The day had arrived. Seat time in a car that Ferrari has a lot riding on. The 458 Spider is set to be the legendary Supercar maker’s top selling model, with an expectation of up to a third of worldwide sales and it’s fair to say a chunk of the sales in the Middle East too. With expectations that high, it can ill afford to disappoint and surely it won’t.
After many an hour spent travelling from the desolate landscape of the desert we love so much, to the green, yet strangely arid setting of Northern Italy – via the not so wondrous Frankfurt airport – we were ready to rock. The hours previously had been spent getting our body clocks back in order and spending time having a full technical de-brief (followed by a lovely Italian dinner). Visuals of the car up until then had been very thin on the ground, so you can imagine the excitement the following morning as we all stumbled out of the hotel to be greeted by a line up to make many a man’s knees go week.
The hotel courtyard was lined across both sides…
with a killer collection of Spiders in a multitude of Reds, Blacks, Yellows, Greys and even a gorgeous shade of white… that sadly wouldn’t be in the agenda today.
So cars chosen, or should we say expertly selected by the Ferrari team, we hopped aboard our ride, had a quick run down of the controls – what not to do and which selections of the Manettino would be advisable etc. Then myself and my buddy for the day headed off into the Italian countryside for some hedonistic pedaling. Thankfully we seemingly had collected a chunk of the weather from the Middle East and brought it along with us. So blue skies all the way then…
My partner in crime for the day (we’ll get to that in a bit) was Nicolas Shammas, the man behind the ever so cool publication, B E S P O K E. Thankfully he was a guy after the same things in life as me, could hustle a car and didn’t complain when my iPod was hooked up later in the day. Result then!
So first impressions then. We’d already had the opportunity to pootle through the low lying villages and start to enter the hills, so quickly took the chance to park up and soak in some of the details.
A first for any manufacturer, the 458 Spider has been designed around a fully retractable (aluminium) hard top – which is super sexy in it’s own right. Something that surprised me as I sat watching Nicolas blat up and down the hill was that the Spider looks just as good as the 458 Italia coupe with the roof up and even better down.
About the only tiny bit of criticism you could level at the design was that that the roof mechanism, by virtue of where it sits, removes that stunning see-though engine cover from the coupe. No great shakes at all from my perspective as life in the Middle East makes the engine bay look like a dust bowl within days and those sexy sculptured buttresses more than make up for it.
A sign that we would be seeing plenty of. For the first half of the journey, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that we never got out of 4th gear. Sharp, flowing and utterly mind blowing roads… They were broken in places, which was enough to communicate a minor shuffle through the wheel (never going to hide from it), yet the car never skipped a beat, got thrown off course or felt even remotely near to its limit.
Skipping over the cars dynamic appeal for a second, let’s talk about the wail from the back end. The 458’s muscular 562bhp V8 produces one of the most intoxicating engines notes known to man and beast. And now that the engineers have removed one of the major barriers to audible pleasure – the roof – the engine’s music can be savoured even more.
One of the aspects that was so openly pushed during our technical briefing was just how much work the engineering teams had put into making the aural treat as special as they have. From new intakes (pic above) to a full retune of those iconic triple pipes poking out of the back. Believe us when we say, this thing makes an incredible noise. It’s an intoxicating, aggressive howl that continually puts a smile across your face. And judging by the amount of ‘Italian Old Boys’ littering the road side along our route, it works for Joe public too. It was actually quite humorous to see then sat on the dry stone walls with an espresso in hand and a ciggie burning down to the nub.
Prior to properly opening up the taps and soaking up the full delicate menu that was on offer… we had a bit of an issue to deal with. Issue being, the local blues! Said local bobby, must have been sat there listening to every throttle input and every gear change as we made our way across the countryside, just waiting for us to round the corner and come into his view. Thankfully after a broken English chat and some smiles/jokes, the Ferrari crew rolled onto the scene and made peace. We were ushered away with the words ‘no corsa‘ ringing in our ears. Wrists officially slapped then.
Back to the good stuff! Even though the new roof adds a touch more weight to the 458′s total Kg count, the Spider still properly hustles. Anything that has the ability to cover the 0-100kmh dash in 3.4 seconds is properly hustling. Keep it pinned through the gears and it will nudge 317kmh – Nuff said.
Acceleration… top speed… blah blah! We all know the most important question when it comes to a car like this and especially a Ferrari is delicacy and deftness. So – have the changes brought about to give you roof down motoring killed it? In a word, NO!
That pin-sharp capability is still very much there. The steering is utterly sublime and the 458′s ability to change direction, cover ground and generally decimate anything you can throw at it, is ever present. Taking the car by the scruff of the neck and giving it everything you dare has never been so much fun. From the punch the motor gives you, the steering and one of the most impressive front ends (thank the rear suspension engineers for that one) I’ve ever had the pleasure of on a road car, this car truly delivers.
The 7-speed dual clutch gearbox makes it’s way up and down the box in a such a slick manner that it defies belief… not to mention the beautiful burps, coughs and blips on the down shifts. In fact rolling onto the throttle mid corner to balance the car up produced this intoxicating noise that was reminiscent of an Opera singing preparing to let rip. Perfect.
You can have all the power and handling capability in the world, however the ability to scrub that speed is just as vital, if not more so. Thankfully the car scores another big tick in this box too. Ferrari really have a canny knack of producing some fine engineering feats. Not only do the ceramic brakes provide face bending stopping power, they also provide such levels of communication and feel that you find yourself leaning on them harder and harder as the car comes to you. Pushing deeper and deeper towards the apex, while all the time giving you what you need, so you know what’s happening under your foot – left or right dependent on your beliefs.
Right, intensity levels were at an all time high by now… so thankfully it was time for some more Italian food and a break. Myself and Nicolas polled up the lunch stop on the Ligurian coast a good 30 mins before anyone else. The Ferrari crew where on hand to give our stead a good clean down and brim the tank; which surprisingly hadn’t taken too much of a beating.
So with gauges reading full and bellies suitably stuffed,we were ready for the relaxed (read – flowing highway) route home and some time to make sense of what we had just experienced.
So to surmise – Ferrari has recently been a difficult brand for me to get my head around. As a kid, my Granddad (RIP) bought me a Ferrari F40 model, which became ‘the toy‘ in my life. It travelled everywhere with me and never left my side. Sad I know, but it would sit next to my bed at night and live in my school bag during the day. I was hooked! However, somewhere along the line I lost track with the brand and with that a belief that the product just didn’t have what it took to excite me anymore. I’m not entirely sure what it was but the hook had gone.
Maybe it was the brand, the merchandise, the owners or the product. I don’t really know and I can’t really put my finger on it. The 458 Italia and subsequently the Spider has well and truly fixed it though. The 458 is an utterly ballistic car… able to deliver in spades and exude so much product integrity that I was actually shocked. It took everything we threw at it, never let up and if anything, kept asking for more.
I’m actually surprised I’m going to say this – Making the 458 a Spider has made the 458 a better car. A complete and utterly stunning car.