In Italy, there are only two ways to attract more attention from the locals than by driving the all-new 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider: You can be Pope Francis driving the same car, or be a gorgeous woman behind the wheel. Meaning, few natural wonders have the capability to turn heads like the latest release from the Maranello concern.
At every opportunity, the convertible hardtop drew attention like a hypnotist on a hot streak. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t warm enough for top-down motoring caused a bit of a stir. My hair was in particularly good form, too. But I’m under no illusions — the shape of the latest Ferrari alone, top up or top down, regardless of whom happened to be driving, was more than enough to stop traffic, in any country.
There’s one thing absolutely clear from the look of the 488 Spider: This thing means business. The curves have purpose, the trailing edges have depth, the cutaways have ferocity. Really, the designers at Ferrari have done a fantastic job: The 488 is clearly related to its predecessor, the 458, but it’s clearly not derivative. The design also includes one noteworthy aerodynamic element: a patent-pending blown rear spoiler, the kind of thing only a manufacturer involved in Formula One could get away with.
The interior is more familiar, a minor evolution of the 458 with its F1-inspired steering wheel, vibrant and customisable gauge set (faster and with improved graphics) and driver-focused controls. The seats were covered in slick leather, which wasn’t ideal, and the seat bottom was a bit short for my liking, but these are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. This is because the interior of any modern Ferrari is an inspired blend of racy functionality and top-flight craftsmanship. For a true motorsport fanatic, it does not get any better than sitting in the driver’s seat of a car such as the 488 Spider.
A few more words about the exterior/interior: The thing that blends these two aspects of the Ferrari together (and draws the outside world in), the foldable hardtop roof, is a slick piece of work, similar to that used on the 458 Spider. The top can open or close at speeds of up to 45km/h. In the act of closing, the elements of the roof split, turn 90 degrees and slot into a 100-litre space behind the passenger compartment. The penalty for this cool parlour trick: a 50kg weight gain over the 488 GTB.
This final point is what has the engineers and marketers at Ferrari suggesting that the 488 Spider is better suited to relaxed touring rather than outright speed.
When looking at the performance numbers for both cars, this suggestion seems ridiculous. After completing a sun-soaked, 200-kilometre drive of the car around Emilia Romagna to the south and east of Bologna, this notion is, for sure, ridiculous.
The 488 Spider can accelerate to 100km/h in three seconds flat, the exact time quoted for the 488 GTB. In the run to 200km/h, the GTB stretches a lead, reaching that mark in 8.3 seconds, compared with 8.7 seconds for the convertible version. Still, 8.7s to reach 200km/h!? The Ferrari 488 Spider is not a car for relaxed cruising… unless you happen to be using only about 30 per cent of the available accelerator pedal travel.
All of the talk surrounding the 488 line-up has focused on the move from a naturally aspirated V8 engine to a smaller, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. Before the appearance of the 488, there were lingering questions about power, response, sound and the essence of what makes a Ferrari, a Ferrari. These questions have been answered. The engine in the 488 produces far more power (up 74kW) and more maximum torque (up 220Nm) at lower revs (3000rpm versus 6000rpm). Ferrari reports that the engine response time for the new turbo engine is 0.8 seconds, just one-tenth off that of the old 4.5-litre V8 (anyone reporting 'a bit of turbo lag' with the 488 Spider is, therefore, a bald-faced liar).
For sure, the driving experience in the 488 is different from that of the 458. The older car, which I’ll go on record as saying was my favourite of all-time, was and remains brilliant. The screaming engine creates a great swell of linear performance that lasts almost right up to its 9000rpm redline.
The turbo engine, on the other hand, feels relatively manageable from low revs, but the plot changes at about 4000rpm in third gear. At this point, all hell breaks loose and the Ferrari reveals itself as an incredibly fast car that requires your complete and full attention. For example, you need to be quick with the paddle shifters as redline is reduced to 8000rpm — this number and the indicator lights that line the top of the steering wheel show up in a big hurry.
During the drive, the only missed opportunity was the condition of the road itself. The ripples, cracks and breaks in the pavement prevented further exploration into the car’s capabilities. The 488 comes fitted with a button that adjusts the suspension for especially bumpy roads, workable in any one of the car’s five drive modes, including all-out attack. But the condition of the tarmac forced a generally prudent approach, lest the striking nose of the Spider rebound into pieces.
In the final analysis, the scale of engineering excellence in the 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider is extraordinary. This article could’ve gone on for days, describing in minute detail the efforts of the engineers to produce a car worthy of the badge. The precisely designed exhaust system that produces an authentic note. The aspects of the turbochargers that were chosen to create incremental gains in power and response. The workings of the adaptable suspension system, the steering and the aerodynamics that make the car work at 3km/h and 300km/h. Ferrari take no shortcuts, but they still get there quickest.
Australian pricing is from $526,888 (plus on-road costs), with first deliveries due in the second quarter of 2016 — though production for next year has already been sold out.