By Samuel Ee
One interesting consequence of the Ferrari 458 Spider's transition from a soft-top to a hard-top convertible is that with the roof in place, the Spider looks very much like the 458 Italia coupe, especially in a dark colour.
Another is that the switch to an aluminium retractable hard top has resulted in only a 50 kg weight deficit, less than with a fabric roof. These and other delicious details are what make the 458 Spider a very innovative update of an open-top Ferrari.
The choice of a folding hard top for the open-air version of Ferrari 458 was made because it offers superior comfort to a traditional soft top. And in the case of the previous F430 Spider, the fabric roof came with a complex mechanism that took up precious space.
But with the new aluminium roof, which takes 14 seconds to open or close, Ferrari has simplified its shape to make it more compact and less heavy. The result is that the Spider's profile is virtually identical to the Italia's even though the Spider loses the rear quarterlight and gets fatter B-pillar buttresses.
The drive is practically the same too. As with the coupe, the Spider gets the mid-rear-mounted 4.5-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine with 570 hp and 540 Newton-metres of torque. Red-lining at 9,000 rpm, it is mated to the accomplished seven-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission. The only difference is that the engine soundtrack has been specially developed. The new exhaust system ensures the harmonics have been tuned for the drop-top character of the car.
The damping of the suspension also takes into account the Spider's different chassis characteristics but unless you are driving at the limit, you are unlikely to feel the difference. As with the Italia, the manettino dial on the Spider's steering wheel allows for five driving modes. Wet is for low grip situations and Sport, the next level up, is the most comfortable for driving around town in. Race stiffens the dampers of the magnetorheological suspension control for a more jiggly ride and induces faster neck-snapping gear changes, while CT Off and ESC Off are best reserved for track day because they reduce and deactivate intervention by the electronic safety systems, respectively.
Drive with the top down in any of the above set-ups and the high rigidity of the lightweight aluminium chassis will impressive you. Maybe Fernando Alonso can detect some trace of scuttle shake or body flex but at the speeds most owners take their Spiders up to, there is little chance of that.
What will be obvious, though, is the symphony from behind you. With the top down, the mellifluous engine and exhaust notes make the hi-fi superfluous. Take off from stationary and the sonorous drone transforms into an angry growl as the tachometer arcs its way across the rev band.
|Ferrari 458 Spider
|Price:$998,000 (without COE)
Engine: 4,499cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed F1 dual-clutch
Max Power: 570 hp @ 9,000 rpm
Max Torque: 540 Nm @ 6,000 rpm
0-100kmh: 3.4 secs
0-200kmh: 10.8 secs
Top speed: 320 kmh
Distributor: Ital Auto 64751118
A mild tap of the accelerator pedal is all it takes to elicit a magical roar from the exhaust. The engine has such deep reserves of power that it will need a very long and empty road before it runs out of breath.
Pull the slim carbon fibre paddle shift and the response is instantaneous. The gearshifts are fast and brutal - at any engine speed. Mushy is not in this Italian's vocabulary.
But over and above its supercar handling abilities, perhaps the best features of this 21st century Ferrari are its driveability and useability - it is tractable in town, plus the air-con works perfectly.
Then there is the Spider's innate versatility - it has the appeal of a convertible with the practicality of a coupe. In other words, the perfect combination of performance and glamour.
This article was first published in The Business Times.