Ferrari's staggering new convertible driven in Italy
Why would you buy a convertible Ferrari 458 over the purer Italia coupé? The Spider weighs 50kg more than the Italia, is 0.5sec slower than the coupé around Fiorano and has a top-speed that’s 6kph slower, so you do lose a bit of the coupé’s edge. But what you get in exchange for this tiny performance loss is character, bags of it. That’s because roofless motoring in this car puts nothing between your eardrums and the hair-raising blare of the triple exhausts. It’s the extra intensity of this sound from the 4.5-litre V8 that makes the Spider so special. Every millimetre of throttle travel adds richness and body to the exhaust note – it starts with a muted growl at idle, a guttural bellow through the midrange and a high-intensity blare near the pant-wetting 9000rpm redline. It is insanely loud; even at 200kph, it is loud enough to be heard over the gale force wind rushing through the cabin. The cabin is calm enough at normal speeds for normal conversation though.
Mechanically, it is unchanged – the engine makes 562bhp, the car gets the same stability and traction control modes as the Italia, and Ferrari has left the springs and anti-roll bar unchanged to preserve the terrific steering response, lateral grip and cornering ability of the coupé. The aluminium roof and its folding mechanism weigh 25kg less than the cloth roof fitted to the F430 Spider, and motors from open to shut in just 14 seconds. It is also packaged very efficiently and doesn’t compromise the 458’s aerodynamics with the roof up. There’s even room behind the car’s seats for a small luggage shelf.
You no longer get to see the engine through the glass cover though. The Spider gets a painted cover with six air extractors, and the air intakes, located near the B-pillar on the coupé, have been shifted back to just ahead of the rear lights.
What all this does is enrich the 458 driving experience. Ferrari says the Spider is a bit softer than the coupé, but it’s hard to tell. The 562bhp is delivered to the rear wheels via what feel like small nuclear explosions, the steering is so quick and the turn-in so sharp, it’s comparable to a terrified rabbit. And the grip, ohhhh, the grip is simply unbelievable. Driving through the hills around Maranello, Italy, the heady combination of the exhaust note bouncing off the hillside, the engine’s mind-blowing rev-happiness and power delivery and the stunning handling make for a car that feels absolutely alive.
On demanding country roads it’s simply brilliant to drive, and yet is also very supple, especially when the least-extreme driver settings are used. And, unlike other coupés that lose their roofs, it’s hard to tell if the Spider has lost any rigidity over the coupé. There is some occasional shudder through the steering wheel, but that’s about it.
At a Rs 2.91 crore price tag (ex-showroom, Delhi), it’s obviously not for everyone. But as far as convertibles go, there’s nothing so pretty, so alive and so full of soul.