Ferrari 488 VS Mercedes-Benz C63
- Monstrous torque
- Incredible dynamics
- Quality (in every sense of the word)
- Breathtaking option prices
- Some shake on rough surfaces
- Atmo engine noise MIA
- Colossal power
- Improved ride
- Fun chassis
- Interior design a bit so-so
- No spare tyre
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
To slightly misquote Bob Dylan, how many parts must a manufacturer change before it becomes a true facelift? Well, in the case of the C63 S, Mercedes reckons the car's mid-life facelift contains 6500 new or revised parts. That's a lot of bits, but on even close examination, it just looks like a new grille on the W205's nose.
The C63 is a familiar fixture on our roads. AMG knows how to create an audio signature for its cars - my wife can recognise a C63's V8 dirty bark a mile off, and she's not quite as keen on cars as I am. It's the highest-selling AMG in the country, so Mercedes Australia won't want serious changes to upset their apple cart.
After counting at least 15 of the 6500 new bits, a refreshed interior and one of the great road car engines left well alone, we went on a road trip to the Bathurst 12 Hour to see what's what.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
This facelift must have been an unenviable task. The C63 is wildly popular, particularly in Australia and there wasn't much wrong with it before. The addition of the new driving modes offers yet more adjustability and the refreshed suspension has delivered a better ride.
Leaving the core of the car alone means it remains an exceptionally appealing sports sedan. You can easily live with it as your only family car because it can carry four moderately-sized people in comfort with the genuine ability to scare the crap out of them.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
Does the refreshed C63 grab your attention? Or does the similarly-priced GLC63 tick more boxes?
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 new C63 doesn't look all that much different apart from the front. The new Panamericana grille we've already seen on the GLC63 has trickled down from the AMG GT, the old C63's grille is now on the C43. The current C-Class is a fairly conservative design - as are all the German sedans in this segment - but the AMG additions help it stand out from the rest of the range providing a C200 buyer hasn't slapped on the AMG pack. Apart from the grille and diffuser, the C63 also has red brake calipers.
Inside is roughly the same. The interior is really from a time when Mercedes weren't really doing nice looking cabins. There's certainly nothing wrong with the quality, but the mixture of materials is a bit much. The open-pore wood is lovely, with a nice texture to it and it looks good, certainly nicer than over-polished slabs of tree from of old. The AMG front seats, with a massive amount of adjustment, are excellent and hugely comfortable.
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.
Front seat passengers enjoy a useful pair of cupholders and a good size central bin with two USB points inside it to join the one in the cubby under the climate controls. The glove box is large enough to fit the massive owners manual. Each door has a bottle holder, too, but you'll be lying them on their side.
In the back you've got very welcome air vents, easily room for two adults as long as the front seats aren't occupied by giants and a rear armrest with dual cupholders (for a total of four). The plastic shells on the back of the excellent front seats might be a bit hard on a taller person's knees, though. If your feeling squished, you can poke the driver's shoulders through the fake belt slots on the front seats.
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!’
You can choose from four C63 S variants - from the $160,900 sedan, $163,400 wagon, $165,900 coupe or the $184,000 cabriolet. The car I drove was the sedan, the top-seller of the range and it's worth nothing that despite me calling it the C63, it's the C63 S - we don't bother with the non-S in Australia.
Off the line, the C63 comes with 19-inch forged alloys from the AMG GT, a new stability and control electronics package, fully digital dash with telemetry pack, 13-speaker stereo system, auto LED headlights with active high beam control, active cruise control, auto wipers, head up display, Nappa leather, a naff IWC-branded analogue clock and a tyre repair kit.
The car I drove also had the air-ionizing and fragrance system that made the car smell like an Emirates A380 cabin.
A huge 10.25-inch media screen sits atop the console and features Mercedes' 'Comand' system, controlled by a rotary dial with that weird tongue with the touchpad arching over it. Comand is getting better over the years and is now quite usable, although Mercedes is resisting making the screen responsive to touch.
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.
Power from the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is unchanged at a colossal 375kW/700Nm. All of that still goes to the rear wheels only, but now sent there by a nine-speed auto. The 'MCT' (Multi-Clutch Transmission) is not, Mercedes hastens to add, a dual clutch.
