Ferrari hits top gear with 458 Spider
There are some cars – Ferraris in particular – that exhibit classic styling from the moment they are created. Think the iconic Ferrari 365 or the incredibly beautiful Ferrari Dino. While the more recent 430 or the earlier 360 could hardly aspire to that level, the latest Pininfarina, the 458 Italia, is truly stunning. And in Spider, or open-top configuration, it looks even better.
The 458 Spider uses a magnificent 4.5 litre V8 engine that Ferrari has created, mated to a dual-clutch, paddle shift, 7-speed gearbox. Changing gear is almost instantaneous, thanks to the dual-clutch arrangement which ensures no interruption of power.
There are three basic drive settings: normal, sport and track. Sport stiffens the suspension, imperceptibly speeds up gear shifts and – rather similar to its competitor, the McLaren MP4-12C – increases the acoustic awareness within the cockpit.
The 458 is wonderful to drive, easy to place, excellent visibility, tractable at low speeds, exciting at higher velocities: what more could you want? Its interior is both sporting and luxurious. Plenty of carbon fibre and leather emphasises the fact that these cars are for the very few. The hand-stitched leather dashboard leads directly to the carbon fibre-framed instrument binnacle, which is dominated by a massive tachometer, red-lined at 8,500 rpm. The leather-rimmed steering
wheel features the engine start button and the mode-selector switch as well as the shift paddles, and the Prancing Horse motif of Ferrari.
The manettino has five settings: low grip, sport, race and two more extreme settings that basically switch off all electronic aids, such as stability control, traction control and ABS. Only highly experienced drivers are recommended to use these latter settings and in normal road driving, sport mode is adequate. An additional feature allows the driver to deactivate the electronic damper control to select softer settings for uneven surfaces.
The beautifully trimmed leather seats hold their occupants firmly in place under hard cornering yet are comfortable in normal driving.
The 458 Spider is unique in that it is a mid-rear-engined machine yet features a retractable aluminium roof, the key to the styling of its exterior, says Ferrari. But what is it like on the road?
Traffic, as ever, is the major problem when driving a high-powered supercar, but the 458 performs well, exhibiting no intractability or engine malfunctions. The engine produces a strong 425kW at 9,000rpm, with a broad torque curve peaking at 540Nm at 6,000rpm. Good enough for a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 3.4 seconds and a maximum speed in excess of 325km/h.
This Ferrari, the 458 Spider, is probably the best to come out of Maranello. Advanced electronics combined with the heart of Italian supercar culture. Virtually no downside – except perhaps the price: it starts at HK$3.9 million, before any options or personalisation are considered.