2012 Ferrari 458 Spider Review
Ferrari's first mid-engine sports car with a retractable hardtop is sublime.
- Fabulous engine, performance, sound
- Brilliant retractable top
- Civilized ride and demeanor
- Large turning diameter
- Throttle jerky on highway
- Some controls confusing at first
Ferrari more than upheld its reputation and standing in the realm of exotic sports cars with the 458 Italia, launched as a 2010 model. The sleek, Pininfarina-designed coupe has since won numerous awards worldwide and bested its most highly touted rivals in multiple challenges. The mythical Italian automaker is now poised to repeat this feat with an all-new 458 Spider that offers the additional attraction of open-air driving.
Built on a carefully tweaked version of the 458 Italia's chassis and using the same powertrain, the new Spider is the first mid-engine sports car with a retractable hard top, a stylish lid made of aluminum, the same material as its body and structure. This remarkably simple and clever design, notably lighter and more compact than the previous Ferrari F430 model's soft-top, helps the 458 Spider deliver performance and handling nearly identical to its fixed-roof sibling. It is Ferrari's latest wonder and arguably the best convertible sports car on the road today. And here's why.
The 458 Spider is available as a single model in 16 standard colors, including 10 colors inspired by classic Ferraris from the 1950s and 1960s, plus special triple-layer paints. Specific options are available. Among these, the High Efficiency Low Emissions system combines a stop-start system with precise control of the engine cooling fans, the fuel pumps and air-conditioning compressor, along with special shift patterns for the standard 7-speed, dual-automated clutch gearbox to reduce fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions. Projected cost: $1,574, same as for the 458 Italia. Other options include run-flat tires with a pressure-monitoring system, advanced front-lighting headlights, front suspension lifters and a premium JBL audio system.
The Spider comes standard with carbon-ceramic brakes and the BWI Delphi-designed magnetically variable damping shock absorbers that work wonders for its ride and handling. It can be ordered with manually adjusted carbon-fiber shell racing seats or with power adjustments for the standard seats. You can get a set of suitcases, leather luggage, or a golf bag that fits behind the seats, all made-to-measure by Schedoni in Modena, Italy.
The 458 Spider's retractable hardtop weighs 165 pounds total, while the Ferrari 430 Spider's soft-top tipped the scales at 220 pounds. Its two aluminum panels need only 3.5 cubic feet of storage volume to disappear behind the cabin, one-half to one-third of the space required by similar designs. The top retracts in only 14 seconds at the touch of a single switch on the carbon-fiber center console; the car needs to be still, though. The power rear window then rolls up partially, less than three inches, which is said to provide the best protection against buffeting and turbulence with the top down, according to Ferrari. It really does, but you can still raise it a few more inches or leave it fully open.
Under the Rear Deck
The 458 Spider is powered by the same direct-injection, all-aluminum 4.5-liter V8 engine as the 458 Italia. Output is identical, too: 570 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, in spite of relocating the intake tracts rearward to accommodate the retracted top. This also prevents the use of a clear engine cover like the 458 Italia's, but the Spider's wind-sculpted rear section looks great anyway.
The exhaust system and resonators are also redesigned and fine-tuned to deliver the best open-air soundtrack from the V8. The dual-clutch gearbox is unchanged.
As you'd expect, a whiff of rich leather welcomes you when you slip into the 458 Spider. Our test vehicle was also adorned with optional carbon-fiber trim pieces throughout the cabin, in thoroughly modern, uncluttered shapes. Alcantara trim and special stitching are available as well. The exceptionally compact and tidy retractable top let Ferrari designers maximize interior space. The Spider's cabin has space for even tall drivers or passengers, up to 6 feet 4 inches, Ferrari says. Only 0.08 inch of headroom was sacrificed to the flip-top.
The driving position is fine, with a solid footrest and a superb flat-bottom steering wheel, fully adjustable, that also mixes carbon fiber and leather. The wheel hub houses switches for the turn signals, wipers, high beams and damper settings, plus a big, red starter button. Some of these definitely are unconventional and need getting used to. The main attraction is the manettino (Italian for "little hand"), a red rotary knob that lets the driver choose between five driving modes according to the conditions and desired levels of performance or driving-aid intervention. Big carbon-fiber shift paddles are mounted on the steering column, behind the wheel.
