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Performance car winner

  • 17 categories of awards
  • All the winning models featured here
  • What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed

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What Car? Staff

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What Car? Awards 2012 website

The winner
Ferrari 458 Italia
List price 169,545 Target Price 169,545

It's in a league of its own. Theres no shortage of great, usable supercars out there, but Ferrari and the 458 Italia are simply untouchable.

The 458 continues a line of mid-engined V8 Ferraris stretching back to the 1970s but, great though some of those cars were in their day, they now appear distinctly analogue against the digital-era 458.

Ferraris latest V8 is a 4.5-litre direct-injection unit bellowing out 563bhp at 9000rpm and 400lb ft of torque, 80% of which is available from 3000 to 9000rpm. Its linked to a seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox that swaps cogs at the speed of a bullet when youre tramping on, but it also has a programme that makes the 458 ridiculously civilised in traffic, considering what its capable of.

So, you can dawdle along at 30mph in seventh gear yes, really but lying semi-dormant beneath your right foot is the trigger to what is tantamount to an explosive device. If you can find a clear stretch of road youll be in licence-threatening territory in a couple of seconds or so and you should hear the shrieks and barks it makes as it piles on revs. It curdles the blood.

The chassis takes advantage of every trick Ferrari has learned from electronic-era Formula One and a few more besides, but unlike Ferraris since time immemorial it has multi-link rear suspension instead of the classic double wishbones. The result is even better contact between rear tyres and road, immense cornering power and a ride that some sports saloons cant match.

Depending on your level of ability, you can vary the electronic assistance the car provides, adjust the firmness of the ride and even operate the lights, indicators and wipers through switches on the steering wheel. Its not quite what Fernando Alonso puts his hands on every other Sunday, but its as close as youll get in
a road car.

The surprising thing is how well it all works. In fact, you dont have to make any concessions to the car. Almost anyone can get comfortable behind the wheel of a Ferrari these days, and the futuristic yet simple cabin is nicely trimmed.

Its a colossal achievement that McLarens MP4-12C is going to have the devils own job to surpass next year.