BOLOGNA, Italy — Purist or perfectionist, which is the more agreeable match for your mind-set? Purism seems the flavor of the month. Who wouldn’t want life to be authentic, emotional? In car-speak, that means a manual transmission, no electronic aids, and unfiltered high-revving engines. Ferrari’s slow rise from second-rate race car maker to stock-exchange heavyweight has been propelled by this minimalistic no-frills philosophy for about two-thirds of its history. It wasn’t until the addition of an F1-style transmission for the F355 in the late ’90s that a shy bird called progress started nesting in Maranello.
Since then, high technology has been an ever-bigger part of the marque’s DNA. As examples, consider the aluminum spaceframe of the 360 Modena, the all-wheel drive of the FF touring car, hybrid-boost in the LaFerrari, and now state-of-the-art turbo power in the Ferrari 488. When the Prancing Horse was still a colt, drivers typically had a sound grasp of their car. Now that the snorting black horse has reached full maturity, however, the new world order favors machine over man. So without further ado, let’s hit the road and compile our personal set of likes and dislikes about the new 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider.
The most direct route from Forli in the middle of Italy to Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast wends its way through a spectacular no man’s land of roads that zigzag across Ektachrome-tinted mountains over lush, voluptuous hills and through narrow, barren valleys. The quality of the road surface ranges from outrageous to downright dangerous, so the first thing you do after starting the engine of the 488 Spider is set the dampers to soft. In this neck of the woods, traffic density and driver discipline probably haven’t changed much since the Mussolini era. When you do encounter an oncoming vehicle, it likely is a wayward school bus, a Fiat Panda piloted by an escapee from the home of the blind, or a white Ducato van on steroids hugging the racing line.
For the first 20 minutes after our departure from the hotel, the aroma of this 2016 Ferrari’s leather upholstery and factory-fresh carpets blends with the scent of freshly harvested fennel, roadside vineyards heavy with late red grapes, and wet fallen leaves. For the 150 miles that follow, other smells assault us from tortured Pirelli tires, acrid brake dust, hot Shell lubricants, pungent Supercortemaggiore gasoline, and the perspiration of a dedicated man at the wheel.
The driving experience in the Ferrari 488 Spider’s doesn’t differ fundamentally from what we have on file for the 488 coupe, but this perception changes the instant you lower the roof to create an environment of big sky, immediacy, and freedom. All of a sudden the noise volume is up, the temperature drops, and the work at the controls becomes harder. Nature is omnipresent when a gust of wind reaches out for our hat at well under 100 mph. The 488 Spider’s twin-turbo, 3.9-liter V-8 is modulating its loud coloratura in 7.1 surround sound, the 20-inch tires sing a high-pitched falsetto through the flat-out esses of the superstrada, and the brake pads grind angrily on the carbon-ceramic discs, easily out-humming the drag-reducing aero deflectors. Crowning the jam session is the 488’s orchestral exhaust, which projects a full-throated storm above 4,000 rpm that is rewarded with bravos and bravissimis from the ever-enthusiastic tifosi at the side of the road.
Spider and coupe versions of the 2016 Ferrari 488 can both accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 3 seconds flat. That’s a heartbeat quicker than the awesome F12 and on par with the mighty Lamborghini Aventador Roadster. As far as maximum speed goes, at 203 mph the 488 drop-top loses 6 mph to its fixed-head sister model. No big deal, since 175 mph is enough to change your hairstyle from Johnny Mathis to Johnny Depp. With the windows up and the glass wind deflector in place, the calm interior of the 488 Spider is like being in the eye of a hurricane.
You sit on thinly padded yet comfortable, torso-hugging bucket seats, and the instrument panel has just received its umpteenth upgrade. The 488 Spider’s power-operated two-piece folding top does the job in 13.8 seconds and can be summoned back up at speeds of up to 28 mph. The deep, square cargo bay holds just over 8 cubic feet, and additional luggage can be stowed behind the seats. Timid passengers would be advised to ignore the optional scare-o-matic — a small, oblong analog and digital readout that displays (among other things) engine rpm and road speed. Our photographer hated it with a vengeance.
The 2016 Ferrari 488 does suffer from certain handicaps — high price, long waiting list, zero points on the stealth score. Plus, you can forget about a clutch pedal and a manually operated shift lever moving through an exposed, chrome-finish gate. But this car does deliver an interplay between the two shift sickles that will put a permanent grin on your face. With the manettino in Race (traction control and ESP on), gear changes are obscenely fast. Full-throttle upshifts are positively physical, delivering a hard kick in the butt before we lay on more revs. Since the seven-speed dual-clutch box is every bit as quick as the quickest index finger, every short straightaway along our route is now long enough for a brief upshift. In typical Ferrari fashion, the racing-style shift paddles are attached to the steering column, which means they are always in exactly the same position. At speed, this is a big improvement over the moving fingertip targets favored elsewhere. As a result, one is reluctant to abandon the transmission’s manual mode, which is critical to time your inputs in concert with the conspicuous LED rev counter. (There is no head-up display in any Ferrari, and just about the only assistance system is the reverse camera.)
When cruising through built-up areas, the auto program does a decent job of muffling exhaust noise, selecting the tallest possible gear, shifting with velvet gloves, and duly slipping into neutral when you lift off the throttle. Encouraging such a relaxed calibration is the conspicuously torquey twin-turbo engine, which needs only 3,000 rpm to dish up a towering 561 lb-ft. Although the maximum power output of 660 horsepower requires an elevated 8,000 rpm, the urgent torque delivery is what matters most from A to B. So why is the Ferrari community stubbornly mourning the discontinuation of the naturally aspirated 458 engine? Well, probably because it offered an extra 1,000 rpm to play with, sounded even wilder, and because tradition always feels threatened by innovation.
Sometimes, numbers help convince skeptics. So let us dive deep into the bag of significant digits: the twin-turbo V-8 responds 0.8 second faster to throttle inputs than the naturally aspirated 4.5-liter unit; it takes just 8.7 seconds to accelerate the Spider from 0 to 125 mph; and the new car beats its predecessor in terms of acceleration by a remarkable 25 percent, gear for gear. The new car also stops shorter. And while aerodynamic downforce has increased front and rear, fuel consumption has decreased.
Although the final pricing has yet to be announced, the premium the 2016 Ferrari 488 Spider will command over the 458 Spider is said to be less than 5 percent. So where do we stand in our purist vs. perfectionist equation? In a nutshell, the new 488 Spider incorporates both these personality traits. While it uses totally modern means to support its purist impulses, what it achieves can only be described as very close to perfection. The Ferrari 488 Spider is one of very few cars of the modern era that every aficionado should sample before the undertaker seals the coffin lid and the big blackness begins.
2016 Ferrari 488 Spider Specifications
- On Sale: Fall
- Price: $255,000 (est)
- Engine: 3.9L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/660 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 561 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible
- EPA Mileage: 14/19 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 179.8 x 76.9 x 47.7 in
- Wheelbase: 104.3 in
- Weight: 3,362 lb
- 2.9 sec
- Top Speed: 203 mph