There are impeccably clear and legible screens on either side of a large, bright yellow, center-mounted tachometer. The screens are configurable and navigation data is effectively displayed on the right side. The digital speed readout to the left should be considerably larger to properly support the analog speedometer, or supersede it entirely.
Visibility is great to the front and sides, with big, clear side mirrors. You get a decent view straight to the rear but the quasi-triangular buttresses block the three-quarter rear angle almost entirely. The optional rear-view camera definitely helps in reverse maneuvers. Front and rear parking sensors are available. As for cargo, the trunk under the hood in front is decent, large enough for a few soft bags or that custom luggage. There is no glove box in the cabin, though.
On the Road
The 458 Spider first impresses with a ride that is surprisingly supple and controlled for a 570-horsepower sports car. The damping rates of its magnetically variable shocks have been modified slightly to better suit its character and mission. Spring rates are identical to the coupe's. It takes a substantial crack or sharp bump taken at speed to generate the slight quiver or shake to betray that the Spider's structure is about 30 percent less rigid than the fixed-roof 458 Italia, in spite of its reinforced sills and structural buttresses. It remains unfailingly solid otherwise.
The 458 Spider's steering ratio is an extremely quick 11.6-to-1. The wheel only goes two turns from stop to stop. Mid-engine cars typically get a 16- to 18-to-1 ratio, but the 458 Italia and Spider work well with the quick ratio, thanks to the stability afforded by their multilink rear suspensions, according to Ferrari engineer Matteo Lanzavecchia. You soon adapt to the exceptionally quick turn-in and virtually never need to cross hands on a twisty road, however tight the turn. The Spider's willingness to change directions is such that we needed to dial-in steering lock carefully in high-speed turns on the autostrada.
Just as impressive is this new Ferrari's ability to change character at the mere twist of a knob. In normal driving, the feisty V8 engine was content to purr along as the dual-clutch gearbox swapped gears smoothly at low revs. The Wet position on the manettino has all systems on their normal settings, including Bosch traction control instead of the Ferrari-designed F1-Trac. Back on the open road, the Sport mode turns all systems up a notch, except for the anti-lock braking system, but keeps the quieter exhaust by-pass setting.
Give the manettino another twist clockwise into Race mode and the Spider gets considerably tighter, louder and more responsive — and exciting too, like the thoroughbred it is. Race mode was more than enough and a bit too intense for even our enthusiastic driving pace on the narrow Italian roads crossing the Apennine mountain range near Ferrari's home in Maranello, Italy. The last two modes: CT-off and CST-off should typically be used on a track.
But since the 458's electronic systems are so adept at seamlessly controlling all excessive wheelspin, even in Race mode, we turned it off over a few tight hairpins. Our reward: easily controlled powerslides, with the electronic differential and traction control shut off, but with the stability control in Race mode watching our back. Further convinced of the Spider's brilliant handling, we contentedly dialed it back to Sport.
Braking is never an issue with the 458's huge carbon-ceramic discs. Although we did hear some squeal at times and the pedal felt a touch soft after a hard run over a narrow, twisty section of road; nothing to worry about — feel and modulation were impeccable throughout.
Right for You?
There is no reason in this world other than a lack of funds not to lust after a Ferrari 458 Spider. This most ingenious convertible iteration of the world's best sports car is devilishly quick and amazingly agile, with a ravishing wail. The next second it just glides along smoothly and quietly with only the faintest trace of thoroughbred nerve showing through its throttle response.
The Ferrari 458 Spider should cost around $257,000, about a $30,000 premium over the 458 coupe. Insert your favorite lottery jackpot or surprise inheritance quip here. And best of luck.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Ferrari provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.
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It dont perform like one tho. You certainly have a right to your opinion, but it's surprising and one wonders what you would think is beautiful. Remember, it was engineering over aesthetiics and I think it looks the opposite. Stunning. Anyway, slightly off-topic- is that Ferraris are soooo special and serious, but Lambos, especially the Gallardos, make people smile. I'm sure the owners are different also.
There is NO part of that car that doesn't turn me on!
Excuse me while I go find someone's leg to borrow :)
First look, really? This car has been around for months, but apparently this reporter doesn't know that. It may suit the refined tates of the folks who posted here, but it sure performs and I'de love to have one in my garage.
Catches fire Steve? Do you know anything about italian cars at all?