► Full UK review of the lidless Ferrari 488
► Twin-turbo V8 punches out 661bhp
► On sale now, but you'll need £200k
Ferrari tends to leave a year between each iteration of its mid-engined V8 sports cars, but the 488 Spider has rushed onto the market behind the 488 GTB about as quickly as its new turbocharged motor flings you down the road when you finally find the courage and give it some.
Its direct predecessor, the 458 Spider, was nigh-on perfect though. And with the limited-edition 458 Speciale Aperta that followed representing a final hurrah for Ferrari’s naturally aspirated V8 engine, there’s a lot to live up to. Especially when we were disappointed with the California T, Ferrari’s first stab at turbocharging since the F40.
However, the 488 GTB (that’s the coupe in Ferrari-speak) was leap and bounds better than the front-engined California T – its engine night and day different – so hopes are high for the 488 Spider…
So it’s a faster 458 Spider then?
Just as the 488 GTB is a heavily revised 458 Italia (with the biggest change being the adoption of a smaller twin-turbo engine), the 488 Spider is a heavily revised 458 Spider. But first impressions are of a Spider not so pretty as its predecessor. Gone is the 458’s delicately moustached nose that deformed (on purpose) at speed to guide air into all the right ducts and vents and cooling channels; instead it’s rather wide-mouthed and buck-toothed. And the once svelte flanks are now almost entirely gaping intakes to feed the new turbo’d engine. The upright door handles, too, look like an afterthought that only came once the designers had finished sculpting huge swathes out of the sides.
It’s a shame that where the old Ferrari 360 and 430 Spider’s fabric roofs tucked tightly away and left enough room on the rear deck for a glass panel through which to gaze upon their glorious red cam covers, the mechanisms associated with a folding hardtop negate such perversions. Like the 458 Spider before it, the 488 Spider hides its heart.
What’s the upshot of sticking with the folding metal roof?
The advantage is that 488 Spider is as much a coupe as it is a convertible. With the 488 being a heavily revised 458 beneath the skin, this latest Spider never was going to going to use anything but Ferrari’s RHT (or Retractable Hard Top). Ferrari claims the system is 25kg lighter than a fabric cap, and if you let it play at being a coupe it provides better protection from the wind and the rain than the likes of a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet.
Lower the roof (done in 14 seconds, and quietly too) and with the B-pillars and the buttresses remaining in place, you get enough of an aperture to enjoy the delights of top-down motoring, but not so much that you spend every mile of every journey being blown about like a dog that’s stuck its head of out a car window. With the windows up and the rear screen in its highest position, all is calm; drive something like the new R8 Spyder, and you realise just how much buffeting those buttresses on the Ferrari protect you from.
All very well, but what about the drive? Is it a floppy mess or just as sharp as the 488 GTB?
First impressions are that the 488 Spider is, well, just too fast. The 458’s naturally aspirated engine provided all the power you’d ever need, and – as it wound its way up to 9000rpm and you lost yourself in its howl – you’d never want for more.
The 488 Spider then, with another 99bhp and an even more impactful 163lb ft, for a swollen 561lb ft total? You spend all the time short-shifting and on part-throttle because there’s never the space (and in the wet, the traction) to take all that torque. Ferrari limits the torque through the gears so you get the feeling of it building and building to a crescendo, but it’s still so bonkers through the first couple of gears (0-62mph in three second flat, 0-124mph in 8.7 seconds). So, you never feel like you’re getting the most from it.
And then you start to pick apart what you don’t like. The brakes bite a little too sharply at the top of the travel around town, it’s nearly two metres wide, the engine doesn’t have the aural range of the old 458, and when you twirl the wheel through a bit of lock you’ll lose which indicator (mounted on the steering wheel itself) is which.
In fact, the whole interior is a bit confusing: it takes trial and error to figure which way to press the buttons for wipers or washers; ditto the main beam. And while you can now have a big digital speedo readout and the sat-nav map in the two main screens, the system remains flawed. I can operate a new phone without the manual, but the Ferrari’s multimedia system I cannot. And, as with the Mk3 Audi TT and Mk2 R8, Ferrari works under the falsehood that it’s better to aggregate all the screens around the driver rather than let your passenger occasionally lend a helping hand.
Surely there are some plus points?
There are, and because you’re not immediately going all out it gives you a chance to take a breath and appreciated the great and the good. The ride, for instance, once you’ve pressed the ‘Bumpy Road’ button (which really should be the default setting for UK-spec cars) works wonderfully on our roads. The steering, too, isn’t as light as the 458’s and also offers more consistency – there’s much less of the windscreen shimmy that afflicted that 458 Spider when you had the top down, and then you suddenly realise just how quickly you’re going…
And as you start to push further, you realise how good this engine is. It’s not on or off, there’s no lag, just a progressive throttle you can modulate with. Ferrari claims a (very specific) response time of eight-tenths of a second (at 2000rpm in third gear) which means you just don’t notice a pause or a gap. Soon enough you’re actually hitting the limiter at 8000rpm and wishing for those extra one thousand revolutions.
It doesn’t sound like a traditional turbocharged engine either – the usual gurgles and gulps and whistles associated with all the extra plumbing are largely absent, so the flat-plane crank bellow of the V8 comes through. No, it’s not an unencumbered naturally aspirated eight-cylinder, but it is the best turbocharged engine out there.
I know I’ve mentioned the steering already, but goodness the front end is good – it’s so agile and nimble and just doesn’t understeer. The gearbox is staggering when it’s banging through the gears, as well, whether it be up or down the ratios. And the mid-range punch of that engine is just stonking.
In almost every quantifiable aspect the 488 Spider is better than its predecessor (and Ferrari will produce a whole host of numbers to back that up, including claims that vehicle response times are 9% more rapid and longitudinal acceleration out of corners is up 12%). In fact, there’s little reason to bother with the 488 GTB unless you’re set fastidious about the marginal loss in chassis stiffness or a regular track day attendee (because people do that in £200k supercars, right?). It is a spectacularly good supercar.
But the footnote is, up there with a McLaren F1, Lexus LFA and 997.2 Porsche GT3 RS, I remember the 458 Spider’s V8 engine like few others. Roof down, on an open road, sod the difference in outright pace and performance, I’d still have one of those.
Read more Ferrari reviews