Ferrari’s latest convertible, the 488 Spider hits Australian roads with supermodel proportions and superhuman abilities. James Ward gets behind the wheel.
There is currently a wait list of over two years for the 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider. If you are considering a purchase, that means every minute you spend reading this review could mean a few more people jumping in front of your place in line.
So, to save you time, I’ll summarise it quickly: it’s very very good. Now, get on the phone and slap a holding deposit on the Centurion right away!
For the rest of us, who have resigned ourselves to waiting a bit longer than two years for our own Ferrari, read on…
The $526,888 (before options and on-roads costs) 488 Spider is Ferrari’s latest mid-engine V8 toupee fan.
Like its coupe sibling, the 488 Spider has ditched the 4.5-litre V8 of the 458 and gone for a smaller 3.9-litre powerplant with twin IHI ball bearing turbochargers.
Power is up 73kW to 492kW and torque has grown a whopping 220Nm to now 760Nm. For some context, this gives the 1515kg 488 Spider a power-to-weight ratio the same as the monstrous 599 GTO.
So you can impress your friends at the next BBQ, it’s called the 488 because each cylinder has a 488cc displacement. You’re welcome.
But a Ferrari, particularly a convertible one, isn’t just about outright performance. The 488 Spider truly is a thing of beauty.
Finished in the spectacular Blue Corsa paint (a $22,000 option), designed specifically for the 488 Spider, the car’s lines and curves flow effortlessly together and result in a very coherent design that is both beautiful and muscular.
The addition of a carbon-fibre front splitter ($13,950) and side-intake vane ($6,800) breaks up the colour just enough.
Even with the three-piece folding hard-top in place, the Spider still looks fantastic, and it remains one of life’s great packaging mysteries in how Ferrari has managed to put the folding top mechanism, glorious V8, electronic differential, seven speed-gearbox and all the intake and cooling jiggery pokery behind the cockpit and still retain such elegant proportions.
The design deals with aerodynamic drag and downforce without any messy spoilers too. The rear decklid funnels air under the small duck-tail rear lip, while wings on the intake and front spoiler channel airflow both under the car for downforce and into the radiators for cooling.
There is an active DRS (Drag Reduction System) that activates above 140km/h, and moves a flap in the rear diffuser to allow air to escape more cleanly. The only indication that this is going on is a light on the dashboard, that switches off automatically when you slow to 60km/h.
We’ll talk about going fast in a minute, because a convertible Ferrari needs to handle the boulevard cruise as well as it does a mountain blast and, here too, the 488 shows what a versatile machine it is.
Leave the Manettino switch in Sport (essentially the standard setting), tap the ‘bumpy-road’ suspension button (best function name ever?) to soften the magnetic dampers, drop the F1 gearbox into automatic, and the prancing horse lopes along with a relaxed trot.
The exhaust is quiet, the ride comfortable and even the radio clear and easy to hear. You can raise and lower the top at speeds up to 45km/h too (it takes about 14 seconds), so you can easily go from sun-tan to sun-smart while on the move.
To keep your coiffed locks in check, too, you can raise and lower the little glass window behind the seats. It moves all but a couple of inches in each direction, but is enough to keep the wind at bay at urban speeds.
Even in this environment though, the 488 is still a driver’s car.
There are no controls within reach of the passenger to adjust the music selection nor navigation destination. In fact the only job they have is tweaking the dual-zone climate control, and looking good.
Speaking of those infotainment controls, though - if there is a minor gripe with the Ferrari’s cabin, this is it. A panel to the right of the instrument binnacle houses three buttons and a D-Pad style controller for moving and making selections.
Ergonomically it works, but intuitively it doesn’t. The buttons require too much force and time to press, and a system like the proximity sensitive preset buttons in a BMW would be much better.
The interface of the infotainment menus is a tad cumbersome, particularly if you are travelling at warp speed, and we found it best to leave the radio switched off and just the GPS map information showing.
It’s a small gripe, and possibly the only thing that stops the Ferrari from being a perfect car.
Worth mentioning too is that our car was fitted with Apple CarPlay support, which costs an eye-watering $6,790. It works the same as in any other car and you do get a nice button that says ‘Apple CarPlay’, but that’s it. You don’t get a solid-gold iPhone or even a personal telegram from Tim Cook for your $7k. You even have to supply your own cable.
Paying $5000 for the elegant carbon-fibre center tunnel bridge that houses the gearbox buttons is fine. Tick that $13,950 option for a carbon-fibre ‘Driver's Zone’ (steering wheel, tachometer housing and other instrument trim), because why not.
But $7-grand for CarPlay and $5000 for a rear camera, in a day and age where this equipment is standard on a $15,000 city car, is a bit ridiculous. Personalisation options are part of a Ferrari experience, but cheap consumer technology shouldn’t be caught up in this.
There are no driver assistance options available, and apparently just getting a cruise control system integrated was a big ask back in Modena. But... if you read that and thought, who cares, this is a Ferrari, then we are on the same page.
Impressively, though, carbon ceramic brakes are standard on the 488 Spider. These used to run into the tens-of-thousands of dollars as optional equipment on V8 Ferraris like the F430, so having these part of the standard package is testament to the importance that Ferrari place on the performance of the 488.
