Ferrari 488 VS Audi R8
- Monstrous torque
- Incredible dynamics
- Quality (in every sense of the word)
- Breathtaking option prices
- Some shake on rough surfaces
- Atmo engine noise MIA
- Superb dynamics
- Naturally aspirated V10
- Everyday usability
- Where's the advanced safety tech?
- No central media screen
- Not much in the way of cabin storage
James Cleary road tests and reviews the new Ferrari 488 Spider with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
It’s almost inevitable. Tell someone you’re a motoring journo and the first question will be, ‘So, what’s the best car you’ve ever driven?’
Without getting into an esoteric analysis of what the word 'best' actually means in this context, it’s clear people want you to nominate your favourite. The fastest, the fanciest, the car you’ve enjoyed the most; the one that’s delivered a clearly superior experience.
And if I enter the room of mirrors (where you can always take a good hard look at yourself) the answer is clear. From the thousands of cars I’ve had the privilege of sliding my backside into, the best so far is Ferrari’s 458 Italia, an impossibly pure combination of dynamic brilliance, fierce acceleration, howling soundtrack and flawless beauty.
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Supercars can sometimes be seen as the divas of the auto world – delicate, over-the-top, not very good with reality. Well that may be the case for some supercars but not Audi's R8. It's affordable by supercar standards, easy to drive and still very, very fast.
Now the updated R8 has arrived, looking fiercer than ever, but remaining one of the smartest supercar buys on the market. But did you know there are two types of R8? Both have very distinct personalities and I lived with them for two days – in the reality of road works and also ideal country roads.
Here's everything you need to know...
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The Ferrari 488 Spider is a brilliant machine. It's properly supercar fast, in a straight line and around corners. It looks stunning, and attention to design detail, engineering refinement and overall quality oozes from its every pore.
Is it the best car I’ve ever driven? Close, but not quite. Others may disagree, but for what it’s worth, I think the Ferrari 458 Italia, in all its high-revving, naturally aspirated glory is still the sweetest ride of all.
Is this open-top Italian stallion your dream machine? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Audi R8 V10 RWD and V10 Performance Quattro have their own personalities. I'm a big fan of the lower-powered rear-wheel drive car, but the Performance is the ultimate here with better brakes and that 330km/h top speed. Either way the R8 is a true supercar, but one that doesn't have to be driven gingerly as though something may break off.
Launched in 2015, the 488 is the fourth mid-engine V8 Ferrari based on the aluminium space-frame architecture unveiled with the 360 Modena back in 1999, and unlike its Pininfarina-penned predecessors, was designed in-house at the Ferrari Styling Centre, under the direction of Flavio Manzoni.
The key focus this time around was aero performance, including the additional breathing and cooling needs of the 488’s 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 (relative to the 458’s 4.5-litre naturally aspirated unit); hence the car’s most obvious visual identifiers - substantial air intakes in each flank.
Measuring 4568mm nose-to-tail, and 1952mm across, the 488 Spider is marginally longer (+41mm) and wider (+15mm) than its 458 equivalent. That said, it’s exactly the same height at just 1211mm tall, and the 2650mm wheelbase is unchanged.
Ferrari is a past master when it comes to sneaky concealment of spectacular aero trickery, and the 488 Spider is no exception.
Upper elements of its F1-inspired double front spoiler direct air to the two radiators, while the larger lower section subtly pulls flow under the car where carefully tuned ‘vortex generators’ and a yawning rear diffuser (incorporating computer-controlled, variable flaps) dial up downforce without a significant drag penalty.
The ‘blown’ rear spoiler manages air from intakes at the base of the rear screen, its specific geometry allowing a more pronounced (concave) profile for the main surface to increase upward deflection and maximise downforce without the need for an oversize or raised wing.
Those side intakes are divided by a central, horizontal flap, with air from the upper section directed to exits over the tail, pushing the low-pressure wake directly behind the car further back to again reduce drag. Air flowing into the lower section is sent to the turbo engine’s air-to-air intercoolers to optimise intake charge. All brilliantly efficient and tastefully incognito.
Putting the engine in the centre of the car and fitting only two seats doesn’t just pay off dynamically, it delivers the perfect platform for visual balance, and Ferrari has done a superb job of evolving its ‘junior supercar’ with a nod to the line’s heritage and an eye on extending its reach.