The C63 is blindingly fast, cracking the ton in around four seconds. If we had the space and the law had a sense of humour about these things, top whack is a mildly incongruous 300km/h. It might even go faster if AMG didn't whack on a limiter.
The MCT is like a motorbike clutch where a number of clutch plates are in an oil bath and there's just a single input shaft rather than all the doubling-up of a twin-clutch transmission.
The C63 also has a electronic rear diff to ensure maximum fun if you've got a good tyre budget.
Mercedes' official figures weigh in at 10.7L/100km on the combined cycle, which is not bad for a 375kW V8, even in the lab.
The harsh reality is that when you give it the beans, you'll be up around the 14.0L/100km mark, which we saw with a fair amount of, shall we say, spirited driving. Having said that, one wonders if a less enthusiastic right foot might realistically hit 11.0L/100km or so.
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.
As you might imagine, the V8 engine dominates the C63. Spectacular power and torque figures and the AMG performance exhaust mean that even pottering around is a treat, with just a toe's weight required to get it moving and a lovely V8 burble following you around. In Comfort mode it's firm but perfectly comfortable, an improvement on the first go at the car.
From the driver's seat, one of the reasons I don't like that tongue on the Comand dial is that it obscures the rocker switch that controls the driving mode selection. Not a big deal, just annoying (and it's probably only a right-hand drive problem) but AMG has fixed it.
On the new steering wheel is a Ferrari Manettino-style twisty-wheel with a little screen in it. Turn the dial to the right and you cycle up from 'Comfort' through to 'Race'. On the other spoke is a pair of shortcut buttons so you can turn up the noise or turn it down without taking your hands off the wheel.
As ever, changing the mode changes the way the car behaves. There's a new slippery mode for wet or snowy surfaces and there is also a slip control feature for when you want to unstick the rear end and a new set of chassis modes - 'Basic', 'Advanced', 'Pro' and 'Master'. So, plenty to choose from, and you can mix and match in the configurable I mode.
The MCT transmission is awesome. It feels just like a well-sorted, sports-tuned automatic when you're tooling around but when you get on it, the shifts are lighting fast. The gears are weirdly long considering how many of them there are, but there's so much torque ninth gear is longer than Trump's ties. Highway speeds have the engine turning at 1200rpm.
If you're worried about this long build-up, let me put you out of your misery - the C63's wild-child reputation is undimmed. The new system settings merely give you more choice over how wild this car can be. 'Sport' and 'Sport +' are the choice modes out in the real world, with a bellowing exhaust but a set of loose-but-not-too-loose reins to keep you from flying off the road. The giant torque figure ensures plenty of, er, driver involvement as an injudicious right foot will mean a lively rear end. Move into 'Race' and you'll be busy.
The C63's philosophy of fun rather than the outright sharpness of its Audi RS and BMW M rivals is unashamed. If a C63 went to the track, it won't be the fastest through the corners, but you'll be having the most fun and working super-hard, in a good way.
Backing up all that power is a set of what Mercedes confusingly call composite brakes - what that means is that the inner ring is made of aluminium while the actual braking surface of the 390mm (front) discs is steel. Given their size, you can reasonably expect them to be rather effective and you would be correct. What's more they have plenty of feel and the bite is just right - not too grabby but you're never in any doubt that they're there and ready.
The cabin can get a little noisy over less-than-perfect surfaces. The tyre rumble will require a deployment of some loud music to cover the racket from the sticky Michelin Sport Cups.
The C63 has nine airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reverse cross traffic alert, slippery surface mode, driver attention detection, blind spot warning, brake assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, around-view camera and traffic sign recognition.
ANCAP last tested the C-Class in July 2014 and awarded it five stars, although the C63 was not included.
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.
Mercedes throws in a segment-standard (but industry-lagging) three-years/unlimited kilometre warranty. Somewhat generously, you get three years roadside assistance and remarkably sensible 12 months/20,000km service intervals.
Servicing remains the same as before, with the first service in the standard program at $656 and the latter two at $1352 each for a total of $3360 over three years. Not cheap but not horrific either.