For the uninitiated though, carbon brakes don’t work best when cold, so make sure your first drive of the day isn’t a high-rev blast through the hills. You need to get some temperature into these giant 398mm front, 360mm rear rotors for them to work efficiently.
Pottering around with the roof up at street speeds, and the cabin is remarkably quiet.
There is a bit of induction noise, and a whistle of the turbos when keeping the engine below 3000rpm. You can trigger the exhaust flaps with a mild tap of the throttle and the trademark Ferrari ‘buurrrrrRRR’ envelopes the car. It’s loud, then quiet, then loud, then quiet again.
Drop the roof and the noise level increases dramatically. You lose those higher-frequency air movement noises, and deal with a more constant growl from the V8. Switch the manettino to Race to encourage those exhaust flaps to stay open, and you can see why there is such a long wait list for this car.
Short of licking the steering wheel, the 488 Spider stimulates four of your five senses at once. We’ve covered off sight, but now the soft leather and meticulously formed carbon fibre of the steering wheel and F1-shift paddles feel terrific to touch, the sound is all consuming and undeniably intoxicating, and, the smell of warming brakes and rich-octane exhaust can be felt deep into your sinuses.
Pick up speed, and the sensations increase. You know that at this point you’ve barely scratched the surface of the car and the desire to hunt down an open stretch of road is palpable. Find one, and the outcome is mind-blowing.
Nail that alloy accelerator pedal and the response of the 488 is nothing short of organ-crushing. Peak torque is available from just 3000rpm, and given the needle swings around the lovely aluminium tachometer face ($1750) to over 9000rpm, you essentially have light-switch response all the time.
Ferrari claim a 0-100km/h sprint of just 3.0 seconds, and a 0-200km/h sprint in under nine. That massive onset of torque from 3000rpm has response measured in microseconds and before you know it, things are happening really fast.
The 488 Spider is potentially the safest car to overtake slower traffic in, too, given your time spent on the wrong side of the road is markedly shorter than in any other car. Plus, find me someone who doesn’t like being passed by a lovely blue Ferrari convertible and I’ll show you someone who has lost all sense of emotion.
Maintaining speed in the 488 is easy, the turn-in is sharp and direct, and the balance of the car at higher speed is impressive. Even when you are a passenger, not having the instinctive bracing for cornering you do as a driver, the 488 feels remarkably flat and confident.
This more direct steering translates to a heavier Ferrari around town, but not overly so. The F430 in particular always felt really light over the front wheels which made it very easy to live with day-to-day, but despite the 488 being heavier, it still works in an urban environment.
Our drive loop for the 488 Spider launch took us through a short section of the Great Ocean Road, and then up through the Great Otway National Park, through the Central Highlands and back into Melbourne.
The roads from Lorne through the mountain forest twist and turn, offering plenty of challenges without being too tight to hamper the progress of our convoy; a California T HS; a quartet of 488s (two Spiders and two Coupes), plus the Maserati Quattroporte support car.
Here the Ferrari is very much at home, and where the environment allows that phenomenal power and response, developed through almost 70 years of production and racing experience, a chance to not only entertain but excite. And by excite, I pretty much mean scare.
Ferrari say the 488 has a new slide-slip angle control mechanism to help with minor drifts and managed oversteer through the bends. From a ‘this isn’t my car’ perspective, though, you feel the car twitch under sharper acceleration, and gently ease back on the throttle. You know that the edge is there, reserved only for braver drivers in more performance oriented conditions, but that line from fast to too-fast is a blurry one that comes up much quicker than you expect.
The seven-speed F1 gearbox is brutally fast when shifting gears high in the rev range. You are treated to a loud pop on up shift and a sweet bark going back down.
Ferrari fixes its paddles to the steering column so they are always in the same place, regardless of how the wheel is turning. The movement is light and you find shifts can accomodate a one-finger casual movement at city speeds, or a very definite open-palm pull when driving with earnest.
Ride quality and body control, even over some poorly sealed roads, is again expertly manageable in the RACE setting, but a simple tap on the ‘bumpy road’ button is enough to flatten things out. It’s such an impressive system and dare I say, much better than even the best of the Germans can do.
But all good things come to an end.
Winding roads make way for flat, straight highways. Open country for gridlocked suburbia.
And still the 488 shines. You can live with this car every day. The front boot is usable (230-litres – bigger than a Fiat 500 at 185-litres), and it is perfectly docile when you need it to be. The fact that all this dynamic capability and face-melting performance can be beautiful and easy enough to use so that anyone can drive it, is nothing short of amazing.
Not that it is important, but our fuel consumption for the day was 15.3L/100km (up on Ferrari's claim of 11.4) making the round trip about a $90 exercise, or just one song downloaded from iTunes at Ferrari prices.
It’s an exceptional car, let down only by some final polish in terms of supporting system implementation, and the occasional questionable component – the rear view mirror, for example, looks and feels like it has been lifted from a Fiat Punto.
But these are the tiniest of quibbles on what should be, and is, an amazing car.
Strangely, it doesn’t seem expensive at its $650k package price tag, nor does that two-to-three year wait time seem over the top. As a staggeringly capable rolling work of art, the 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider is every bit as special as you want it to be.
As one very well known Ferrari driver once put it, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.