The tension across its multiple curved and contoured surfaces is beautifully managed, and the Spider’s crouching stance screams power and single-minded purpose.
Inside, while the passenger might be enjoying the ride, the design is all about simplicity and focus for the person with the steering wheel in their hands.
To that end, the slightly angular wheel houses a host of controls and displays including a very red start button, driving mode ‘Manettino’ dial, within-thumb’s-reach buttons for indicators, lights, wipers and ‘bumpy road’ (more on that later), as well as sequential max rpm warning lights across the top of the rim.
The steering wheel, dash, doors and console are (optionally) carbon-rich, with the familiar buttons for Auto, Reverse and Launch Control, now housed in a dramatic arching structure between the seats.
The compact instrument binnacle is dominated by a central rev-counter with digital speedo inside it. Readout screens for on-board info across audio, nav, vehicle settings, and other functions sit either side. The seats are grippy, lightweight, hand-crafted works of art, and the overall feeling inside the cockpit is an amazing mix of cool functionality and special event anticipation.
The R8, though, looks exactly how an Audi supercar should look – understated, tough and serious. Have you seen that Audi advert with the R8 on a dyno not wearing any pants? That sounds ridiculous but Google it because it sums up what the R8 is – a real car with a raw race car underneath, that's meant to be driven comfortably on the road and hard on a race track and the styling indicates that intent with little in the way of fanfare.
Well, there is that big window at the back which shows off the engine and the 'side blades' that surround the large vents carved into the side of the car to cool the engine.
The latest update has taken the design from the second-gen car which arrived in 2016 and added a new grille, front bumper, door sills and vents in the rear bumper. It's a more angular, sharper, and busier design with more vents and winglets than ever.
The R8 V10 RWD and R8 V10 Performance are close to identical in their styling. You can pick the Performance by its gloss carbon front spoiler, side sills, mirror caps and rear diffuser. The RWD has gloss black elements instead.
Which looks best: the Coupe or Spyder? That's a personal thing, but I reckon race cars need to have a hardtop roof, so it's the coupe for me, please.
Built using the 'Audi Space Frame' which weighs only 200kg, the R8 is 4426mm long and just 1240mm tall, but at 1940mm across it has a wide, planted stance.
Okay, so how do you approach practicality in a car that’s so obviously not engaged with the concept?
Best to say there’s cursory consideration in terms of cabin storage, with a modest glovebox, small pockets in the doors, and a pair of piccolo-sized cupholders in the console. There’s also a net and some general oddments space along the bulkhead behind the seats.
But the saving grace is a generous, rectangular boot in the nose, offering 230 litres of easy-to-access load space.
Another attribute fitting broadly under the heading of practicality is the retractable hardtop which smoothly unfolds/retracts in just 14 seconds and operates at speeds up to 40km/h.
The R8 is a two-seater supercar and practicality isn't high on its 'to do' list with limited cabin storage in the form door pockets almost as small as my jeans pockets, two cupholders hiding under a trapdoor in the centre armrest, a hidey hole in front of the shifter containing a wireless charger and two USB ports and the glove box.
As for the boot – there are two: one in the nose with a 112-litre cargo capacity and another behind the mid-mounted engine with 226 litres.
Room for people, well you and a friend, is excellent. I'm 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan and found the footwell deep and spacious, while head and shoulder room is also good.
Price and features
Let’s get the big number out of the way. The Ferrari 488 Spider costs $526,888 before on-road costs.
Included in that not inconsequential figure is the ‘E-Diff3’ electronically-controlled differential, ‘F1-Trac’ traction control, ASR & CST, ABS, an anti-theft system, carbon-ceramic brakes, Magnaride shock absorbers, dual-zone climate control, racy leather seats, bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights and indicators, keyless start, Harman multimedia (including 12-speaker, 1280-watt JBL audio), 20-inch alloy rims, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring, and… a car cover.
But that’s just the starting point. Any self-respecting Ferrari owner will need to put a personal stamp on their new toy and the prancing horse is happy to oblige.
If you want an exterior colour to match your favourite polo pony’s eyes, no problem, the Ferrari Tailor-Made program will do whatever it takes. But even the standard options list (if that makes sense) offers more than enough scope to make an already spectacular four-wheel statement even more distinctive.
