The sound of a Ferrari V8 in full-throttle acceleration through a 2km tunnel is something neither words nor an audio recording can aptly convey. Like your first kiss, it is unforgettable, exciting and indescribable. It has to be experienced.
A new 458 Spider with its roof open adds another dimension to the euphoric stimulation of said tunnel run. As a matter of fact, in creating the alfresco 458, Ferrari engineers modified the Italia’s induction and exhaust with the singular objective of creating the finest eight-piece automotive orchestra.
In the 458 coupe, the air intakes are located just aft of the rear quarter-windows and integrated into the bodywork between the trailing end of the roof and the window sills. They are not immediately noticeable, unlike the rear fender apertures on the F430.
For the 458 Spider, several modifications were made to the body, including the relocation of the air intakes since the roof was no longer a permanent fixture. Hence, the intakes were moved to the far end of the rear deck. At the same time, the exhaust system was redesigned as part of the “orchestral” tuning.
Making a convertible out of a mid-engined sports car is a complex affair for a number of reasons, of which styling and space are the most critical. The car has to look as good as the coupe whether the roof is closed or open. “Converted” Ferraris from the past, such as the 355, 360 and 430, have their own unique good looks with the top down, but once the hood is up, they lose some of the aesthetic appeal that defines the equivalent coupes.
A folding hard-top has the advantage of faithfully following the coupe’s lines, but there is precious little room in a mid-engined car for luggage, let alone a foldable metal roof. This is why these cars always came with a canvas canopy – until now.
The 458 Spider has an ingenious folding hard-top that makes it the first mid-engined convertible of its kind. Like the rest of the body, the roof is made from aluminium alloy. It bridges the space between the A-pillars and the buttresses behind the cabin, giving the Spider a silhouette identical to its coupe sister. From the side, only the lack of a triangular rear window sets it apart. The 458 Spider is every bit as striking as the 458 Italia.
When it folds away, with the assistance of electro-hydraulic actuators and some fancy kinematics, the two-piece roof sits snugly behind the passenger cell and partly over the engine. An aluminium cover, which also forms the pair of buttresses, opens to let the roof in and does the job of keeping the car’s profile when it closes again. Inside the cockpit, the open-air feel is enhanced by a vertical glass window between the turrets that can slide down.
The Spider “conversion” takes 14 seconds. Although it is necessary to bring the car to a halt for the roof to work, the time lost is insignificant considering how little it takes for the 458 Spider to make up for any delay.
Perhaps the only feature likely to be missed is the glass display that, in the coupe, shows off the magnificent powerplant. Here in the Spider, the aluminium rear deck is “empty” except for six ventilation grilles and a pair of mesh openings for the engine’s air induction. With the roof stowed, part of the engine is covered anyway, so there was no question of a see-through panel.
Said V8 won the coveted International Engine of the Year award in its category, which is no mean feat. The 48-valve 4.5-litre V8 is one of the greatest engines of our time. In fact, its specific power output of 126.6bhp per litre is a match for many turbocharged performance cars, but this is an engine with no form of forced induction. Naturally aspirated and with direct injection, it develops 570bhp at 9000rpm and 540Nm at 6000rpm.
The 458 Spider accelerates from rest to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds. This figure, as phenomenal as it may be, barely illustrates the breadth of scintillating performance over the entire speed range from zero to 320km/h. At all times, the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission makes the gearchange even before you think you need to shift.
That means split-second upshifts at the redline (if you wish) and seamless automatic downshifts when you slow down or brake. There are paddle shifters, but for most occasions, the engine and transmission work brilliantly together when left in auto mode.
The Spider’s silky and relentless pace is pure supercar stuff, but the V8 also has an astonishing level of docility in slow-moving traffic and amazing refinement for such an extreme engine.
While it is obviously mind-blowing in a straight line, the car is simply fantastic on winding roads. Those carbon-ceramic brakes (the only type of brakes Ferrari makes for any of its models these days) can be used repeatedly, with no loss in performance as the car accelerates and decelerates from one corner to the next.
The steering, which feels a little too sensitive at high speeds, is otherwise sharp and precise – key to the Spider’s agility through sweeping turns with inconsistent radii.
Ferrari’s steering wheel-mounted Manettino gives the driver five different levels of traction and response to choose from. It alters the dynamic behaviour to suit different grip levels or, really, different types of driving styles.
You can drift through corners if you wish (best to try this on a racetrack), but the car is most enjoyable in the middle setting, “Race”, which allows a touch of rear end breakaway that is easily and intuitively corrected with a quick flick of the steering.
With its roof down, the Spider provides the aural entertainment we mentioned in the beginning, but surprisingly, neither driver nor passenger is disturbed by wind buffeting, even at speeds past 200km/h. It is another big reason the 458 Spider is such a superb convertible package. And drivers familiar with supercars will be pleasantly surprised at the Spider’s ride comfort, which rates highly by any standards.
The interior is straight out of the 458 Italia, which means it has a racy instrument pack, the sophisticated steering wheel with the Manettino switch and spoke-mounted indicator buttons, a centre console with three push-buttons for Launch, Reverse and Auto (forward), and a pair of snug, supportive seats. It takes a while to understand Italian ergonomics, but this is a cabin that makes anyone feel good with its lovely quality, aromatic leather and perfectly polished carbon fibre trim.
Like the last three generations of mid-engined V8 Ferraris, the 458’s chassis is constructed from aluminium alloy extrusions joined by cast aluminium alloy nodes. All the body panels are also in aluminium.
There are no carbon fibre composites used in this car. In the conversion of coupe to Spider, the chassis has been reinforced with a larger and stiffer rocker panel, while the protruding “B-pillars” that blend with the buttress serve as the structure providing roll-over protection.
The 458 Spider is probably as stiff as it could get, but there is no running away from the loss of integrity in cutting away the roof. Some scuttle shake is evident when driving over poor surfaces, but this is sufficiently limited and does not detract from its impeccable road manners.
In any case, only a Ferrari owner who tracks his car regularly would dismiss the 458 Spider as a compromise. For everyone else, there is probably no convertible sports car quite as fast, and as easy to drive fast. No other rival, real or imagined, looks as gorgeous, either. And none this side of an F1 racecar sounds this awesome!
Ferrari 458 Spider 4.5 (A)
ENGINE 4499cc, 32-valves, V8
MAX POWER 570bhp at 9000rpm
MAX TORQUE 540Nm at 6000rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 3.4 seconds
TOP SPEED 320km/h
CONSUMPTION 8.5km/L (combined)
PRICE EXCL. COE $985,600
Check out the Ferrari 488 Spider, successor to the 458 Spider