Ferrari 488 VS Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Monstrous torque
- Incredible dynamics
- Quality (in every sense of the word)
- Breathtaking option prices
- Some shake on rough surfaces
- Atmo engine noise MIA
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
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|
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
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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.
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? 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.
The S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
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.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
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!’
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
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.
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
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.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
The S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
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 offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.