Ferrari 458 Italia meets 308, 348, F355, 360 and F430 - Ferrari 348tb
Hi-tech 458 Italia meets its 308, 348, F355, 360 and F430 ancestors in a sonorous supercar group test
Where the 308 GTS is all subtle, scalloping, dainty edges and slim hips, the 348tb is a chunky, almost blunt shape, basking four-square in the car park, pretending to be a mini Testarossa. The t in tb stands for transverse (the b is for berlinetta) but it’s the gearbox not the engine that it’s referring to – unlike in its predecessor, the V8 is now mounted longitudinally, as it has remained in every ‘junior’ Ferrari since.
Swing open the straked door and the first thing that your eye is dragged to is the gearlever. Now silver-topped and with a slightly bigger ball, it looks like a piece of simple but stunning sculpture. I’d thought that all the levers were straight, but this one has the most perfect arc to it and it makes it utterly beautiful. The gorgeous cluster of Veglia dials in the 308’s instrument binnacle, however, have been replaced with ones scripted in luminous orange with a very square-edged digital-looking font. They scream ‘welcome to the ’80s!’ louder than a shell suit with shoulder pads, although weirdly I’m sure it’s also a very similar font to the one used on a 430 Scuderia’s bright yellow rev-counter…
Interestingly, this is the only car with a centre console that joins to the floor and it robs the cabin of a little of the spacious feel of the others. You also notice how offset the pedals are to your left. Stir the 296bhp (320bhp from 1993) V8 into life, then hoist up and down with your right hand to release the fly-off handbrake situated between seat and door. Vipul Dave, who has kindly brought this 348 along, suggests that I don’t bother with second gear while the car’s cold, saying, ‘It’s simply not worth it.’ Of course, I forget this completely as I move the lever out of the dog-leg first on the way down the hill and try to push it forwards for second. Nothing. It simply won’t go in. So I pull back for third, which is a little less reluctant, and the low revs chunter as I let the clutch up and we head down towards the village.
As we gather pace like the rolling stone, however, I forget all about the gearshift, because the simple, unairbagged, Momo Corse wheel is coming alive in my hands. It literally starts wriggling around, talking excitedly about all the bumps in the road and sometimes making a bigger gesture as a camber attracts its attention. Despite the lack of assistance and the wheel’s relatively small diameter, it’s not heavy in any way, there’s just perfect weight and no slack to add to the constant communication. The 348, if I’m honest, was probably the car I was least excited about driving, assuming it would just be a poorer, slower first stab at the 355. But now I’m excited because it’s instantly obvious this car has some of the best steering, possibly the best, that I have ever sat behind.
The engine is powerful enough rather than memorable and again the brakes are surprisingly strong and full of feel, but it’s the corners I’m starting to enjoy. The nose feels direct and eager to react, which is another surprise, so you get a lot of confidence guiding it through the shallow sweepers of the plain. By the time I reach a tighter series of S-bends I’m feeling inclined to pitch it in, but thankfully I’m a bit cautious the first time through. Turn in positively with that lovely steering and suddenly the engine behind you feels like it’s mounted very high up. The weight instantly wants to come round behind you and, unnervingly, it feels almost like the 348’s picking up an inside real wheel. ‘Don’t, whatever you do, lift off now,’ you have to tell yourself. Metcalfe, who has a bit of a ‘moment’ in the 348 later on, hits the nail on the head: ‘It’s like a mid-engined Peugeot 205 GTI; exciting when it’s going well but capable of delivering a heart-in-mouth moment should you dare hesitate when entering a corner a little too fast.’ I can certainly understand why road testers at the time were unnerved by it, particularly in the wet.