Ferrari 488 VS Lexus LC500
- Monstrous torque
- Incredible dynamics
- Quality (in every sense of the word)
- Breathtaking option prices
- Some shake on rough surfaces
- Atmo engine noise MIA
- Punchy engine
- Throaty exhaust
- Climate-controlled cabin
- Disconnect from the drive experience
- Lexus trackpad tech persists
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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Being a true Jack of all trades in the car world is rare.
Generally speaking, a vehicle is either capable or comfortable. Attractive or aerodynamic. Practical or performance orientated. And problems arise when cars try to do all those things well, all at the same time.
Which make the Lexus LC 500 Convertible such an interesting proposition. Because it is, without doubt, stylish, and lavishly equipped. It’s also rather large and rather heavy. All of which is perfect for cruising the Bondi foreshore.
But it’s also equipped with a thumping V8 engine and a throaty exhaust that sounds like bricks in a blender on the overrun. It’s stiffer than the LFA supercar, and plenty powerful, which should deliver one of Lexus’ sportiest-ever drives.
So can the LC 500 really do it all? Let’s find out.
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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.
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.
It’s eye-catching, the LC 500, if big, bolshy convertibles are your thing, and especially viewed front-on, where the aggressive nose design ends in a sharp crease in the mesh grille. I love the headlight design, too, which bleeds back into the body work, but also merges with the vertical light cluster that bookends the grille.
The side view is all shining alloys and sharp body creases, too, leading to an oversized boot that stores the fabric, aluminium and magnesium roof structure, which drops or raises in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h. The design fits into what Lexus calls an “impossibly small space behind the seats”.
Inside, it’s a snug but luxurious space, wrapped largely in leather and equipped with a wealth of technology. It’s a point we’ve made before, but why Lexus perseveres with its trackpad infotainment control technology is beyond us, but there’s no denying the cabin of the LC 500 is a wondrous place to spend time.
We particularly like the integration of the centre screen, which is recessed beneath the leather-wrapped edge of the dash. While some look like an afterthought, this appears to have been included in the broader design philosophy.
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.
It’s not, really. But then, what were you expecting?
As mentioned above, the interior feels snug for upfront riders, but not in a bad way. More that elements of the interior feel like they’re reaching out to greet you, leaving you with the impression of being tucked into the cabin.
Backseat riders are out of luck, though, with the seats really only reserved for emergencies. Legroom is tight, and while Lexus promises the roofline is about on-par with the Coupe, it’s not going to be a comfortable journey.
The LC 500 Convertible stretches 4770mm in length, 1920mm in width and 1350mm in height, and it rides on a 2870mm wheelbase. It will sit four at a pinch, and provide 149 litres of luggage space.
There are two ISOFIX attachment points in each of the rear seats, as well as top-tether points.
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!’
It costs $214,000 - and that’s rather a lot of money - but unlike some premium and luxury cars, with Lexus, once you’ve handed over the cash, that’s it. There’s no tempting option list to lure you into parting with even more of your hard earned.
And I mean that literally - Lexus proudly proclaims that “there is no option list” for the LC 500 Convertible, so suffice it to say it arrives with plenty of gear.
Take a deep breath…
You get 21-inch two tone alloys, triple-stack LED headlights, keyless entry, retractable door handles and rain-sensing wipers outside, while inside, you’ll find dual-zone climate, leather-accented seats which are heated and ventilated, neck-level heating for when the roof is down, a heated steering wheel and sports pedals.
The tech stuff is handled by a 10.3-inch centre screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and on-board navigation, both of which are controlled via Lexus’ impossible-to-kill touchpad. There’s a second, 8.0-inch screen for the driver, and the lot pairs with an impressive 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo.
There’s also a heap of safety stuff, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
If that’s not enough for you, you can spring for the Limited Edition, which is $234,000 for each of its 10 available examples. It arrives in a unique Structural Blue hue, with a white leather interior with blue highlights. It is designed to be the most blue of blues, too, with Lexus saying the paint colour was the result of a 15-year research project. Which sounds like a thrilling way to spend a decade and a half.
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.
It’s a lusty power plant, this one, and not something you immediately expect to find in a luxurious Lexus convertible.
The 5.0-litre V8 produces 351kW and 540Nm - 260kW of which arrives from 2000rpm - and it sounds like a God of Thunder as it’s doing it.
It pairs with a 10-speed automatic and sends all that grunt to the rear tyres, with Lexus’ Active Cornering Assist and a mechanical limited-slip differential helping you to not make a mess of things when tackling corners.
Remember when I said it was lusty V8? When has that ever been good news for fuel use?
Lexus reckons you’ll get 12.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but the temptation of all that grunt will pretty much ensure that never happens. Emissions are pegged at 290g/km of C02.
The LC 500 Convertible’s 82-litre fuel tank only accepts 98RON fuel.
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.
It’s a tough nut to immediately crack, the LC 500 Convertible.
It feels like it really wants to be a super-accomplished performance car, and on longer, more sweeping bends it is, with that thick flow of power ensuring you simply surf through corners before rocketing out the other side, the air filled with that growling exhaust note as your right foot finds its way to the carpet.
But on the tighter stuff, there are some factors that play against it. The suspension feels sorted and that engine is always willing to deliver, but for mine, the steering and brakes felt a little disconnected from the experience, not inspiring much in the way of late-braking confidence. And then there’s the sheer two-tonne-plus weight of the thing, which can’t be totally hidden, even by Lexus’ best wizardry.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very capable, even on surprisingly tight stuff. It’s just that there’s something of a disconnect between car and driver.
That’s not a bad thing, really. Are you really buying a premium convertible to attack a mountain pass? Probably not. And keep it flowing through corners and the LC 500 Convertible will keep a smile painted on your face, owing mostly to wave of torque you can ride to your destination.
Hovering your foot over the accelerator must surely be what the President feels like whenever he stands near the nuclear football, with that big V8 always ready to turn on the fireworks.
Away from the red mist, you’ll find the LC 500 Convertible positively flows from destination to destination, the 10-speed gearbox - which can feel flustered at pace - seamlessly flicking through its options, and the ride in its most comfortable settings disposing of most road imperfections before they enter the cabin.
The cabin is also very cleverly insulated, not just when the four-part roof is up, but also when it’s down, with the climate and ambience of the interior largely unaffected by what’s going on in the outside world.
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible arrives with six airbags, a reversing camera with guide lines, parking sensors, and the usual suite of traction and braking aids, but there’s much more to the safety story, too.
The more high-tech stuff includes parking sensors, pre-collision assist with AEB, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and active cruise, as well as bespoke convertible safety gear, like active roll bars that deploy when the car is in danger of rolling over, protecting the occupants beneath that soft roof.
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.
Lexus vehicles are covered by a four-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty, and the LC 500 Convertible requires servicing every 15,000kms.
Lexus's Encore ownership program includes pick-up and drop-off servicing, but the new Encore Platinum level for owners of its more exclusive models unlocks even more stuff.
One is a new On Demand service, which allows owners to book a different style of car when heading off on a holiday or business trip. The loans are available in your state or somewhere else in Australia if you're travelling, with your car waiting for you at Qantas Valet for you when you arrive.
The On Demand service is available on four occasions over your first three years of ownership (which is also the length of the Encore Platinum membership).