Road test: Ferrari 488 Spider

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Drop-tops often have drawbacks, but here’s an exception

I used to giggle at people who drove convertible mid-engined Ferraris, figuring no one who bought one ever did so other than to be noticed. Why else would you spend more money on a dramatically compromised driving experience? To feel the wind in what’s left of your hair? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

I’m not laughing now. After two days on cold, salt-strewn roads as different as can be to the kind of environment in which you’d chose to drive such a car, I am close to agog at some of the things the new Ferrari 488 Spider can do.

So now you’re expecting me to tell you about its artillery-shell acceleration and neck-bending grip, but I’m not. For a start the Spider’s ability to gain speed in such conditions is entirely surface- dependent. On damp and slippery roads it can feel sufficiently slow to make you wonder if the engine is still entirely healthy. Only when you spot the small blinking light on the dash do you realise that the traction control is so good that reduced performance is the only evidence of its action. Turn said control off and even on Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres, the Ferrari will happily spin its wheels in its first four gears. And grip levels actually aren’t that high for exactly the same reason.

What you notice instead is that when cocooned in the cockpit there appears to be no penalty to be paid for the flip- back roof. It’s quiet on part throttle, at times eerily so, and you’d never deliberately drop a wheel in a hole big enough to make the structure shudder. And if you can feel the additional 50kg it carries you’re better than both me and Ferrari, which claims it has no effect on either acceleration or measured fuel consumption. Other than the fact you can no longer see the engine and the car costs an extra £20,000, the roof comes with no apparent drawbacks.

There is still plenty to annoy you, mind, the button-infested steering wheel for example. I lost count of the number of times I dazzled people by hitting the ‘bumpy road’ button instead of the headlamp dipper. The ergonomics are poor, the ventilation adequate at best and a £200,000 cabrio really should have seat heaters.

But it’s hard to carp about a car that is such fun to drive. It’s steering is still too aggressive off centre and others have more feel, but the chassis is the most user-friendly of all mid-engined cars I’ve driven. Mid-engined Ferraris were not remotely reassuring on the limit (with the unexpected exceptions of the F40 and F50), so there’s still an instinct deep within my brain telling me it’s only lulling me into a false sense of security. But if the 488 had a dark side, 1000 quick miles in December would have shown it. And they didn’t.

Stupidly, I’d probably still have the coupé because it’s conceptually a cleaner concept, but if you were to choose the Spider I’d not even smirk. I’d just turn a pale shade of envious green instead.

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