CAR has driven the new Ferrari 458 Spider for a special 12-page feature in the new November 2011 issue of CAR out on 19 October. Read on for our first drive review of the new 458 Spider supercar - and don't miss the new issue of CAR for our full photoshoot and amazing drive story.
Coupe cabrios? Aren’t they all heavy, hard-to-package things that give the car a backside that bigger than Mammy’s from the Tom and Jerry cartoons?
Not this one. Inspired by the 2005 575 Superamerica’s, the 458 Spider’s two-piece roof flips though 180 degrees, but unlike the 575’s, it’s stored neatly under a flip-up tonneau cover.
Incredibly, Ferrari claims the folding hardtop package makes the Spider only 50kg heavier than the 1380kg (dry) Italia coupe – the F430 Spider’s roof and associated chassis strengthening came with a 75kg penalty.
Ferrari 458 Spider: the cosmetic debate
Instead of a sloping fastback rear, you get an Elise-style sugar-scoop rear, the two flying butresses housing the rollover protection at their outer B-pillar ends and the vertical rear window doubling as a wind deflector when the roof is stored, as on a BMW 6-series cabrio.
There are no latches to undo to open or close the roof, no annoying lugagge cover to engage, you simply press and hold the button on the centre console, and 14sec later you’re ready to go again. You can even lower the rear window with the roof in place, giving you all the security, refinement and privacy of the coupe, but with a soundtrack only a Spider can provide.
But presumably with the 458 Italia's roof gone the new Spider's soggier than a drowning Weetabix?
Well it is bendier than the Italia, by around 30% according to Ferrari’s engineers, but that’s a big improvement over the 40-45% reduction in stiffness the old F430 suffered.
More important than raw numbers though are how the car feels, and the answer is very stiff. You get a trace of deflection from the rear-view mirror over really rough ground, but the steering feels uncorrupted, and bar the suggestion of a very slight increase in understeer, it’s as good to drive as the Italia.
Ferrari 458 Spider: the tech spec
Ferrari says the springs and tyres and super-quick steering are identical, but that it deliberately retuned the magnetorheological dampers to suit the more laidback driving style of the likely Spider owner. Doubtless a back-to-back test will highlight the differences, but in isolation there are no disappointments with the way the 458 Spider drives.
Keep the steering wheel manettino’s Wet setting for when you need to keep engine noise down, and stick with Sport for normal driving and Race for out of town work. The combination of the E-diff and F1-trac ESP system make for incredible stability, which is great for boosting confidence.
Just don’t expect to start sliding the thing around without switching at least the traction control, and preferably the stability system off – it’s default handling character is neat and tidy, fun, but not flamboyant.
Sounds like the Italia has finally met its match. Any downsides?
Well the roof is stored on top of the engine, so you don’t get to stare at the V8’s twin induction plenums any more when you walk up to it, the first time that hasn’t been possible since the F355. And you can’t open or close the roof on the move like you can in a 911. There’s no techincal reason, Ferrari says, it’s simply a safety issue. The other downside is the price which, at £198,856, makes the Spider £26k more expensive than the Italia coupe, and a massive £52k pricier than the softer, entry-level front-engined California. Yikes!
Ferrari announced some interesting changes to the Italia’s gearbox and ESP software when it revealed the Spider at Frankfurt. Does the drop top get the same upgrades?
Sadly not. We have yet to try this update for ourselves, but apparently new software for the dual-clutch transmission now delivers an aggressive kick with each change and a more exciting ESP calibration. But those treats are only for coupe buyers. Ferrari thinks Spider customers are happier to cruise so they get something nearer to the original 458 set-up. We can undertand the logic, but surely Spider drivers could be offered the same package as a performance option. You can bet that the aftermarket will be straight in there with its own upgrade, even if Ferrari won’t do it.
What about the rest of the package? Does performance suffer?
There are no changes to the 562bhp direct-injection V8 unless you opt for the £800 Hele package, which includes stop-start, plus intelligent radiator fans, fuel pumps and air-con compressors to cut CO2 from 307g/km to 275gkm, and boost economy from 21.2mpg to 23.9mpg.
The top speed falls fractionally from 202mph to 198mph but there’s no change to the 3.4sec 0-62mph time, and you’d be hard pressed to feel any difference from the driving seat without driving the two back-to-back. With far more torque (398lb ft vs 343lb ft) than the F430, you don’t need to give the engine death to extract meaningful performance in day-to-day driving. But you can’t expect to lazily surf the torque curve, like you can in the current crop of turbocharged engines, and get the most out of the 458. This is an old-style supercar engine – a little fierce, very loud and one that just isn’t being used properly unless you’re kissing its bonkers 9000rpm limiter.
Despite Ferrari’s insistence that coupe and Spider buyers are a different breed, there must be more than a few died-in-the-wool Italia buyers now wondering if the Spider might not be the better yet. Predictably, the fixed-roof car is still the sharpest to drive, but there’s so little in it that it won’t be an issue for all but the most die-hard trackday goers. It’s a shame that you can’t enjoy the Spider with the Italia’s new gearshift and ESP software, but that doesn’t prevent the 458 Spider becoming the default roofless supercar.