DRIVEN: FERRARI 458 ITALIA
Riggers blags the keys and doesn't stop until the road does. (Well, sort of)
Prancing Horse shares Bodmin Moor car park space with, er, non-prancing horse
In the end, it was only the weather that stopped me. I had planned to take the bright yellow Ferrari 458 Italia that Ferrari North Europe had kindly lent PH for a few days all the way to Land's End, largely to make the point that this is one of those cars you want to keep driving until you run out of road.
There are some things you just don't do, and wantonly taking into snowbound parts somebody else's £200k, 550bhp-plus supercar is one of them.
But even though the symbolic image of me having taken the 458 Italia as far as it could go fell victim to the wintry weather, the idea behind it remains valid. Because the Ferrari 458 Italia is a thoroughly beguiling car.
This is a car that is easy to get in and out of, has decent all-round visibility, is impeccably well-behaved in traffic, and has all the luxury conveniences you'd expect of a mainstream executive saloon - including sat-nav, parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity. Heck, it's even got a reasonable amount of luggage space in the nose.
The driver-centric interior, with most major controls either on the wheel itself (or barely a hand-span away), is pretty alien at first, but you soon get used to it and the deeply driver-focused design quickly begins to make a lot of sense. Ironically though, Frank Stephenson, the man who headed up the design of the 458 and its F1-style steering wheel, is also responsible for the arch-nemesis McLaren MP4-12C - and that has a determinedly naked steering wheel.
The only proper criticism that we can pick out is that the radio and sat-nav controls are out of the reach of your passenger - they have command only over the climate control. But this is only a problem on right-hand drive cars since, being placed on the right side of the instrument binnacle, a left-hooker's infotainment controls are within reach of both occupants. Of course, if you're the driver you may well not care, but for £170k (or £206k for our car, including £4626 of carbon fibre racing seats and a mind-hurting £12,800 for the Giallo Tristrata paintwork) you'd think Ferrari might have been able to switch things around a bit for UK cars.
The only downside to the 458's hyper-speed revving is that the gorgeous flat-crank V8 doesn't get to sing for long enough, especially if you switch the manettino to 'sport' rather than 'race', when the exhaust bypass valves don't allow the 458 to properly clear its throat until 4000rpm.
Once you get off the multi-laners and onto more interesting roads, the 458 does quite a decent fist of impersonating a much smaller, lighter car. It's just so precise: keen to turn, agile, and adjustable in corners.
As for the winter tyres, I can't confess to being an expert on the subject as I've not tried a 458 on summer-season rubber, but the Pirelli Sottozeros certainly don't seem to compromise the 458's ride or handling in any significant way. Perhaps the ride is a smidgen tougher than other reports i've read would lead me to expect, and possibly the car would feel a little less surefooted in the most committed cornering. But you'd probably have to be going faster than is safe or sane on public roads to really notice the difference, and it's a small price to pay for that bit of extra confidence in truly slithery conditions.
What's really great news is that the Prancing Horse now comes with a serious dose of usability. Ferrari has built a car that you want to just drive and drive until you con't go any further - or at least until snow makes discretion the better part of valour. McLaren had better be on its toes with the MP4-12C, because Ferrari has set the bar extremely high...