Our test car featured six new Mazda3’s worth of extras. That’s just under $130k, with the highlights being more than 25 grand in exterior carbon-fibre, $22k for the special, two layer, iridescent effect ‘Blue Corsa’ paint, over $10k for chrome painted forged rims, and $6790 for Apple CarPlay (standard on the Hyundai Accent).
But you’ve got to remember an inverse logic applies here. While some may see $3000 for cavallino rampante shields on the front wings as somewhat pricey, to a proud Ferrari owner they’re badges of honour. In the yacht club carpark, showing off their latest acquisition, you can script the satisfied boast - ‘That’s right. Two grand. Just for the floor mats!’
The entry level R8 RWD Coupe lists for $295,000, while the Spyder version is $316,500. The R8 V10 Performance Coupe is $395,000 and the Spyder is $416,500.
It's in my view the best value supercar on the market. The Lamborghini Huracán Evo shares the same 5.2-litre V10, the transmission and the chassis (like Audi it's part of the Volkswagen family) and starts at $460K.
Let's talk features. Coming standard on the R8 RWD Coupe and Spyder are laser LED headlights (new to the R8 for this update), 20-inch cast aluminum wheels (also new), a full leather interior (new) with heated and power adjustable RS sports seats, 12.3-inch instrument cluster, Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker stereo (new, too), sat nav, digital radio, proximity key and wireless device charging (new).
The R8 V10 Performance Coupe gets all of the features above but swaps the wheels for lighter, milled alloy rims, ditches the steel brakes for ceramic (pricey to replace, though), and adds other mechanical extras over the entry car such as Audi's magnetic dampers, plus a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front swaybar.
What's missing? A central media screen would be good so your passenger can pick the music or follow the sat nav. Audi calls it a 'driver-focused cabin', but the Huracán has a media screen in the centre console.
I think there's a bit of advanced safety equipment missing, too – but that's in the section down further.
Engine & trans
The 488 Spider is powered by an all-alloy, mid-mounted 3.9-litre, twin-turbo V8, featuring variable valve timing and dry sump lubrication. Claimed outputs are 492kW at 80000rpm and 760Nm at a usefully low 3000rpm. Transmission is a seven-speed 'F1' dual clutch driving the rear wheels only.
Both obviously have V10 engines, it's a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre petrol unit (so no turbos here), but the RWD makes less power and torque at 397kW and 540Nm, while the Performance produces 449kW and 560Nm.
The V10 is mounted behind the driver's seat but ahead of the rear axle making it mid-engined car. The engine even has its own window and you can see it in there with its face pressed up against the glass.
There are two body styles as well – the Coupe and Spyder (convertible, roadster, just another word for a retractable soft roof). We'll get to the prices in the next section, but let's talk about the more interesting numbers such as top speeds.
The V10 RWD in coupe form can reach 324km/h and the Spyder can hit 322km/h while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder are both a smidge quicker at 330km/h.
Those are all go-straight-to-jail speeds in Australia, so if you're tempted to fact check my numbers then do it on a racetrack. Audi holds excellent track days – I've done them and you'll not only get to drive the R8 as fast as you can, the instructors will help you improve your advanced driving skills, too. Do it, it could save your life.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h is rapid – 3.7 seconds and 3.8 seconds for the V10 RWD Coupe and Spyder respectively, while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder can nail it in 3.2 seconds and 3.3 seconds.
The V10 engine has a cylinder-on-demand feature which can shut down five of the cylinders while cruising on a motorway, say at 110km/h. It's a fuel-saving system, but keep in mind this V10 loves petrol and lots of it – I've hidden that all the way down the bottom of this review.
Shifting gears in all R8s is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
That's like asking how many calories are in this pavlova that I'm about to push into my mouth? Seriously if you're asking then you shouldn't be eating it – or driving the R8.
But just for the record, according to Audi the RWD R8 uses 12.0L/100km in Coupe form and 12.2L/100km in Spyder guise after a combination of urban and open roads, while the AWD R8 of course will use more at 13.4L/100km for both Coupe and Spyder.
We had the rare opportunity of driving the 488 Spider on road and track with Ferrari Australasia handing us the keys for a rural run from Sydney to Bathurst, followed by some private bonding time on the roads around town, then a batch of unrestricted hot laps on the Mount Panorama circuit in the lead up to this year’s 12 Hour race (which the scuderia won in emphatic style with the 488 GT3).
