Ferrari F430 2007

There's always been much more to Ferraris than just phenomenal performance -- their styling, exclusivity and sheer presence all play a part in their allure. Since the 1970s, Ferrari's line of midengine V8-powered sports cars has provided the most "affordable" means of accessing this mystique, though some of these cars have been more successful than others. While most offered a level of performance that few cars could match, more recent years have ushered in new competition, which effectively addressed the Ferrari's weaknesses while improving upon its strengths. The famous sports-car maker from Maranello answered with the Ferrari F430 coupe and Spider convertible.

The car's basic shape is similar to its predecessor, but is edgier and adopts design cues from the Enzo supercar. Thanks to a lightweight space frame draped with aluminum body panels, the F430 weighs in at a lean 3,200 pounds. The heart of the F430's improvements, though, lies within its drivetrain. For all to see underneath a clear rear hatch is a redesigned 90-degree V8, accompanied by a newer version of the "F1" sequential-shift manual transmission. It now shifts more smoothly in everyday driving situations while still allowing super-quick upshifts and perfect rev-matched downshifts at the pull of a paddle.

Given that the F430's price can easily break the $200,000 barrier, it's understandably difficult for many people to consider this Ferrari as an "entry-level" machine. Even for the well-heeled, the F430's cost might seem a little excessive considering that cars like the Corvette Z06 or the Porsche 911 Turbo offer similar (or better) performance for considerably less money. But there's no denying that the Ferrari F430 is an exceptional sports car by every measure. In terms of performance, it has but a handful of equals and even fewer superiors. It won't be mistaken for anything but a Ferrari, and will no doubt bring thoroughly satisfying ownership to the fortunate few able to afford one.

One interesting caveat: Potentially facing a ban on U.S. sales of the Modena in early 2006, Ferrari successfully petitioned the NHTSA for an exemption to a safety requirement related to airbag deployment. While the Modena includes numerous safety features, Ferrari argued that the airbag problem only affected particularly small passengers who are out of their normal seating position, and thus received a two-year exemption.

Current Ferrari F430

The Ferrari F430 sports car is available as a coupe or Spider convertible. Despite its performance orientation, most modern conveniences come standard -- including keyless entry, auto-dimming mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control and MP3-capable audio. The F430's standard 19-inch wheels wear different sizes of rubber front-to-rear for enhanced stickiness. And the F430 can also be customized through a long list of options, including competition wheels, race-oriented ceramic brakes, racing seats, carbon-fiber interior trim, fitted luggage, and special paint and leather colors.

The Ferrari F430 derives its power from a mid-mounted, 4.3-liter V8 engine. Its 483 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque is sent to the rear wheels through either a traditional six-speed manual or Ferrari's electrohydraulic F1-style transmission controlled by paddle shifters. The F430 also has an electronically controlled "E-diff" rear differential that helps to improve acceleration and vehicle balance. At full gallop, the F430 can hit 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds and tops out just shy of 200 mph. Reining all this in are antilock brakes and driver-adjustable traction and stability controls.

Ferrari interior design has come a long way in recent years, and the F430's cockpit is relatively comfortable for drivers of all kinds. The Spider's top is fully automatic, and can be lowered in about 20 seconds. Its rear window is made of plastic, however, which detracts slightly from the car's premium status. Regardless, the F430 is a true exotic offering maximum driving thrills. Rocketing up to cruising speed is a gut-wrenching affair, and the V8's substantial power creates a shrieking wail that might be considered offensive or melodic, depending on context. Passing slower traffic is absurdly easy, and its superbly engineered steering and suspension connects the driver to the road in a manner few other cars can match.

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