CONVERTIBLE Italian supercar. Three not-so-little words that can make people all over the world go weak at the knees. And when the car in question is a Ferrari, the words can make nerve endings fizz like sugar in a glass of cola.
If you’re not among the many with this affliction you’re probably thinking how ridiculous it all is. The 458 Spider is just a car, surely – and an expensive one at that. Perhaps no amount of impassioned reasoning or gazing at the car’s beautifully flowing but scientifically designed lines could persuade you otherwise. However, there’s one way to test your resolve: from behind the wheel.
Ferrari buyers typically spend tens of thousands on options, and the first you notice in this particular car as you flex downwards towards the cabin are the seats; unyielding in any direction thanks to a carbon fibre tub and thinner padding. These manually-controlled non-height-adjustable perches save about 5kg per unit over the electrically adjustable standard ones. Less weight equals more performance, and performance matters to Ferrari – and Ferrari owners.
That’s arguably less so with the 458 Spider than with its hard-top 458 Italia sibling, though. Open-top supercar drivers are more interested in maximising the experience than minimising lap times, and it’s courtesy of the folding electric hard top that the Spider plays its trump card. A brief 14-second wait while stationary is all it takes to reveal the breeze, the sky and the engine noise.
Of course the engine is the heart of the car. Sitting just behind the seats the lion’s share of the 4.5-litre V8’s mass is as low as it can be. It’s the same engine as the Italia hard-top uses; a screaming, 9,000rpm megaphone of an engine tuned for fast responses, enough low-down torque for everyday use and a top end so fierce you’d think it was an afterburner.
There are no turbochargers here. It’s just 4,499cc of the finest engine tuning the most famous supercar maker in the world can muster. A press of the throttle gets an instant reaction from the engine in any of the seven-speed Getrag-built gearbox’s ratios and in any of the steering wheel ‘manettino’ dial’s driving dynamics modes.
Dare to push the accelerator hard above 4,000rpm and your reward is a savage push back into those carbon-backed seats as its roughly 1.5-tonne body catapults forwards with an immediacy and ferocity that defies belief. The centrally-mounted rev counter’s needle spins violently towards 9,000rpm as the visceral, hard-edged bark right behind you transforms into a scream.
Grab the perfectly-weighted carbon fibre shift paddle at your right hand and, if you’re in the manettino’s more aggressive Race mode, there’s a glorious whoosh-pop-bang as the two clutches shift gears in a matter of milliseconds. The same gearbox is used in other supercars but Ferrari-specific software gives you an entirely unique and addictive thump in the back with every on-throttle upshift. The racing DNA is right there and even though it’s adapted and tweaked for the road, the end result is staggeringly satisfying.
Without driving the Spider back-to-back with the Italia it’s hard to say for sure, but while the loss of the fixed roof introduces a little shake over diagonal motorway expansion joints and very rutted roads, for the rest of the time it seems to inject a remarkable compliancy into the chassis that allows the driver to fully feel and exploit the available grip from the 235- and 295-section tyres, whether that’s around a roundabout, a sweeping countryside bend or even a race track. Wonderfully transparent and confidence-inspiring steering is one of the car’s strongest suits. The exceptionally fast rack asks just one turn of the wheel between the straight-ahead and full lock.
But all this is a given. That a Ferrari should be in any way disappointing to drive is almost beyond comprehension. It really is astonishingly good, and if this review were five times the length it still wouldn’t have covered enough.
The icing on the cake is that unlike Ferraris of old, the 458 can be used as often as you like. Speed bumps are no real problem and a suspension-raising device can be added for extra peace of mind. The engine is tractable and civilised with the manettino switched to the default Sport mode, and with the gearbox in full-auto it shifts up early, keeping noise and fuel consumption down.
Living with a Ferrari is considered to be among the more financially ruinous things you can do, but amazingly Ferrari includes seven years of free servicing. The scheme is unlimited mileage, too, so if the car needs servicing more than once a year then so be it until the car passes its seventh birthday – and second-hand buyers get the same benefits.
The 458 Spider offers one of the finest driving experiences of any car. It’s not just a car: it’s art, an oil painting at a standstill and poetry in motion. There are others that offer the drama and more that offer the speed, but to combine so many facets of enjoyment in the way the 458 Spider does is… special.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ferrari 458 Spider, from circa £198,000 on the road.
Engine: 4.5-litre petrol V8 producing 462bhp and 398lb.ft.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with full manual mode driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Top speed 199mph, 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds.
Fuel economy: 23.9mpg.
CO2 rating: 275g/km.