IntroductionThe 2009 Ferrari F430 is neither the most expensive nor the flashiest Ferrari available, but it might just be the best. Thanks to the inherent balance of its midengine layout, the relatively compact F430 is one of the sweetest-handling cars on the planet. It's also one of the sweetest-sounding -- sports cars come and go, but the soul-stirring soundtrack of the F430's 4.3-liter V8 will turn heads until filling stations stop selling gas. With the advent of the new Ferrari California retractable-hardtop roadster, the F430 has some stiff in-house competition, but the F430's lower curb weight and sharper-edged nature make it the enthusiast's choice of the two. If you can stomach the near-$200,000 base price, sports cars don't get much more rewarding than the 2009 Ferrari F430.
A large part of that reward comes in the form of 483 horsepower from the above-mentioned V8, which enables the F430 to hit 60 mph from rest in about 4 seconds flat. There are far cheaper cars with marginally better numbers -- the Chevrolet Corvette Z06/ZR1 tandem and the Nissan GT-R, to name three. That's where the F430's other charms come in, among them a sublimely balanced chassis, telepathic steering and the exotic wail of that gloriously free-revving V8. Sure, it costs more, but for the discerning sports car shopper, the F430 is totally worth the extra coin.
Like any modern-day Ferrari, the F430 is packed to the gills with advanced go-fast technology. Notably, the "manettino" (Italian for "little manager") steering wheel knob cycles through five driving modes that adjust suspension settings, stability and traction control thresholds, and the F1 automated-clutch manual gearbox's shift speed and quality. Of course, you can still order your F430 with the conventional, gated six-speed manual shifter, too. However you order your F430, though, rest assured that contemporary Ferraris, unlike their elemental forebears, are very much children of the 21st century in terms of engineering.
At the end of the day, there's a primal, unencumbered character to the F430 that sets it apart from other cars of its ilk. Of course, that's not to say that there aren't able competitors in this lofty league. Porsche's 911 GT2 and GT3 deserve a close look, as do the related Audi R8 V10 and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. But if you want a car that will keep seducing you with its song till the oil runs dry, the 2009 Ferrari F430 might just be in a league of its own.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and OptionsThe 2009 Ferrari F430 is available as an ultra-high-performance two-seat exotic coupe or convertible (the latter is known as the Spider). Standard features include 19-inch wheels with high-performance tires, carbon-ceramic brakes, bi-xenon headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, automatic climate control, power seats, leather upholstery and a stereo with a CD player.
There is a long list of options for the F430, the priciest of which include carbon-fiber exterior and mechanical components. Among the more run-of-the-mill options are run-flat tires, front and rear parking sensors, a fire extinguisher, Bluetooth, a non-graphical navigation system with a very limited screen that makes do with voice prompts, and an upgraded sound system. There is also a long list of exterior and interior personalization options.
For track rats and those whose egos are not adequately inflated by the regular F430, Ferrari offers the hard-core F430 Challenge coupe. The Challenge is identical to the base F430 in most mechanical respects, but is 220 pounds lighter. This trick was accomplished through the liberal use of carbon fiber, a Lexan windshield and windows and a lighter, center-mounted exhaust. Other features include a removable racing steering wheel, a firmer suspension with a lower ride height, center-locking ("knock-off") wheels, white exterior graphics and a unique rear fascia. Not surprisingly, the track-biased Challenge comes at a stiff price premium, listing for $50,000 more than a standard F430.
Powertrains and PerformanceThe 2009 Ferrari F430 is powered by a mid-mounted 4.3-liter V8. This naturally aspirated engine produces 483 sonorous hp at 8,500 rpm and 343 pound-feet of torque at 5,250 rpm. Thrust is sent to the rear wheels via a conventional six-speed manual transmission with an old-school gated shifter. Optional is the F1 gearbox, a single-clutch automated manual transmission controlled by paddle shifters mounted on the steering column. The F430 also has an electronically controlled rear differential called "E-Diff" that helps to improve acceleration and vehicle balance during cornering. Under full whip, this Italian stallion will gallop to 60 mph in around 4 seconds and top out just shy of 200 mph.
SafetyThe F430 comes standard with antilock brakes and stability control, but there are no side airbags -- it's the Ferrari way.
Interior Design and Special FeaturesUnlike Ferraris of yore, the F430's interior is slathered in soft leather and high-quality materials, though it's still more of a focused high-performance driving capsule than a luxurious place to lounge. Aggressively bolstered seats are boons in spirited driving, and weekend racers can go one better by selecting the optional carbon-fiber racing seats. Buyers may also opt for "Daytona" seats, so called because their perforated upholstery design mimics that used in the classic 365 Daytona of the early 1970s. Interior accents can be specified in aluminum or carbon fiber. Although the Spider's fully automatic top lowers in just 20 seconds, its rear window is plastic, a lamentable sin in an exotic drop top.
Driving ImpressionsThe 2009 Ferrari F430 accelerates with the gusto that only a true exotic can provide. Forget about the numbers -- one run through the gears and you'll be hooked for life on the V8's high-rpm wail. The F1 transmission boasts lightning-quick gearchanges, but its automatic mode isn't as smooth as those provided by more advanced dual-clutch automated manuals. The conventional manual is still very impressive, clinking through the exposed metal gates with loads of old-world charm. Handling is about as good as it gets for street-legal cars, with perfect fore-and-aft balance and precise steering that all but speaks to you in real-time Italian about what's going on below. The suspension is undoubtedly firm, but that shouldn't be an issue for most F430 owners, as we're confident they've got a few other options in the garage for daily driving.