In the middle of a cool Chicago summer, sunlight bounces off the unmistakeable Rosso Corsa hood of a V8 Ferrari. A mere eighth of a depression of the throttle produces a sound I can only describe as a chorus of angels descending to earth on winged stallions. The shifter lights that sequence atop the wheel just about make up for the 458 Spider’s ($262,762) lack of a manual shifter as I slice through 2nd, 3rd and 4th like a katana through a melon. My hair blows in the wind, and I try to downplay the fat grin on my face: my worlds have collided, the first being my childhood lust for the Prancing Horse brand, and the second, my disdain for convertibles. Against all odds, Ferrari’s delicious V8 monster has won me over to top-down driving.
For the 458 Spider, Ferrari slightly altered the 458 Italia coupe’s exhaust, giving it a throatier growl. But they didn’t stop there; they created a convertible that’s nearly indistinguishable from the coupe — even the average car lover will have a hard time telling the difference, when the top’s up.
That’s because the 458 Spider’s retractable hardtop is nothing short of miraculous. The 14-second transition from hardtop to drop-top is downright balletic; the roof disappears under a tonneau cover, which doubles as the twin cowls that tail the Spider’s headrests. The top-up look is more pleasing, and there’s virtually nothing to criticize about it — no impossible-to-ignore soft top like in the 360 Modena Spider, or anything like the fold-back electrochromic roof of the 2005 Ferrari Superamerica. And according to Ferrari, the new roof saves over fifty pounds off a soft-top setup. It’s hard to believe that this spectacular Italian beast just happens to be a convertible, and an improved one. It’s a driver’s car first, and a convertible second; without track time in both the coupe and the convertible, it’s hard to say which is better. That is a statement itself.
Engine: 4.5-liter direct inject V8
Transmission: 7-Speed Dual Clutch Automatic
Torque: 398 lb-ft
0-60: 3.0 seconds
Top Speed: 197 mph
Fuel Economy: 12 City / 18 Highway
Curb Weight: 3,153 lbs
Only two of the coupe’s design features are lost in the Spider configuration. First: the air intakes that draw air into the engine, located directly behind the side windows. On the coupe, they’re like beautifully taut sinews. The Spider gets openings all the way in the back of the rear deck — not nearly as artistic, but nonetheless functional. Second: the coupe’s engine-viewing window. The Spider’s open engine compartment only partially sated my car geek desire to see that Ferrari-red crackle paint on the intake manifold cover.
Though it would be wrong to omit the increased weight of the Spider (110 pounds) and its less stiff structure, compared to the coupe, it matters not for just about everyone shy of the amateur track driver. The 458 Spider is like a surgeon’s scalpel. The slightest adjustment in the F1 steering wheel results in an instantaneous response — absolute precision. It can make the clumsiest driver look like Ayrton Senna, even without flipping the wheel-mounted manettino switch into “Race” mode. The Spider is frighteningly quick, but it’s just so damned tractable, like an extension of your body without the beer gut, that you’ll hardly lose your confidence while driving it.
Without track time in both the coupe and the convertible, it’s hard to say which is better. That is a statement itself.
The Spider’s cabin isn’t beautiful like a Bentley’s; instead, it’s all business. All there is to distract you from the driving experience is the red stitching on the cobra-hood black leather seats and the big bands of carbon fiber. The rest fades into minutiae while driving. The multi-function wheel keeps all controls at the ready, though the tiny horn buttons at 10 and 2 require some planning to use well, at least in Chicago idiot traffic. The instrument cluster is informative and crisp, with a fat center tach on bright Ferrari yellow and a nice, racy gear selection readout.
After my blissful stint in the 458 Spider, my conclusion is that it only fails at one thing: relaxed top-down driving. Convertibles typically seem designed to appeal to more laid-back drivers, those who want to kick back and enjoy the fresh air while being openly envied by onlookers. All I ever wanted to do with the 458 Spider was push it the way it was designed to be pushed: hard and fast. Both the convertible and coupe are both excellent, but with the 458 Spider it seems as though nothing was spared. This might just be the perfect convertible. It’s no instrument of luxury, but a fine Italian razor that begs to be driven with relentless passion. Enzo would be proud.