When we drove the 430 Scuderia in 2007, Ferrari had things very much its own way. There was the Lamborghini Gallardo, of course – and equally loud and intoxicating it was, too – but with four-wheel drive and a V10 engine, it couldn’t match the 430’s responses.

Today, however, things are different, because in addition to the Lamborghini Huracán – in its first iteration and which we’ve not yet driven in this country – there is the small matter of McLaren and its 650S.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Side Slip Control allows you to make long, tidy, controlled powerslides and feel like the credit's all yours. Smart

The 650S is a series-production car rather than a limited-run special, but when it comes to road driving, the Ferrari 458 Speciale gets a run for its money. It steers with the lightness and directness that we’ve come to expect from one of Maranello’s cars – too much quickness, in fact, for some of our testers.

And while the adaptive dampers have two modes – a normal setting and a firmer one as you move through to the manettino’s angrier settings – neither is as compliant as the one in the 650S. Does that matter? Between race tracks, it might.

That’s not to say that the Speciale is harsh. (At least, not in its ride. In its cabin refinement, it’s little more dignified than a Radical RXC. At 70mph, there is 78dB of background hum. Flat out in third, there is a deafening 95dB.) But when it comes to both ride isolation and body control, in its softer mode the Speciale gives a touch away to the McLaren.

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But you might presume that there would be a pay-off for the harshness and the lightness, and it appears as soon as the right road – or, better still, the appropriate race track or handling circuit – appears.

Here the Speciale has all of the terrific traits that the 458 Italia shows, but amplified by what feels like about two-thirds. It is supremely well balanced and, furthermore, more keenly adjustable than any rival, and its brakes are unburstable.

It’s aggressively quick in the way that it changes direction at and beyond the limit, but it manages to be more faithful than a 458 Italia while doing so. One of the terrific things about a 458 Italia is that it lets drivers indulge themselves near the limit. The Speciale does the same, and more. Braking performance is superb in the dry and turn-in is sharp.

If you turn in off the brakes, there can be a slight touch of understeer, but because the mechanical limited-slip differential’s degree of lock-up is electronically controlled, it’s not a ‘pushy’ car. Instead, it is an extremely sharp one, with quick, light steering.

Mid-corner is where things become terrific. In Race or TC (traction control off) modes, Ferrari’s Side Slip Control system takes control of the limited-slip diff’s operation, supplying enough lock to push the car sideways.

Too much slip and it eases off, spinning an inside wheel instead. Too little slip and it locks to increase the heroics.

Turn off the stability control and the Speciale is quick to push into oversteer but faithful once it lets go. Intoxicatingly so, in fact. Lightweight track specials or a Porsche 911 GT3 aside, there’s nothing else quite like it.

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