‘The Ferrari is a dream. And for most people it will remain a dream apart from for those lucky few.’ I certainly feel very lucky sitting in the reception of Ferrari’s UK HQ watching this famous Enzo Ferrari quote flash up on a TV screen every few minutes. To my right, just outside the window, is a black F430, and with a bit of luck I will have the keys in my hand in a few minutes.
Then the door opens and I am presented with a red car key with tan leather key ring and instructions to bring the car back before 5pm. It’s all a bit surreal really. Sure I feel lucky, elated even, but this is matched by a decent chunk of anxiety. This is no 300bhp rally rep, it’s not even an M car, it’s a 483bhp, 196mph Ferrari that costs more than my flat. And it is mine for a day, not just a few hours, a whole day.
I’d spent weeks trying to get a car and finally Ferrari had agreed to give me free rein of the latest F430, which now comes with carbon ceramic brakes as standard. They used to be a £10,500 option but in January this year Ferrari became the world’s first car manufacturer to fit CCM as standard across the range.
This car is fitted with the F1 paddle shift which effectively halves change times compared to the 360 Modena. Your foot must be on the brake before you pull the metal paddle on the right and the digital display changes from ‘N’ to ‘1’. I lightly press the accelerator and the car pulls away without any fuss. The car defaults into auto mode when it is switched off but with a press of the button on the centre consol it will move to manual.
After driving around the streets of Slough for a while I realise that the Bath Road is a poor substitute for Fiorano, and I’m probably wasting my time. The most sensible thing I can think of is picking up a friend and blasting down to the coast, taking some back roads along the way. Leaving the mean streets of Buckinghamshire I notice that an ominous stone chip has appeared on the windscreen. Not a good start and bearing in mind the Slough branch of Autoglass probably doesn’t stock Ferrari windscreens I head onto the motorway.
It’s stupendously quick, giving you that tunnel vision that only a very fast car can, focussing your eyes much further up the road than they normally would. The F355 I drove a while back felt quick but nothing like this. The car will accelerate to 60mph in four seconds dead and on to more than 196mph, all accompanied by one of the best engine sounds you’ll ever hear - the noise bounces off houses and the central reservation. The F430 is powered by a new 90 degrees V8 with a flat-plane crank – it is all-new and doesn’t share any components with the 360 Modena’s engine.
When you do want to shed some speed you experience a different but just as impressive type of power – the brakes. Unlike most cars the calipers on this F430 are made from a solid piece of aluminium, which cuts out the flex from multiple parts. The pedal feel is excellent, allowing you to know exactly how much pressure to apply. And when that pressure is applied it doesn’t snatch at the car, progressively reducing speed at an eye-watering rate.
I decide to leave the motorway and make my way across country for a while. It starts to dawn on me just how comfortable I feel in the car already, the words of warning from various tiers of management being drowned out every time I hit the loud pedal. So I do it again. Up until now I have had the ‘manettino’ switch on the steering wheel in ‘Low Grip’ position, which allows for a decent ride and the highest levels of stability and traction control. Time to switch that off then. ‘Sport’ is the next setting and this ‘strikes the best balance between stability and performance’, as Ferrari puts it.
The car stays flat and composed, and is nowhere near as knife –edge as the mid-engined layout may have you believe. This is helped by the ‘E-diff’, which in milliseconds can alter the way torque is distributed between the rear wheels. The best approach is to feed the power in consistently through the curve letting both car and driver work out how fast we can both catapult out of the other end. For the latter this is achieved through an almost telepathic connection through every part of the car.
The steering has impeccable feel, the throttle response is razor sharp and the whole car just shrinks around you. Instead of scaring the life out of you the F430 asks you to commit a little more for the next curve, rewarding you when you get it right. The F1 paddle shift has converted me too, normally I don’t like these devices but this feels like it is light years ahead. The manual shifts are smoother than the auto mode and it gives you huge satisfaction when you judge a change just right or simply punch through the gears, foot welded to the floor. Changing gear takes just 150 milliseconds and the F430 will blip the throttle on a downshift. Visibility out of the front is superb, the short bonnet almost invisible, leaving you totally focused on the road ahead.
I wasn’t sure what people’s reaction would be to the car but everyone genuinely seems to like the F430. The streets are busy with people and other cars and somehow I take a wrong turn onto a busy shopping street, brimming with pedestrians. Now, in most cars this wouldn’t be an issue, but in a black Ferrari it takes on a whole new meaning. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stops and stares, expectantly waiting for you to do something, preferably stupid. Children in particular are gobsmacked and recognise the car immediately as being something special.
I’ve always liked the look of the F430 but somehow today it seems different. Having the keys in your hand you have time to admire the Pininfarina shape and all the gorgeous details. The wing-mirrors have twin mounting arms to allow air to flow through them into the engine intakes. The side lights are incorporated into the outer edge of the headlight, helping drivers in front to recognise the car even when it is dark. Inside the quality is exceptional, a complete departure from groundbreaking cars like the 355, with red leather swathed over any surface that can be covered.
All this driving has made me hungry and in the interest of science I decide to see whether the car will fit through a McDonalds drive-through. I’m starting to realise that, apart from perhaps not the world’s best turning circle, the F430 may well be a car that can be used all the time. True, hypercars like Zondas and Murcielagos have a definite attraction but how far do you want to go? The F430 is proving hassle free and easy to drive around town, but a hardcore weapon on the open road. Would you want any more? I’m honestly not so sure.
The only thing that cheers me up is the thought of driving back, there is nothing like a black Ferrari to give you a pep I guess. Heading back down the A23 it has started to rain and with the car in Sport and foot flat on the throttle I suddenly realise that it is no longer going in a completely straight line. It is at this moment that I am reminded quite where I am, that there is a 490bhp V8 behind my head. Then as quickly as it happens the back clicks into place. I would like to think that it was my deft flick of the wrist but if the truth be known it is thanks to the NASA-spec electronics that bristle all through the car.
On the way home I have time to reflect on what it all means. It is a strange feeling – this morning a dream came true but now my mood seems to be plummeting. I don’t want it to end, perhaps I should have gone there, or done that, but I suppose that was always going to happen. This is not a car, it is an experience, a sensation. Whereas other cars take you to an event, with a Ferrari getting there is the event. Everywhere I went there was a story, an adventure, an occasion.