Touchdown at Milan Malpensa International Airport and I already had goose bumps. After all, it’s not every day that you get the chance to drive the latest model from the Maranello-based sports car specialist Ferrari. Some cars are special, others are exciting. But few are both and when it comes to Ferrari, one assumes any car with that badge will indeed be special and exciting.
The Ferrari 458 Spider just made its global debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, and this is the first time that the car was available for actual on-road testing. The great news was that I had the car to myself all day, and I had the chance to drive it on smooth and straight highway stretches, as well as twisting, winding mountain roads.
For some years now, Ferrari has consistently offered a distinct portfolio of vehicles—which comprise two 12-cylinder and two 8-cylinder models. Of course, these model lines have several spin-offs and variants. One of the most successful Ferrari models ever has been the F430, which was sold between 2004 and 2009. It was replaced in July 2009 by a car that has gone on to become a bigger success—the 458 Italia. This is Ferrari’s most exciting performance-oriented 8-cylinder car yet, but it is a coupe. Following tradition, the convertible version—the 458 Spider—is now on offer. But what is different from previous Spider variants from Ferrari is that it’s the first mid-engined 8-cylinder car with a retractable hard-top.
The car I drove was a hot yellow, which turned out to be more of an attention grabber than the clichéd Ferrari red. The paintwork has been done very well—in three layers—and being a metallic yellow, the colour has different hues which show off the shape of the car better than in red too. In case you are wondering, it’s called “Giallo Tristrato”, which literally translates to three-layer yellow!
The car’s looks scream performance even when standing still, and are very much in line with the styling seen in the 458 Italia. The car has the same aggressive stance and the distinct face which is accentuated by the daytime-running LED lights. But what is heartening is that Ferrari has not simply knocked off the roof, but worked in distinct styling characteristics to give the Spider its own identity. The biggest difference is that unlike the coupe, where the massive mid-engine is visible through the glass visor at the back, in the Spider it gets hidden because the collapsing roof is housed above it. The roof system has been developed in partnership with Webasto, a German company that specializes in sunroof/roof systems. It is unique in how it folds back 180 degrees, unlike most other folding roofs, which makes it quicker. The whole operation takes just 14 seconds, which is really remarkable. Of course, you have to bring the car to a complete halt and keep your foot on the brake to carry out the function.
Head-turner: The Ferrari 458 Spider in metallic yellow.
Inside, you get leather, carbon fibre and brushed aluminium galore. The seats and steering in my car were all black leather, with the stitching done in yellow to complement the car’s exterior. The Formula One-style steering itself is the focus of all things the driver needs—this has been a standard feature in Ferraris since the F430. So it’s all right there, whether it’s the lights and turn indicators or the famed Manettino switch. The Manettino allows you to switch drive modes to make the car’s performance more extreme. It has five settings: “Wet”, as the name suggests, for wet and slippery conditions; “Sport” is the regular mode, believe it or not; “Race” is for the track; and then you have CST and ESC off, which let you turn off some of the on-board electronics that control the vehicle’s stability, traction and grip. This is strictly for a controlled environment though and not for everybody.
I did test the car in both Sport and Race modes. What also changes besides the car’s acceleration and suspension settings is the speed at which the gearshift responds. The car has Ferrari’s trademark E-Diff system which uses dual-clutch packs, each driving one of the rear axles. This allows for faster and more efficient gear shifts too—and like the Manettino dials is a direct lift from Ferrari’s Formula One cars.
The car has near-flawless performance. It’s fast—very fast—smooth, and handling even at speeds in excess of 250 kmph was extremely spot on. The car sits low, and yet not too low. So you get the right sporty feel of sitting close to the tarmac, and yet it’s not sunken. The acceleration is electric, and the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are indeed fun and extremely responsive.
Having the wind in my hair, the massive rush of adrenalin and the breakneck speeds, I’d have expected some fatigue to set in. But despite packing in several hundred kilometres, I came out as fresh as ever. In fact, I almost didn’t want to hand the keys back; I felt like driving some more. Ferrari expects its high net-worth buyers to use the 458 Spider more often than those who buy the coupe version. So they want people to drive it to work every day, and of course, have fun with it on the weekends. That explains the comfort and ease one finds in the 458 Spider. There is already a rush of demand for this car and so like all Ferraris, expect this one to have a long waiting period too. And yes that is despite its over €260,000 (Rs 1.75 crore) price tag in Italy. Ferrari is already taking orders from India. But with the prevalent import duty structure, the India price starts at Rs 2.91 crore.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org