On the freeway, cruising at 110km/h with roof open, the 488 Spider is civilised and comfortable. In fact, Ferrari claims normal conversation at speeds over 200km/h isn’t a problem. Top tip (no pun intended) is to keep the side glass and small electric rear window raised to minimise turbulence. With the roof up, the 488 Spider is every bit as quiet and refined at the fixed roof GTB.
Even with the multi-mode Manettino in its regular ‘Sport’ setting and the seven-speed ‘F1’ dual-clutch gearbox in auto, all it takes is a gentle crank of the right ankle to despatch pesky road users with the temerity to impede the 488’s progress.
On the quiet, open and twisting roads around the outskirts of Bathurst we may have flicked the switch to ‘Race’, slipped the gearbox into manual and given the 488 Spider a nudge. In some sweeping corners on Mount Panorama we might have even tested Einstein’s theory that matter bends the fabric of space and time. In short, we were able to get a good feel for the car’s dynamic abilities, and they are monumental.
Relative to the 458, power is up a lazy 17 per cent (492 v 418kW), and turbo-fed torque leaps a staggering 41 per cent (760 v 540Nm), while kerb weight is trimmed by 10kg (1525 v 1535kg).
The result is 0-100km/h in 3.0 seconds (-0.4sec), 0-400m in 10.5 (-0.9sec), and a maximum velocity of 325km/h (+5km/h).
If you must know, given fuel efficiency and emissions performance was the key driver behind Ferrari’s move to a turbo powerplant, all this is balanced by claimed 11.4L/100km combined economy (down from 11.8 for the 458).
A full blown launch in this car is like lighting the wick on an Atlas rocket, with a seemingly never-ending surge of thrust pinning your back to the seat, and each pull of the column-mounted carbon gear paddle delivering a seamless and near instantaneous shift. Ferrari claims the 488’seven-speed ‘box shifts up 30 per cent quicker, and down 40 per cent faster than the 458’s.
The lofty summit of the twin turbo’s torque mountain arrives at just 3000rpm, and once you’re up there it’s a table top rather than a peak, with more than 700Nm still on call at close to 7000rpm.
Maximum power arrives at 8000 (perilously close to the V8’s 8200rpm rev ceiling), and the delivery of all this brute force is impressively refined and linear. To improve throttle response, the compact turbos incorporate ball-bearing-mounted shafts (rather than the more common sleeve bearing type), while the compressor wheels are made from TiAl, a low-density titanium-aluminium alloy. As a result, turbo lag simply isn’t in the 488’s vocabulary.
And what about the sound? On its way to 9000rpm the 458 Italia atmo V8’s rising fortissimo howl is one of the world’s greatest mechanical symphonies.
Maranello’s exhaust engineers allegedly spent years fine-tuning the 488’s aural output, developing equal length tubes in the manifold to optimise harmonics before gas flow reaches the turbos, to get as close as possible to the high-pitch wail of a naturally aspirated Ferrari V8.
All we can say is the 488’s sound is amazing, immediately turning heads on contact... but it ain’t no 458.
Using the 488 Spider’s incredible dynamic ability to translate forward momentum into lateral g’s is one of life great pleasures.
Supporting the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension set-up is a host of high-tech widgets including the tricky E-Diff3, F1-Trac (stability control), High-Performance ABS with Ferrari Pre-Fill, FrS SCM-E (magnetorheological shock absorbers), and SSC (side-slip control).
Combine that with the active aero quietly turning the car into a four-wheel suction cup, plus ultra-high performance Pirelli P Zero rubber, and you have amazing grip (the front end especially, is incredible), perfect balance and stunning corner speed.
Our Mount Panorama blat confirmed the 488 Spider remains poised and throttle steerable through corners and curves at ludicrous speeds.
Chasing gears into the top of the ‘box up mountain straight made the lights on the upper rim of the steering wheel look like a fireworks display. The Spider transmitted its every move across the top of the circuit through the lightweight seat, and the very fast blast into The Chase at the bottom of Conrod Straight was other-worldly. Set the car up on entry, keep squeezing the throttle, grease in just a fraction of steering lock, and it just blazes through like a high-speed hovercraft, at 250km/h-plus.
