Convertible supercars are a confusing form of automotive perfection. They are often inherently compromised by having the extra weight of a folding roof, yet at the same time they bring an unprecedented level of joy thanks to the open-roof motoring experience. The Ferrari 488 Spider seems to bring all the joy, but strangely lacks the expected compromise.
If you have about $500,000 to spend on a car and you’ve always wanted a Ferrari, the 488 is about as good as it will get (this particular Spider costs $526,888 plus about $140K of options).
The question of whether it’s a coupe or a spider is entirely personal. There is a roughly $60K price difference in the coupe's favour, so if you’re going for a convertible, it will not only cost you more to start with, but historically you’re also likely to get less back for it in time. Does it really matter? Not if you’re buying the car for you, because the experience of driving a topless Ferrari is next to none.
From the outside, the 488 continues the form factor of the much loved 458, with sharper lines and a more modern front and rear design. It screams Ferrari both on the go and when standing still. You can be assured it won’t be mistaken for anything else. It’s in many ways the same car as the 458 underneath – so much so that the compliance plates still say ‘458 Italia’.
For reasons only Ferrari Australia knows, our press car was optioned in a special white exterior (Bianca Avus at $19,000) and black interior. While it still looked good, we think it would look absolutely stunning in almost any other colour. So much so that we brought along a friend’s brand-new 488 coupe in typical Ferrari Rosso Corsa to show you the difference.
The good thing is, though, that if it can turn as many heads as it does in white, imagine what it would do in red or the special Blu Corsa paint that Ferrari has kept exclusively for the Spider?
The first point about the 488 Spider worth realising is that it’s not a compromised car. It’s not by any means less of a driver’s car than the coupe. Sure, it carries around 50kg of extra weight compared to the coupe, but somehow it has the same claimed 0–100km/h time of 3.0 seconds and feels and drives just as well. It’s a little slower from 100–200km/h, but if that concerns you, you’re going to have bigger problems anyway.
The second point, which really surprised us – but in retrospect probably shouldn’t have – is the extra sense of emotional appeal when driven at speed compared to the coupe. With the roof folded away (in about 14 seconds and at speeds of up to 45km/h), listening to the Ferrari engine right behind your ears is a truly unique experience when it’s singing Rigoletto at full blast.
Having ditched the 458’s naturally aspirated V8 in favour of a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 with 492kW of power and 760Nm of torque (up a ridiculous 73kW and 220Nm as a result), the 488 is naturally not as loud or as audibly exciting as its predecessor. Well, that’s what we used to say anyway, and it’s still partially true, but when you hit that 8000rpm redline through a twisty mountain road – with the sun shining through the trees and it’s just you, the road and your Ferrari – it’s very difficult to describe it as anything but a kind of religious-awakening experience… Except here your messiah’s name was Enzo Ferrari, and he was very much real.
The V8 engine in the Ferrari is technically brilliant. There is no lag. That sounds impossible, but seriously, there is no lag that any mere mortal can detect. It should be bought by every manufacturer and studied, for it's a modern marvel of engineering and goes to show that the Italians are underrated when it comes to engineering finesse. Oh, and it uses fuel – lots and lots of fuel. But that's okay, it's going to good use because any time a Ferrari is revving at close to redline, it's for the betterment of humanity.
Driving the 488 at speed requires a certain level of attention and focus that is rather taxing on a regular driver. This is a much harder car to drive close to its limits than its Lamborghini or McLaren equivalents. That doesn’t mean anyone can’t jump in and go fast, because you can, but start to push it hard around the bends and it will give as good as it gets. A little bit of controlled oversteer here or there and mid-corner corrections are all part of the experience. This makes it highly enjoyable for those that ‘love to drive’ and appreciate the feedback, but if you want a more technically perfect driving experience, buy a McLaren.
You can make all the arguments here about not being able to extract the most out of a car like this on public roads, but I would call that utter nonsense. Yes, the 488 – like pretty much every single modern supercar – can go a lot faster than you’re legally allowed to, but owning a Ferrari is as much about the experience of being stuck in one in traffic, as it is about going flat-out through a mountainous road or on a racetrack. Show up to your local café in a 488 and you’ll know what we mean.
Even so, Ferrari has built its reputation through motorsports, and as such it doesn’t mess around. Like all of its cars, the 488 Spider is very capable on a racetrack; a sign that is emphasised by its standard carbon-ceramic brakes. This car is missing nothing compared to its coupe sibling, and unless you’re Sebastian Vettel, that extra 50kg of a weight difference isn’t going to compromise your lap time.
