Ferrari 488 Spider vs McLaren 650S Spider


McLaren Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
Ferrari 488 Spider V8, twin-turbo, 3902cc 661bhp @ 8000rpm 560lb ft @ 3000rpm (7th gear) 3.0 secs 330kph+ 1475kg (455bhp/ton) $313,200
McLaren 650S Spider V8, twin-turbo, 3799cc 641bhp @ 7250rpm 500lb ft @ 600rpm 2.9 secs 329kph 1330kg (482bhp/ton) $285,000
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We ease ourselves into Ferrari terrain here. Though the transition from natural aspiration to downsized twin-turbocharging was an inevitable one if those pesky fuel efficiency ratings are to be believed, it didn’t stop nuclear amounts of heat descending on Maranello from Ferrari purists frothing at the mouth. Hard to argue with the results though: a 100bhp step up over the now-retired 458 Italia and some clever, F1-inspired tweaking to the ECU means engine performance is now 12 per cent more volcanic, response times across the board nine per cent more rapid than before. And much like the design, Ferrari’s inherent sense of drama and joie de vivre is all too clear in the way the 488 puts it’s power down.

There’s no turbo lag, at all, and peak torque has been deliberately limited in the lower revs to avoid nuking the rear tyres. It also makes the initial burst of acceleration smoother and more linear. That stout torque curve in the higher gears though and the spooled up turbo thereafter mean 661bhp-worth of acceleration in the mid-card feels like being cracked in the spine with a bullwhip. From the hardly-gentle initial burst, it’s a savage hit designed to grab you square in the feels. Each seamless gear change delivers a massive clout of forward momentum up to a dizzying 8000rpm, along with a high-pitched, operatic soundtrack that could rupture an eardrum. It’s glorious.

Nope, we hadn’t forgotten about THAT sound. Turbocharged though it may be, and perhaps lacking an ace of its naturally aspirated forebear up in the rpm rafters, the Ferrari’s V8 soundtrack is simply stunning, made all the more gut-wrenching in closer proximity when the hardtop roof is stowed.

“Gearshifts are seamless, and again, the sensation of speed is baffling. It’s full-bodied and utterly delicious if perhaps lacking that final tenth of emotional punch”

That’s not to knock the McLaren’s similarly turbocharged V8, even if the lower-pitched, slightly more warbly soundtrack doesn’t quite pique the neck hairs like the 488 does (something McLaren has worked on, including a cylinder cut on upshifts for a more emotional note). Power delivery in the McLaren for instance feels less raw than the Ferrari’s more fiery approach, but only a fool would denounce the 650S’ speed.

Good God it’s quick. Pick-up from the off – especially with Power turned all the way to ‘holy crap’ in Track mode – is simply brutal, a surprisingly more aggressive hit off the line than even the 488 spits out. The difference though lies in the low-to-mid revs. Here the Ferrari finds another flame-spitting gear where the McLaren retains a more progressive but no less emphatic 641bhp surge well into the triple figures. Again, gearshifts are seamless, and again, the sensation of speed is baffling. It’s full-bodied and utterly delicious, if perhaps – still – lacking just that final tenth of emotional punch only a Ferrari powertrain can deliver.

Be under no illusion though, straight-line bursts in either supercar will leave you giggling like a wide-eyed idiot.

Ferrari 488 Spider vs McLaren 650S Spider crankandpiston-61


Time to REALLY start digging into those details. We’ve driven both the 488 Spider and 650S Spider previously at, both proving as glorious and utterly spellbinding in their manoeuvrability and responsiveness as you would expect from Ferrari and McLaren. The balance of each is astonishing, the merest hint of body roll cast aside with derisive laughter by both adaptive suspension setups. Lateral grip is similarly phenomenal as power is fed in mid-corner: grabbing either by the scruff of the neck and hustling furiously is a cake walk. Take a closer look though…

It’s tempting to favour the McLaren’s steering, given that the precision and deft feel for the front wheels is slightly more precise, more neutral than the Ferrari’s. So rapid is the steering rate in the 488 for instance – a hallmark of recent Ferraris – that the direction change can border on alarming. Specially tuned Pirelli P Zero tyres and a perfect weight distribution means there’s never any fear of overloading the front axle, nor could you even dream of calling Ferrari’s electronic power steering ‘over-damped’. It’s the 650S’ ideally weighted and more fully textured setup though that I relate to, the precision to flick the front end into the corners as mesmerising as the Ferrari’s and yet subtly more engaging.

“So rapid is the steering rate in the 488 that the direction change can border on alarming. But you could never dream of calling Ferrari’s electronic power steering ‘over-damped’ “

Then there’s the traction. Both are sublime, and yet it’s slightly greater in the 650S, the 
488’s rear axle proving twitchier, and considerably more playful thanks to that limited slip differential, another nod to Ferrari’s ‘flashy’ charm over its British 
nemesis. It’s subtle and certainly doesn’t affect the phenomenal traction out of the corners unduly, but it is there. While the temptation is to lean heavily on the McLaren’s front end, in the Ferrari the real engagement comes from balancing the rear tyres on the throttle.

I’m certainly not suggesting that the 650S is incapable of slipping – make sure you’ve had your morning coffee if/when you turn traction control off – but it’s difficult not to be won over by the slightly more enthusiastic Ferrari zeal. Having said that, there really is no trumping the telepathic steering feel in the 650S. It truly is baffling to think how McLaren could improve upon it.

Ferrari 488 Spider vs McLaren 650S Spider crankandpiston-1


So, a rivalry for the ages, Ferrari vs McLaren? 488 vs 650? Which is it?

That both the Ferrari 488 Spider and the McLaren 650S Spider are five star models is unquestionable. Ride quality is excellent, each design will turn heads quick enough to snap vertebrae, and the performance on-tap plus  the agility through the turns is scintillating. Time to take a brave pill though and award some brownie points.

In terms of ride comfort and practicality, the McLaren gets the nod, though admittedly not by much, such is the effect that flamboyant Ferrari design has on me. For emotional bursts of speed, a V8 and gearbox to match and an utterly glorious soundtrack that could reduce grown men to weeping puddles, the Ferrari is difficult to beat, despite a stellar case posed by McLaren. Steering and precision is separated only by a more textured setup in the 650S, though the 488’s friskier rear end makes me wonder if that alone could swing the decision in Maranello’s direction. At a push, at a very, VERY hard push – we’re talking an elbow driven hard between the ribs here – I’m tempted to side with the McLaren. But there is a problem. One with a prancing horse on the bonnet.

The 650S Spider is utterly brilliant, of that there is no doubt, and as an overall package it’s hard not to give it the blue ribbon. But then I consider life with the McLaren over the Ferrari, the knowledge that the emotional connection – that Italianate charm that Maranello piles with gusto into each of its models – would be missing on the daily drive to and from the office, and those weekend blasts through the mountains.

My respect for the McLaren 650S Spider remains, and will forever remain, absolute. But for me, on these roads, it can’t quite topple its Italian nemesis today.

  • Technical specifications available on page 3

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