Road test: 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider
It could’ve all gone horribly wrong when Ferrari launched the 488 GTB earlier this year. The heart of its 458 predecessor – its amazing 4.5L naturally aspirated V8 – had been ripped out, replaced by a 3.9L twin-turbocharged V8. With 670hp and 760Nm, the new engine punches 64hp and a huge 221Nm harder than the 4.5L, and saves fuel and emissions, but we feared it’d lag like a turbocharged F1 car from the 1980s, and sound as underwhelming as the ones Räikkönen and Vettel drive today.
We needn’t have worried: lag-free response, a mid-range like a fast-forward button and a killer soundtrack make the 488’s new V8 the best turbocharged engine in the world.
That noise is even more essential when it comes to the 488 Spider, simply because you’re exposed to so much more of it. Ferrari was first to introduce a retractable hardtop to the mid-engined supercar with 2012’s 458 Spider. The 488 follows the same recipe: the two-piece roof folds beneath a neat rear deck that doubles as rollover protection, still takes about 14 seconds to open or close, retains the same mechanism and once again adds 50 kilograms to the total weight.
This time, though, an uprated hydraulic pump means the mechanism can work while you drive at up to 45 kph; you have to pull to a stop in Ferrari’s other retractable hardtop, the California T, and that roof took about 20 seconds to raise or lower. Only the clunky extra line that’s visible with the Spider’s roof closed, and the fact that the engine is now invisible, count against it.
Roof down, you can talk to your partner well into prison-sentence speeds, cocooned in a pocket of calm while noise swirls around you. Roof up, levels of refinement remain as impressive as the coupé’s. Or have the best of both worlds thanks to the small vertical screen behind the seats. Press a button to lower it, and the intoxicating sound of that V8 floods in: gruff and growly at low revs, the exhaust note builds into a high-pitched frenzy as you home in on the 8,000rpm redline. That’s 1,000rpm lower than before – the shortfall partly masked by taller gearing – and, no, it can’t quite match the insanity of the 458 wildly screaming to 9,000rpm, but it’s still a sound to savour, and that rear window means you can get your fix no matter what the weather.
The Spider copies the GTB’s exhaust tuning, but with the roof down or the rear window open, you somehow lose the light background whistle of boost that you hear in that car. Instead, the exhaust note is amplified, intensifying the driving experience.
And what a driving experience it is. Last time around, you could feel a little more shimmy through the 458 Spider’s structure than you could the 458 Italia. And back then, Ferrari didn’t have a McLaren Spider to worry about. Now it does, and the 650S Spider’s carbon-fibre MonoCell doesn’t suffer any loss of torsional rigidity when you remove the roof.
The 488 Spider’s body has been beefed up this time, with an additional vertical aluminium panel by the front axle and a horizontal one at the rear of the car. Ferrari claims a 20 per cent increase in torsional stiffness as a result, and it feels like a big improvement. Only on cratered road surfaces – and when driving with the roof down – do you feel a few little tremors tickling up the steering column. Close the roof, and they disappear.
Combined with shocks and springs that are now identical to the coupé’s, the two cars feel almost the same to drive. Super-quick steering swivels the nose into curves like Tarzan swinging on a vine, the suspension simultaneously soaks up bumps and kills unwanted body motions, and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox fires through ratios like a Hollywood A-lister snapping their fingers at a waiter.
There’s also the familiar willingness to oversteer if you’re in the mood and brave enough to switch off all the electronics. Keep them on, though, and its Side-Slip Angle Control makes sense of all your exuberance – you really can just stand on the throttle in a second-gear hairpin, and feel like you’ve judged it all perfectly, so subtle are the electronic machinations playing out beneath the surface.
Ferrari says Spider buyers are sun lovers, cover more distance, often drive with a partner, and are more likely to cruise down a scenic road than tackle a racetrack – but there’s actually very little difference between the cars they’ll drive. It’s just that the Spider costs more and takes the rush of speed and noise to new heights.
You might also be considering the California T. But unless that car’s cheaper price tag, additional pair of small rear seats and slightly larger boot seal the deal for you, we’d recommend the 488 Spider all day long. Better to drive, easier on the eye and with a faster-acting roof that stows on the go, the 488 Spider is the ultimate Ferrari drop-top.
Updated: November 19, 2015 04:00 AM