Kick It Up A Notch

Nearly four years ago, Ferrari SpA introduced its 360 Modena, a sports car that garnered the praise of auto buffs everywhere. Now, it's time for Ferrari's engineers and stylists to build a worthy replacement.

Team Ferrari has succeeded with the '05 F430. Despite sharing 70% of its underpinnings and components with the outgoing model, the F430 is leaps and bounds better.

Ferrari started with the engine, where engineers crafted the all-new 4.3L DOHC V-8. While the foundation of the engine is based on cousin Maserati's 4.2L V-8, Ferrari engineers made major modifications.

Engineers hiked power for the 4.3L to 490 hp at 8,500 rpm, a 100 hp-plus improvement over the Maserati 4.2L and a stunning 90 hp more than Modena's superceded 3.6L V-8. Torque also gets a significant boost to 343 lb.-ft. (465 Nm) at 5,250 rpm; the Modena V-8 developed just 275 lb.-ft. (373 Nm) at 4,750 rpm.

The F430 marks the first all-new product penned with the guidance of Ferrari's chief designer, Frank Stephenson. Working alongside stylists from Pininfarina SpA, Stephenson made sure the F430 projected power.

His inspiration for the front fascia was Ferrari's 1961 156 "Sharknose," which racing legend Phil Hill drove while claiming the F1 World Championship title during the same year. The rear fascia follows in the footsteps of a more recent member of the Ferrari family, the Enzo, with round tail- lamps that project an "afterburner" look.

Changes inside include all-new instrumentation, with a racing red or Ferrari yellow tachometer placed front-and-center. Carbon fiber or brushed aluminum inserts surround the vents, radio and switchgear.

The interior is well done, but the center stack that houses the radio and climate controls does not connect with the center console, which provides an unfinished look. The passenger airbag housing is horrendous, appearing to be an afterthought.

The F430 features either a 6-speed manual or F1 automated-manual gearbox. The transmissions feature a twin-disc clutch design, with all-new sixth gear and final drive ratios that have been lengthened for better management of the output.

Engineers made major upgrades to the electronically controlled system's shift responsiveness. Gear changes take just 150 milliseconds from clutch engagement to release. For everyday driving, the F1 transmission's "automatic" mode has been improved to generate smoother shifts.

Ferrari turned to its Formula One department for a few tricks: a first-ever "E-Diff" electronically controlled differential; the Manettino adjustable vehicle dynamics system and Brembo carbon-ceramic brake discs.

During laps around Ferrari's trying Fiorano test track just across from its factory in Maranello, it is easy to feel just how much the F430 has improved over the 360 Modena. Shift response from the F1 transmission is noticeably faster, and power seems to erupt endlessly from the new V-8.

The F430's E-Diff system kept the power flowing smoothly to the rear wheels, while toggling through the Manettino imparts the ability to change the F430's handling demeanor at every turn.

Leave the switch in "Sport" mode, and the traction-control system engages in every corner. Switch to "Race" mode, and the rear can be throttle-steered just enough to give a thrill. Turn the traction and stability-control system off, and you are in complete control. To ensure safety while still having some fun, "Race" seems to be the best choice.

Because most Ferrari owners will not use their cars strictly on the racetrack, it was necessary to give the F430 the once-over on the roads along the Appennine mountain range in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Here, the F430 continues to surprise and delight. The ride isn't overly firm, yet there is little float. The car handles city traffic respectably, although there are a few times, in automatic mode, when the F1 transmission loses its place.

Still, this car has the potential to bring out the tiger in anyone, including some of the most conservative drivers. All it takes is a few twists and turns, and the power from the V-8 has most drivers upping the ante.

Enjoying the new F430 will require a good chunk of change, however, with prices starting at about $187,000. With only 500 slated to arrive in the U.S. in 2005, it will be hard to wrangle one. Plan on waiting until at least 2006, according to Ferrari. First-year models are sold out.
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