Review: 2009 Ferrari Scuderia Spider 16M

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.

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