In Focus

Car review: 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider

by Brian Melton

Ferrari's newest 488 Spider stands out from the crowd as an iconic original.

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What does Italy have oodles of that everybody else wants? Three words that all start with “F” — fashion, food and Ferrari. Oh, yeah, Ferrari.

From the moment in 1947 when fabled Enzo stuffed a V12 engine into a light, tubular chassis, roared around a track and pronounced it good, his name has been synonymous with power, speed, style, racing and wealth. Especially wealth, because for all the things a Ferrari is, it’s definitely not cheap.

That goes for this newest bad boy from Maranello, Italy. The Spider is the drop-top version of the new 488 GTB (Gran Turismo Berlinetta), which replaces the outgoing (and much heralded) 458, and starts at $275,000 (not including options). Other than weighing about 110 pounds more than the coupe, the specs are pretty much the same: twin-turbo, 3.9-liter V8 cranking out 661 horsepower and 560 foot-pounds of torque; seven-speed dual clutch sequential transmission and 0-60 in 2.9 seconds.

Wait, did he say “turbo”? Yep. The 458’s lovely, naturally aspirated V8 has yielded, like so many other engines from so many other manufacturers, to the realities of having to do more with less. But only diehard purists (track junkies) will complain about 661 horsepower at 8000 rpm vs. 597 at 9000 rpm from the outgoing 458. Turbo lag? That’s so ’80s, dude.

More important, there’s no sacrificing structural rigidity, as in the days of yore when Spider versions were noticeably twistier than their hard-top siblings. By the way, Spider (or Spyder in other manufacturers’ nomenclature) just means “convertible.” Something to do with the name given to soft-top horse-drawn carriage wagons, or at least that’s what 20 seconds on Google said, and that’s gotta be right, right? But we digress ...

In every way that matters, the 488 Spider is the 488 GTB, just with a smarter roof that folds into two parts and tucks itself away neatly in 14 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph. Worried about mussing your moussed mane? There’s an electric glass window that acts as a wind deflector. Does it work? Not at the Spider’s top speed of 203 mph — you’d be lucky to have any hair left. But at normal speeds, yeah, it works fine.

Besides, having no roof separating you from hearing that glorious Ferrari V8’s crackling wail behind you is half the fun of having the top down. Next time you happen to spot a Ferrari of any kind, lower your windows, turn off your radio, get off the phone and listen: You’ll be rewarded with that raspy, snarly, gurgling snort that rises in intensity with lively acceleration and sounds gloriously, uniquely, unmistakably Ferrari.

There’s that look, too: not even aliens from another galaxy could confuse a Ferrari with a Toyota. There’s the body: bellissima. There’s the interior: significantly more luxurious than in days of old, indulgently so, but still centered around a steering wheel with switches beholding to a racing heritage and a bright yellow tach that’s all business.

And, of course, there’s the driving experience that, in the new 488 Spider, can be as tame as a city boulevardier or as savage as a beastly feline pouncing on hapless prey, or anywhere in between.

How can that be? Dialing up whatever version of the 488 you want is as simple as flicking the Manettino (Italian for “little lever”) switch on the steering wheel and choosing Sport, Wet or Race settings that adjust handling, shifting and other dynamics for your optimal experience.

The 488 is incredibly responsive, leaping forward with stomach-churning zest yet feeling firm, with roller-coaster rail handling. And the Brembo ceramic brakes bring all that go to a whoa quickly.

Make no mistake: The 488 Spider allows you to think that you’re in control, but all the advanced electronics can so outdrive you it’s ridiculous and probably life-saving. It’s got about 50 percent more horsepower than the iconic and totally scary F40, which people still yammer about with awe. How’s that for putting things in perspective?

So say hallelujah that even if you can’t afford one, you might, one day, get a chance to pop behind the wheel of your rich pal’s 488 and experience Ferrari greatness.

In a world where everything’s been smooshed together into a bland gray gravy of nonthreatening acceptability, a Ferrari stands out as a bright red dab of gleeful, in-your-face joy. If you’re a lucky soul with enough dough to afford one, do so. And remember, it’s only fair to share.


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