Ferrari faithful, rejoice: capable of a hair-raising 203 mph, the new Spider 488 convertible has all the bite you’ve been praising for.
Enzo Ferrari may have been a man of few words, but the ones he did use were up there with Mark Twain or Martin Amis. “I am not the designer. Other people do that. I am an agitator of men,” he once noted, a summary of a management style his many lieutenants would wearily have concurred with. Then there was this waspish gem aimed at his chauffeur, Peppino Verdelli, who worked for Enzo man and boy for 49 years, managing a solitary annual morning off every Easter: “When you need him, he’s never here.”
But perhaps the most famous relates to the day job. “I don’t sell cars; I sell engines. The cars I throw in for free since something has to hold the engines in.” Never mind that perhaps half of the most beautiful cars ever made wear the Ferrari name, many of them elegant convertibles.
Indeed, Ferrari’s very first car, 1947’s 125 S. was a Spider, and extracted 118bhp from its 12 cylinders and 1.5 litres. At the time, this was sensational. Almost 70 years and hundreds of thoroughbreds later, the new 488 Spider showcases aerodynamic, electronic and technical innovation that would have been space-age voodoo to the main man back in the day. Yet it still has four wheels and an engine in the middle.
And what an engine it is. Even Ferrari, which is defiantly sticking to 12 cylinders for its most powerful models, has had to get radical with its V8 model line. The bureaucrats want cleaner engines, the customers more power, and the only way to square the circle is by adding turbochargers. The 488 Spider has two of them strapped to a 3.9-litre V8, which gives it a power output of 661 bhp and 561lb ft of torque while reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. It’ll hit 62mph in 3.0 seconds, 124mph in a breathtaking 8.7 seconds, and its top speed is 203mph. None of which sounds remotely like a bad thing.
But in the heady, overly emotional world of Italian high performance, some things are sacrosanct. Ferrari has already killed off the manual gearbox in its cars, and insists that it is only eccentric, incurably nostalgic Brits who still want. Now its linear, free- breathing, ultra high-revving V8 engines have bitten the dust, and to make life even harder for itself the 488 has to follow the 458 Speciale, the last normally aspirated V8 Ferrari, and a car that is already changing hands for upwards of $100,000 more than it cost new. Believe me, the Ferrari faithful could give those nutjobs in Opus Dei a run for their money when it comes to devotion.
This means that an odd mix of anticipation and trepidation hovers over die 488 Spider. The roof disappears in 14 seconds, and Ferrari’s engineers have managed to maintain the GTB’s fabulous structural integrity. The benefit of having a Formula One team across the road can be seen in the 488 Spider’s sculpted body, which somehow reconciles competing mechanical and aerodynamic demands with the most fundamental requirement of all: that a Ferrari looks beautiful beyond mere words. This one does, deliciously so.
It also has to perform. Actually, the engine is only part of the matrix here. Driving the 488, to begin with anyway, means getting used to its unusually rapid steering responses, marveling at the sublime way it rides bumps (its dampers contain fast-moving magnetic particles) and the speed at which its dual-clutch ‘box changes gear. And, of course, the noise – previous Ferrari V8s have been high revving screamers, but this one is more Barry White than Barry Gibb. It’s not better or worse, just different. Turns out that a combination of clever exhaust design and an in-depth study of the system’s harmonics can offset the muffling effect of the turbos.
Not that you’ll care the first time you really open the taps. Ferrari’s command of chassis technology – much of which is down to electronics and software algorithms – is now so absolute that the 488 is capable of moving down the road faster than your eyes, hands, feet and brain can process the information it throws at you. Obviously, the driver dictates the pace, and there’s much to enjoy if you calm it down, but as an entertainment this thing is monumental.
Ferrari has just floated on the New York stock exchange, and a share price of $48 $52 (£31 £34) values the company at around $10bn (£6.5bn). This is pretty hot for a company that Wall Street positions somewhere between luxury and technology. The 488 Spider backs up the nebulous brand blarney with a tech story to rival Silicon Valley’s biggest guns at their most blazing.
Not bad for something that’s basically four wheels and an engine, eh?
Despite being a convertible, the new 488 Spider is as stiff as the coupe version. And compared to the 458 Spider model it replaces, it is actually 23 percent more rigid.
Engine: 661 bhp, 3.9 litre twin turbo-charged V8
Performance: 0-62 mph in 3.0 seconds, top speed, 203 mph