Ferrari 488 VS Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
- Monstrous torque
- Incredible dynamics
- Quality (in every sense of the word)
- Breathtaking option prices
- Some shake on rough surfaces
- Atmo engine noise MIA
- Amazing ride
- Brilliant engine
- Unparalleled presence
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|
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Well. They don't make cars like this anymore, do they? Time was, a big coupe or convertible were de rigeur for the well-heeled banker, with 12 cylinders almost a given and fuel consumption measured in super tankers, or more likely just not talked about at all.
The world has changed but Mercedes’ SL hasn't. That's not strictly true, of course. The SL63 may drop four of the SL65's 12 cylinders, but at just half a litre smaller and still with twin-turbos it generates the enormous thrust a luxo-barge like this needs. The things that made it an icon are indeed still there - lots of tech, a style all its own and a name everyone recognises.
|Engine Type||5.5L 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.
The SL's overall score is somewhat skewed by everyday concerns, and rules are rules - an average punter will find the price of this car somewhat confusing and the devil-may-care attitude to fuel consumption bewildering.
If neither of these things are a problem, then the SL63 makes plenty of - well, not sense, because it's not a particularly clever or considered car - but it fills a niche that not so long ago we all thought would go the way of the dodo.
The fact it sells so few examples is betrayed by some of the cabin amenities and the fact that Mercedes hasn't put much effort into reducing the car's weight to improve its consumption or sharpen up the handling.
The fact it still exists at all is pretty damn cool, though, and for certain people an SL63 purchase is the culmination of a lot of hard work.
If it is your dream car, the SL63 won't disappoint. Everyone who rode with me said it was mightily impressive, but you've got to really want it. When you're not far off buying a Ferrari California T or Aston Martin V12 Vantage S for the money, you'll need a real yearning for the three-pointed star to go this way. And if you do, good luck to you - you've probably worked quite hard to get here.
Would you consider the SL63 over a Ferrari or Aston-Martin? 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 SL has always been completely unapologetic about its size and seems to be designed to accentuate rather than hide its length and width. The long bonnet screams power and prestige, and get out of my way, and is reminiscent of the little-loved McLaren SLR project of some years ago.
The size of the Mercedes logo on the huge front grille leaves you in little doubt about the brand of car that’s about to pass you at speed and some might say (okay, I would) that its large surface area is a little vulgar.
Like the SLR, the design doesn't seem to have a particularly cohesive strategy, with a number of Mercedes elements from around the traps that climb over each other. Roof up it looks awkward because of the gigantic posterior while with the roof down it looks overly long and, again, tail-heavy.
Folding hardtops are notoriously cumbersome and need a lot of room to hide them, but the silent operation is something to behold.
Elements that are worth deleting if possible are the dodgy 'Biturbo' badges. It's that kind of bling that gets people raising their little finger at you.
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.
“Practicality” is about as relevant to this car as a code of ethics is to a drug dealer or a contract killer, because the SL63 buyer is hardly worried about cupholders and boot space. For what it's worth, there are four cupholders in the two-seater cabin (which might explain why owners aren't worried about their liquid carrying prospects) and a minimum boot space of 364 litres and a maximum - with roof up - of 504, which is actually not bad.
Cleverly, there's a little robot-operated luggage cover inside the deep boot that stops your gear from being crushed when the roof goes down.
There's also space in the long doors where you might secrete a bottle of wine that would get a NSW Premier fired if he thanks you for it, and a bin in the console to hide your phone.
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’s difficult to ponder the idea of value when a car is already approaching $400,000 at a rapid rate even before you start piling on the options. On the plus side, for a list price of $368,715 you do get an extremely long list of standard equipment.
Edited highlights include leather on almost every available surface, heated and cooled electric seats with a fan heater for your neck, a B&O stereo that will shatter the windscreen on request, aluminium trim that's real aluminium (mostly), Active Ride suspension, sat nav, dual-zone climate control, active cruise, LED headlights and a huge swag of safety gear.
The 12-speaker stereo also has DVD, limited smartphone integration via Mercedes' COMAND system, a seven-inch screen and, of course, Bluetooth.
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.
The SL63 is powered by Mercedes’ increasingly famous V8, with two turbos along for the ride to add oomph and cut the car's famous consumption, at least slightly. The 5.5-litre unit produces a massive 430kW and a scarcely believable 900Nm of torque.
All of that heads rearward via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that helps sling the 4.6m, 1848kg machine to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds.
Much as is the case with the price, there's no real way to soften the blow here - the SL63 drinks like a footballer on Mad Monday, except it does it every day. The official combined cycle figure of 10.2L/100km is quite easy to double, as we did, averaging 21L/100km in mostly flowing suburban traffic. In the car’s defence, the accelerator pedal spent a good deal of time near the firewall.
The SL does have stop-start to help reduce its considerable environmental impact.
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.
There are a number of impressive things about the way the SL drives. Firstly, astronauts will be familiar with the galactic thrust of the V8. It seems endless, seamless and ready to sling the big coupe into the outer atmosphere. Few engines of any kind can match the relentless go on offer in the SL and much of the credit should go to the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
Containing a torque figure like the twin-turbo V8's requires a lot of electro-trickery to stop you from being launched off the road. The great thing about all that stuff is that it works unobtrusively and smoothly.
Mashing the carpet in an SL without traction control would create much sound and smoke but little forward progress, such is the twist on tap. The SL has a range of modes from full-nanny (which is meant to keep you on the slippery Alpine road you've chosen to get you to some Swiss ski resort) while turning the dial all the way around to Race loosens the bonds.
It's in this mode you'll have the most fun and it does seem that the intermediate settings are a bit of a waste of time. Race mode does little to diminish the amazing ride quality provided by the active suspension setup, but relaxes the reins on the huge rear tyres. Exiting roundabouts is suddenly a huge laugh, with the tail cheerfully breaking traction and the two-mode exhaust thundering in a most pleasant way.
Better still is that when you jump on the brakes and shift down, the exhaust keeps the show going with angry crackles and pops, with more on the way when you lift off. There's little to match the aural pleasures of a properly tuned V8 and Mercedes has resisted the temptation to quieten it down on the outside and generate a fake noise for the inside. Although that would be stupid in a convertible, if you think about it.
The SL63, despite its AMG badge, isn't about all-out handling, of course. The Ferrari California would definitely show it how it’s done on a winding country road. The SL is more about flow, building momentum and rarely shifting down to second gear. The monstrous torque is enough to keep things rolling but should you wish for a bit more of the exhaust bellow, second is there for the taking.
Hustling the big convertible feels wrong, not because it can't do it, but because it's not really what it's for. Having said that, it offers a kind of fun that nothing else on Earth will provide, not even a Bentley GTC.
With the roof up, the SL63 is a quiet place but not remarkably so. The huge sticky tyres do the cabin's hush no favours, with an annoying roar on a wider range of surfaces than you might expect.
Roof down, it's hardly a paragon of virtue. A lot of wind noise reaches the cabin, even well below the huge speeds the SL can reach. So if you want to talk, it's windows up you'll need to deploy the mesh screen that bridges the roll hoops.
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.