mahoney should've had the day off but you're gonna tell him he needs to get to work? I just appreciate that he's feeding my PopSci addiction during the holiday break! lol
ya get to work stop covering cars 99.9999999999999% of your readers will never drive and cover some damn science! not one bit of science in this whole article its called "popular SCIENCE" not "popular oh look im selling out to test drive fast cars because i work for a magazine even tho its not related at all to my job and Ferrari is paying us to advertise for them"
There would be some science to this article if the writer stuck to his guns and wrote about the closing gap between video game simulations and real-life.
Both video game designers and car companies are trying to achieve the same thing: the ultimate experience.
To do that, video games are becoming more realistic and cars are becoming more digital. They will eventually meet somewhere in the middle, merging reality with virtual reality in some sort of enhanced augmented super-reality.
Kind of a scary thought actually. People will one day really think that while they are running to the grocery store, their mini van augmented to look like a Ferrari will careen off the road because they forgot to flip their TCS.
Sorry, no reset button in the real world yet, Schumacher.
At least that is where I would have gone with this article.
Mahoney, did you wear a dark helmet and leave a plaid warp trail?
"Ludicrous speed? Sir, we've never gone that fast before."
In the real world a ZR1 is really a better car for the money by far. At $110K if will keep up with this. It will cost way less to own and service. This car is way too finicky. Supposed to warm it up before and after you run it.
Heck, gimme a regular Vette and a supercharger to get a $60K car with 590 HP @ 3200 lbs.
I don't know if any Corvette could keep pace with this in anything not precisely resembling a drag race, but that aside, I don't see why the problems of owning this car are problems. This obviously isn't a street vehicle, I think we can agree on. You won't drive this to work and back like you might a 'Vette. I'm pretty sure that most track-racing vehicles would have some degree of maintenance over and above a regular vehicle.
And I agree with alias007. Chill out. If you want to read science articles that badly, go out there like any of the writers for this site do and find the material yourself and read about it. Don't groan about a free service. It's free. If there is anything whatsoever that comes positively from it, you win.
Very cool car...
It's not really worth the argument but I'm supremely upset with the amount of content updated lately (hell I got five days off this year so I don't want anyone complaining about not having four days off in a row). I love the fact its free but one would think a science/technology website would put more focus into their scientific website. Obviously to make money you would want to attract more hits to your site. Kinda hard to do if you won't conform to your target's wants. I'm sure the CEO of Popsci doesn't want people on their site for a few seconds and then spend an hour on a different website.
Also I agree with GTO. The writer completely lost the whole focus.
Why are we comparing a $110,000 american muscle car with a $230,000 italian sports car? While we are at it, lets compare the acidic differences between apples and oranges.
As far as the 458 being a street vehicle, of course it is. It would be very well suited for Southern Florida or most of California, heck anywhere where the weather is "mild" and the roads are well maintained. If you can afford a 230k car, you can drive it where ever and when ever you wish. Heck I live in New England and know of someone that drives a real AC Shelby Cobra to work every day in the summer, I see someone that drives his Lamborghini Gallardo to work whenever it's not snowing!
As far as this article goes, I would have rather seen much more information about WHY and HOW it bridges the gap between game and reality. This article seems better suited for Popular Mechanics, rather than Popular Science.
In any route, here's to hoping for some amazing scientific progress in 2011!
If fundamental science was their focus, then you'd be right. But, as stated in their mission statement, it's all about applied science. PopSci has been covering cars, computers, tools, gadgets and make-your-own topics for decades now. Since applied science is their focus, this article is on focus.
@alias007 I'd like to humbly disagree with you, POPSCI isn't about "applied" science as you state, if it were all then please explain theortical science we see laying about. As POPSCI says in their own "about us" section:
"Popular Science has been a leading source of science and technology news since its inception way back in 1872."
and from their wiki page:
"Popular Science Monthly was founded in May 1872 by Edward L. Youmans to disseminate scientific knowledge to the educated layman."
With this said, this article lacks any information about what makes this car so special. Dual clutch Paddle shifters are nothing new, neither are fully electronic steering wheel controls, nor are fully computer controlled automotive systems. To be completely honest, this article looks more to me like an excuse for the author to get behind the wheel of a vehicle he normally would not be able to, for no other means than to actually get behind the wheel of a car he can't afford. This article lacks any science, applied or theoritcal. There is more science in an episode of Top Gear than in this article
I love humble disagreements. Too many people try to be mean in comments as if arguing a point on the PopSci comments section was important to a person's well-being... lol
So I like you CodeZero. :-)
My take is that when they say 'technology' in the 'about us' quote they mean new products that offer some new kind of experience even if its an existing technology. And they do offer science too, so I was wrong to say its about applied science only. It's about both. So in making the point that it's not all about fundamental science I made the exact same mistake in saying it's all about applied science. So yeah, it's about both.
I wouldn't say it lacks applied science though. Even a ceiling fan is applied science. Might not make for an interesting read, but it's still applied science. hehe
I'm actually happy to see a new car to read about in POPSCI. The profusion of computer/internet-related articles is why I'm no longer a subscriber ( I simply buy it off the rack when interesting things like this catch my eye). Computers/IPOD's and "the net" are only a (thankfully) small part of the world some of us that like other sciences live in. Stories like submarine oil tankers,flying cars, space science(even when a bit fanciful), gadgets that were NOT computer/phone/internet related and-yes-new cars(!) led the way in the decades-long period of time I looked forward to each issue-and would woo me back if presented in sufficient quantity. Call me old-fashioned (I am) for not spending more than a few minutes online each day (some days not at all!) and a hypocrite for using the computer to air this view (it seems the only way most people I know will ever see it!). Nice car-show me more!
Very nice pics! This Ferrari makes it seem like your sitting inside a fighter jet.