More time back outside Bathurst confirms feel from the electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering is brilliant in the real world, although we did notice the column and wheel shaking in our hands over bumpy backroads.
The quick fix there is a flick of the ‘bumpy road’ button on the steering wheel. First seen on the 430 Scuderia (after then Ferrari F1 hero Michael Schumacher pushed for its development), the system de-links the shock absorbers from the Manettino setting, providing extra suspension compliance without sacrificing engine and transmission response. Brilliant.
Stopping power comes courtesy of a ‘Brembo Extreme Design’ system derived from the LaFerrari hypercar, which means standard carbon-ceramic rotors (398mm front, 360mm rear) clamped by massive calipers - six piston front, four piston rear (our car’s were black, for $2700, thank you). After multiple stops from warp speed to walking pace on the circuit they remained firm, progressive, and hugely effective.
A race circuit is the best place to test the performance of an Audi R8. I've been lucky enough to have done this in the past, but for this update of the R8 the Australian launch was held on public roads and included a convoy of RS models such as the RS 6 Avant, RS 7, RS Q3 and TT RS.
Even then I think I was 'stitched up' because I began the day in the R8 V10 Performance Coupe but spent almost the entirety of my allocated time in roadworks at 40km/h before swapping to an RS Q3.
So, while I can't honesty comment about the dynamics on this updated R8 V10 Performance Coupe I can tell you that having driven every iteration of the R8 since 2012 that it's a weapon, with helicopter-like visibility out of that large front window.
If, like me, you think turbos are 'cheating' (superchargers are fine), then you'll love the linear power delivery of the R8's naturally aspirated V10, and while I love front-engined sportscars, nothing beats a mid-engined car for the feeling of balance and lightness in the nose while having the sound of thousands of explosions going off just behind your back.
Having AWD is not just great for acceleration and perfect traction from Audi's quattro system, I think it's a good safety feature in a supercar, and while only your judgements can stop things going pear shaped, the system will be there to help on slippery roads.
The following day was different. I was in the R8 V10 RWD, the country roads were superb and while it wasn't a racetrack it was enough to get a hint of the capabilities of the RWD R8.
While the R8 V10 RWD feels the same to sit in with the same great view, it feels different to drive than its faster sibling, in a good way. First there's the noticeable power difference – more than 50kW and 20Nm less – but also the lack of AWD makes the front end feel more pointable, and the car feel more like a traditional sportscar that pushes from behind rather than pulling from the front. Less power, but more fun.
The RS cars in our test convoy were all awesome machines, but stepping out of even the RS6 Avant and slipping down into the R8 cockpit was like getting into a UFO – it's so far ahead dynamically of any other Audi that all I could do was laugh like an idiot. Corners which were making an RS 7 really struggle, were handled effortlessly by the R8. And in a straight line it's a bullet in a barrel.
The Performance has the better brakes: 380mm ceramic discs with six piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers at the rear. The RWD has steel discs – 365mm with eight piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers in the rear.
Keep in mind if you are planning on track days, you'll find the ceramic discs costly to replace, and beside the stopping power of the steel ones is excellent.
And yet, on pot holed course bitumen the ride is a lot more comfortable than you might think and having driven the Performance in traffic it's a much nicer place to sit than the claustrophobic cabin of a McLaren 570S. You could honestly use the R8 daily.
ANCAP has not tested the Audi R8 so there's no star rating available. What we can tell you is that the R8 has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB, no adaptive cruise control, no rear cross traffic alert, nor blind spot warning, nor lane keeping assistance. That's the reason why the score is so low here.
The R8 does have electronic stability control and ABS, and active roll over protection, plus six airbags, although the Spyder doesn't have curtain airbags.
The Ferrari 488 Spider is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, and purchase of any new Ferrari via the authorized Australian dealer network includes complimentary scheduled maintenance, through the ‘Ferrari Genuine Maintenance’ program for the first seven years of the vehicle’s life.
Recommended maintenance intervals are 20,000km or 12 months (the latter with no km restrictions).
Genuine Maintenance attaches to the individual vehicle, and extends to any subsequent owner within the seven years. It covers labour, original parts, engine oil and brake fluid.
The R8 is covered by Audi's three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km but unlike other Audi models there isn't a three-year or five-year plan available.