After last month’s F12, here comes another Ferrari to reinforce the impression that Maranello has never been more on top of its game than right now. Indeed I think the early 1970s, when the career paths of the Daytona, Dino and underrated 365GTC/4 briefly intersected, was the only comparable era.
This time it’s the open version of the 458 Italia, a car called the Spider to nobody’s very great surprise. It’s a very clever convertible. Ferrari claims it is the first mid-engined two-seater to be fitted with a retractable hardtop. Normally the very thought of adding that much weight that high up in a low-slung supercar should make any self-respecting engineering team rule it out at once, but the Ferrari’s two-piece system is so simple and elegant it’s 25kg lighter than the fabric roof system of the F430 Spider that preceded it.
In part this is because Ferrari has designed the rear buttresses to rise up behind the driver, an area you’d normally expect to be part of the roof. This means that not only is there less roof to fold away, but also these buttresses double as roll-over protection so there’s no need for a separate and heavy system of deployable inversion hoops. It’s true that from the outside the car appears as a halfway house between a full convertible and a targa, but the car still looks great with the roof up or down. The arrangement seems also to aid wind management: I have never driven such an aerodynamically civilised open Ferrari.
But I still wouldn’t have one over the 458 Italia coupé and not just because Ferrari asks a little more than £20,000 less for that roof. I am aware that this says as much about me as the Ferrari, but I felt uncomfortable driving the car with the roof down through London. I wasn’t verbally abused, I was filmed a couple of times and most of the avalanche of attention it attracted was more positive than I’d feared. But other road users simply presumed I’d be an inconsiderate idiot and rushed to close any gaps into which I might want to slot, forcing me to drive like an idiot just to get about. A self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.
Out of town the car was outstanding in almost every way. I’d still prefer more steering feel and you can tell from the slight shimmy of the steering column when you hit a ridge that the car’s lost some rigidity, but I could feel no loss of performance relative to the coupé (it’s only 50kg heavier and Ferrari quotes the same acceleration times) nor any compromise to primary body control. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve driven a better handling converted coupé.
But on the way back to the Motor Sport office I raised the roof and enjoyed the car far more as a result. People still gawped of course, but at least I was afforded some anonymity.
I am aware that it is in anticipation of precisely attention of this kind that customers will happily write cheques for more than £200,000 for this car once a few choice extras have been selected: the test car’s total price was more than £260,000. But Ferraris should be for drivers not posers, and on that scale the 458 coupé provides a little more of what I want from such a car with a lot less of what I can happily live without.
Engine: 4.5 litres, eight cylinders, petrol
Top Speed: 198mph
Power: 562bhp at 9000rpm
Fuel/co2: 21.2mpg, 307g/km