Your retinas may be reeling from the visual assault of the blinding yellow Ferrari Scuderia Spider 16M, but that optical barrage doesn’t pack half the wallop this Italian inflicts on your cochlea. There is nothing graceful, respectful, or restrained about the Ferrari’s exhaust note. In response to any quick stab of the aluminum accelerator pedal, the engine-control computer tells valves in the exhaust to bypass the mufflers. I call those baffles valvole di vaffanculo, because to open them is to raise an acoustic middle finger to anyone within earshot. (Valvole in Italian means valve. Vaffanculo, if you have never watched The Sopranos, is Italy’s favorite NC-17 way of telling you to go fly a kite.) Luckily, the 503 rambunctious horses under the glass cover provide sufficient thrust to make the car disappear in an invisible cloud of hydrocarbons before anyone has the chance to flip the bird back at you.
Only 499 of these screaming, $313,350 superstars will be built, with about 150 coming to North America. To make a 16M, the F430 Spider gets a weight-saving plan similar to the one that turned the F430 coupe into the 430 Scuderia. The 16M name is a celebration of Ferrari’s sixteen grand prix titles. You know, just in case you and the now-deaf peasants around you needed a reminder that Ferrari is at the top of the sports car food chain.
In losing its fixed roof, the mid-engine two-seater gains 193 pounds and loses about a third of its torsional rigidity. The coupe, however, is such a robust stepping-off point that Ferrari insists you won’t notice the loss. And you hardly do, save for a wince-inducing shudder that reverberates through the chassis any time the F1 automated manual transmission bangs off one of its brutal – but breathtaking – full-throttle upshifts.
On back roads, the 16M is a ferocious missile with beautifully weighted and pinpoint-accurate steering. The light front end responds instantly to your every command, and the rear-biased weight distribution helps put all the power to the ground. But wheel spin and tail-out antics are to be avoided in this Ferrari. Its creators have infused just enough understeer at the limit to help keep the 16M facing forward, but should you add too much power in a corner, the stability control intervenes smoothly. It’s so good that, frankly, there’s no conceivable reason to switch off the car’s stability control on a public road.
As you might expect, the 16M’s driving dynamics are virtually without fault. The engine is as happy loping along at 1500 rpm – where the flat-crank V-8’s bizarre engine note sounds almost mopedlike – as it is belting out 8500 rpm. The adaptive dampers provide a supple ride with excellent body control, and the brakes are simply amazing. The interior appointments are less luxurious than in the standard F430, but no material anywhere on this car is left wanting for quality.
There’s even a big surprise – the stereo. Thinking it would have no chance competing against the engine’s opera, the tire roar, and the wind whoosh, we turned up the volume and prepared to hear barely a whisper. Instead, we had front-row access to a live concert courtesy of JBL-branded speakers dancing to the tune of tight bass, crisp treble, and a surprisingly well-defined and well-positioned sound stage.
Of course, when we asked for more information on the sound system, we were handed technical specifications on that magnificent 4.3-liter V-8. Point taken.
Want an FM radio? You have to pay extra–the 16M comes standard with only a sixteen-gigabyte iPod Touch that fits neatly into the dash. A volume-control rocker switch is mounted near the shifter. You select your music via the iPod’s touch screen, provided you can see the teensy display from the driver’s seat.