The Ferrari 458 Spider is a gorgeous four-wheeled supermodel ... Photo Gallery
Stuart Martin road tests and reviews the Ferrari 458 Spider.
Removing the top is almost always a good thing - a beer, for example, is much better topless. It's rarely a bad thing unless we're talking about cars - many hardtops that are hacksawed into convertible status don't make the grade sans roof.
The Ferrari 458 Spider is most certainly NOT one of these - it is a gorgeous four-wheeled supermodel, which despite a drop in torsional rigidity over the coupe and some rear end changes, is an improvement over the hardtop.
When a pricetag not out of place on a family home is sitting on the windscreen then "value" isn't the first adjective to spring to mind when this car looms into view - spectacular, gorgeous and phenomenally fast are more likely, along with a few expletives if you're lucky enough to drive one.
The features list is extensive, leather and carbon-fibre trim everywhere, the chunky steering wheel with almost everything mounted on it, including the manettino drive system to keep it pointing in the right direction, the three-screen instrument panel and information display system, paddle-shifters for the seven-speed auto, full iPod integration is on offer but why you'd have anything competing with the mid-mounted sound system is beyond me.
The Spider is powered by the same naturally-aspirated direct-injection 4.5-litre V8 with continuously variable valve timing displacing 4.5 litres that propels the coupe - outputs are unchanged at 425kW and 540Nm and over 80 per cent of that impetus is available from 3250 rpm.
The repositioning of the air intakes has warranted changes to the exhaust to re-balance the aural impact of the car - the work on the Spider has made it sound even better than the 50kg heavier coupe.
Also retained for the Spider is the twin-clutch F1 paddle-shift seven-speed transmission - sending drive rearward using the trick E-Diff, but where the 1430kg Spider gets a tweak for topless duties is in the throttle pedal electronics and within the damper software - both changes are for the better.
Fuel use is down - with the option of further drops via the Ferrari HELE (High Emotion Low Emission) system - to a combined figure of 11.8 l/100 km with 275g/km of CO2 emissions; the coupe's launch claim was 13.7 and 307g/km.
The flip-top lid goes a step further than the limited-edition Superamerica's somewhat-similar system - the patented retractable hard-top does it's stuff in 14 seconds, and is made of aluminium.
The company claims it's 25kg lighter than an old-school ragtop and flips its lid to neatly somersault into its home above the engine bay with no aerodynamics compromises.
"We took inspiration from the 575 SuperAmerica, but that's a front-engined car, but we wanted more - we thought about integrating the roll bars into the buttresses and using a multi-panel hardtop or a concertina fabric roof," says 458 product marketing manager Michele Comelli.
The only real compromise is the absence of a view of the engine bay, something coupe owners get but Spider drivers don't - they'll just have to make do with the aural sensations and the open-air experience.
The snout is unchanged - it's a sharp looker already so no need to mess with a fince face - but the rear of the car is all-new and sleek, thanks to not requiring big hips at the rear to accomodate a conventional folding hardtop.
Dominated by the buttresses (with integrated roll-over protection), the new rear panels direct air flow to the engine intakes as well as the cooling system contained within the sleek rump.
The roof mechanism is quick at 14 seconds and uses the rear window as a device to reduce cabin turbulence - which it does remarkably well at high speed, and it can also be retracted with the roof up, just to maintain the aural appeal.
The standard four airbags are on stand-by in case of impending dooms, but there are electronic driver aids are all integrated and on speaking terms. The traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, adjustable suspension and myriad other electronic functions are all tailored to the selected drive mode via the wheel-mounted switch. The highlight is massive Brembo-gripped carbon-ceramic brakes which only just squeeze in behind the wheels, with 6-pot aluminium front calipers and 4-pot aluminium rear calipers.
There's always a fear that when a coupe becomes a convertible that the tight, bulletproof feel of the former fails to translate to the latter - fear not, Ferrari fans, the 458 has lost little of its strong-bodied feel.
Only sporadically will a shimmy be sparked by a shocking road surface, but it is rare and doesn't adversely effect the ride (which is very good given its abilities) or the drive experience, which is stupendous.
The 0-100km/h claim remains near three seconds and the top speed claim is 320km/h - nothing about the road drive suggests those figures are optimistic.
The snarling V8 is maniacal as it heads for the 9000rpm redline - yes, 9000rpm - and it's a soundtrack that overloads the nervous system.
Instant changes from the seven-speed twin-clutch briefly change the orchestra's pitch and straights are obliterated.
Tipping the Spider into the bends is child's play, the steering is quick and there's no misinformation - just a corner completed with considerable speed and little fuss, unless you have backed the electronics off and have the skills to play with the tail.
The engineering team say the suspension and throttle mapping have been wound back a little for the Spider, which is more likely to be driven daily and with a passenger - it's a little less frenetic than the coupe in a good way.
Cabin comfort, even on the optional carbon-fibre buckets, is remarkable - the magnetic-fluid dampers do an amazing job on bumps and corners - and even at 190-odd cm the roof lining never rubbed what's left of the hair on my head.
Vision straight back is better than you'd expect for the segment, but lane changes can sometime be a concern if you like to double check over your shoulder - all you'll see is trim.
At $600,000 this is certainly rarified air, not many will make onto Aussie roads but the level of ability - at the extremes as well as in daily driving - is quite astounding. Putting it into perspective - a Japanese luxury carmaker recently put $750,000 pricing on a super-coupe that is similarly astounding, but not 150-grand better - in fact it makes the Spider look like good value, and you can still get hold of the Ferrari droptop. If you could muster up the extra cash the 458 Spider has the best of both aspects - the security of a hard-roofed machine without the storage issue, as well as open-air appeal and performance off the scale.
4.5 out of 5
FERRARI 458 SPIDER
Price: from $600,000 (estimated)
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited km
Service interval: 20,000km or 12-months
Economy: 11.8 l/100km; 275g/km CO2
Safety equipment: four airbags, ABS, EBD, stability and traction control.
Crash rating: N/A
Engine: 425kW/540Nm 4.5-litre naturally-aspirated variable-valve direct-injection V8.
Transmission: seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual, rear-wheel drive
Body: 2-door, 2 seats
Dimensions: 4527mm (L); 1937mm (W); 1211mm (H); 2650mm (WB)
Tyres: 235/35 20in fr, 295/35 20in rear
OTHERS TO CONSIDER
Aston Martin DBS Volante
Engine: 6-litre V12, 380kW/570Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual, reaar-wheel drive
Body: 2-door convertible
Thirst: 15.5l/100km, 95RON, CO2 367g/km
"A V12 howl, British pedigree and um, the V12?"
Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder E-gear
Engine: 5.2-litre, V10 petrol, 412kW/540Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual, all-wheel drive
Body: 2-door convertible
Thirst: 13.8l/100km, 95RON, CO2 330g/km
"The long-winded name doesn't detract from its supercar status"
Porsche 911 Turbo S cabriolet
Price: from $442,800
Engine: 3.8-litre, flat-6-cyl turbocharged petrol, 390kW/700Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual, all-wheel drive
Body: 2-door convertible
Thirst: 11.3l/100km, 98RON, CO2 270g/km
"Perhaps not a direct price competitor but how many super-fast half-million-dollar droptops are there?"