Evaluating something by only taking consideration its extremes is never a wise move. We've been always taught that we would never be able to have a complete and clear perspective if all we see is either white or black, and not in all the other colours. In order to properly issue any judgement, we must know first every shade of the matter we're considering. However, there are exceptions to this rule which only can confirm it: sometimes, looking at the extremes is the best choice in order to have a better understanding.
Speaking of the recent history of 8 cylinder Ferrari models, there are 2 cars which reflect opposite and important extremes: the 348, the first berlinetta of the Brand with such an engine architecture to be longitudinally-mounted amidships and for years known as the “most hated Ferrari of all time” and the 458, for many the best of them all, the coronation of all expectations from such a type of car. Surely today, the new 488 and its twin turbo engine represent an exciting new chapter, but if we want to look at traditional, aspirated V8 Ferraris, the 458 represents the other extreme that will shed light on all the variants of the case.
The 348 has been, in its own way, a revolution for the Prancing Horse: it was the first 8 cylinder berlinetta with a brand new chassis and new engine. As a matter of fact, the previous generations of cars, represented by the 308 and the 328 GTB, shared for almost 20 years the architecture of the 1974 Dino 308 GT4 , characterized by a square section tubular frame and a transversally-mounted engine. Despite a modest increase of a mere 30 horsepower, the 348 was a success: in 1990, after only 2 years on the market, the waiting list was an astonishing 6 years, which was so especially thanks to the excellent reviews by the specialized press.
Sadly though, due to its intensive maintenance costs, the (relative) fame of being too slow compared to its competitors and being excessively rigid, it remained for years one of the most highly disregarded Ferraris of all times. Despite all of this, it represented the beginning of an evolutionary phase which has brought Ferrari to the very top of the supercar market: in a few words, it was the real starting point for reaching excellence.
Today, the 348's driving experience is judged with much different eyes: it's a “pure” car if we like, with its aspirated V8 and its open-grille manual shifter. It is a product of fine engineering and not marketing departments. It's elegant and yet remakably aggressive looking: the low stance and the rigid ride make it agile but at the same time, also without compromises. Its nature privileges its performance-oriented character, even if Fioravanti's beautiful lines will make it suitable for formal events as well.
It's useless to say obvious things, but the 458 is the kind of car which only flaw is the fact that it doesn't reside in your garage. It's the Ferrari-dream without any compromises, characterized by an extreme driving experience, an unfiltered feedback and a sound which will give you goosebumps. It's pure magic. It's the last evolution of Ferrari's naturally-aspirated V8 berlinettas and it is the arriving point: connected to the road, extremely fast, precise and fully satisfying to drive. It represents the extreme of an incredibly emotional evolutionary process.
The 458 is able to transmit almost 30 years of evolution in the blink of an eye and with shocking intensity. It represents the end of an era, the last V8 ferrari with an aspirated engine and it served as the basis for the new forced-induction generation.
Driving it, it is easy to feel all the evolutionary history of this family of Prancing Horses: you can feel the innovation of the 348, the vitality of the 355, the elegance of the 360 and the ferociousness of the 430, all brought to a very high level. The theory of evolution has never been so exciting!
When you pass between black and white, it is always difficult to see other colours. However, when you pass between different tonalities of Rosso Ferrari, it is definitely easier to see all the shades of something that could only improve over time.