The seven-speed dual-clutch ‘F1’ transmission in the Ferrari is only really comparable to what Porsche offers with its PDK in terms of rapid-fire shifts and daily usability. It’s perhaps one of the best applications of such a gearbox in a modern car, and we found it hard to fault. Put the Ferrari in its natural Race mode setting and you feel every upshift with a big shove, exactly how it should be.
The gigantic paddle-shifters are properly locked to the steering column so they remain in position regardless of where you are in a corner, and every pull or push is rewarded with an immediate and relentless response. Then again, drive it in everyday traffic in Sport mode (just normal mode in a Ferrari) and left to its own accord, you wouldn’t even know it’s changing gears.
The other thing that makes the Ferrari a livable daily driver is the magnetic suspension. Despite riding on 20-inch wheels, the MagneRide shock absorber system (SCM2) seems to manage the worst of Australian roads with ease. If Ferrari had come out and said that Australia was a test bed for its suspension tuning, we would have completely bought it. Though if you’ve ever been on Italian country roads, you’ll know why the 488 rides so well.
It’s even more evident when the bumpy road setting is selected. It’s actually rather astonishing, because we felt it had better ride compliance than even a lush Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It somehow glides over the potholes and undulations without as much as a shake through the cabin. Again, much like its transmission, this is only on par with what is offered from Porsche in its 911 range, and a clear advantage of the Ferrari over its direct Italian-German rival.
Also, for $8900, you can and must option the front lift system that will allow your 488 to go almost anywhere. It will raise the front about 40mm to get you in and out of tricky spots. We managed to take the car to pretty much anywhere our SUV would go, and that made it a far more enjoyable and less daunting experience to drive.
We would, however, like to see the nose-lift work at higher speeds. Whereas the Huracan sees its nose-lift stay up until 70km/h, the Ferrari manages that only until around 45km/h, which gets annoying after a while if you wish to keep the nose up in normal 60km/h zones.
Even so, whatever you might think of paying nearly $9K for such a basic system (standard on a Lambo), your marriage will thank you, because if your wife is anything like mine, $9K of damage to the underbody and front lip of your supercar will be a weekly occurrence otherwise.
With the lift kit installed, you can easily drive this to the shops and use the giant front boot to do the weekly shopping. At 230L, it has a hell of a lot more room than you’d think.
Being a convertible, the Spider brings about plenty of uses. When the weather is ideal, the roof can remain off indefinitely and you’ll still be able to hold a conversation with your very fortunate passenger at highway speeds. But interestingly, when the weather gods have had a disagreement with Enzo and you need the roof on, one could make the argument that it looks even better than the coupe with its dual-buttress design that houses the hard-top roof.
No-one on earth can look at the car, roof on or off, and say ‘that doesn’t look good’. It’s a stunning work of art, both as a sum of its parts and viewed as an abstract object.
So what’s wrong with it then? Well, if we ignore the insane number of options (who doesn’t love to complain about options on a Ferrari?), including our favourites that are $6790 for Apple CarPlay (cable not supplied!), $2500 for parking sensors and almost $5000 for a reversing camera (in total, as much as a city car that comes with all that), the interior in and upon itself can be a little better.
Our particular car had certainly seen better days, with the leather on the seats and the general cabin ambience feeling a little worse for wear. But ignoring that, the instrument cluster for the audio and entertainment system located to the right of the steering wheel (so that your passenger cannot change the music), which we actually really adore as we found it practical and a good use of space, feels a little flimsy. The buttons and dials don’t feel like they belong in a $665,000 car.
Also, the $10,450 optional JBL hi-fi system leaves a lot to the imagination. Given this car will likely spend a lot of its time cruising around looking fabulous, we would have hoped for a more premium audio system, especially given the optional price. You can’t always have the 488 sitting close to redline.
But despite whatever little flaws we can try and pick apart with the 488 Spider, it remains our favourite convertible supercar in its class. The Huracan Spyder (‘Y’ not ‘I’, spot the difference) is a magnificent car that will cost you less, and certainly that V10 naturally aspirated engine is something entirely different to what is on offer here, but unless you’re going to go for the Performante Spyder, the 488 Spider is not only faster but feels more dynamically engaging. Besides, there is something special about owning a Ferrari.
When it comes down to it, if you happen to meet anyone that says the convertible 488 is a compromise, or that it’s not a real Ferrari, call them out for what they are – an idiot. Otherwise, if you want to daily a Ferrari, the Spider is the best way to go.