Sky's the Limit

By removing the 458’s roof, Ferrari made its best car even better.

December 2, 2011
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Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is home to Maranello, where Ferraris are designed, developed and built, so it’s no surprise the area is also home to some fantastic driving roads. The glass-smooth asphalt ahead of me swoops like a roller coaster, winding its way through woods and fields, up and down hills—a perfect venue to test the new 458 Spider.

With no cars behind me, I stop in the middle of the road. Keeping my foot on the brake, I flick the steering wheel-mounted manettino to Race mode, press the Launch Control button in the center console and floor the throttle. The 4.5-liter V8 revs to around 3,500 rpm and hangs there. I then sidestep the brake.

A split-second of silence is followed by a bellow from the engine and a screech from the rear tires. The Spider leaps forward, its V8 engine pulling ferociously all the way to 9,000 rpm. The gearbox automatically upshifts into second and the V8 continues its urgent bellow with no apparent interruption. When the tachometer again hits 9,000 rpm, the process repeats. Then repeats again.

The Spider accelerates as strongly as its 570-hp specification would suggest, and the first corner arrives very quickly. Happily, the Ferrari’s massive carbon-ceramic brakes are more than up to the challenge of reining in all that speed. When I stand on the left pedal, the Spider slows so quickly it practically leaves me dangling from the seat belt. The brake pedal is firm and offers plenty of feel; it’s easy to get exactly the amount of braking I want.

In the meantime, I pull on the left-hand shift paddle a few times to drop back down through the gears. It’s such an intuitive action I barely think about it, but I am still rewarded at each seamless cog swap with a flurry of revs and a wicked cackle from the exhaust.

Things don’t go so smoothly when I turn into the corner, however. It’s been several months since I’ve driven a 458, and I’ve forgotten just how unlike a “normal” car Ferrari’s latest mid-engine V8 is—specifically, how it changes directions faster than anything I’ve driven this side of a go-kart. So when I turn the steering wheel perhaps an inch too far, I quickly find myself halfway into the opposite lane. I then lurch through the next few turns trying to refamiliarize myself with the extraordinarily fast steering and ultra-sensitive throttle response.

Once I’ve properly recalibrated my inputs to the Spider’s reactions, it all comes together. The precise, wonderfully weighted steering doesn’t offer an overabundance of information about what the front tires are doing, yet it only takes a few corners to trust the Spider’s front end implicitly, to appreciate the millimeter-by-millimeter correlation between turning the steering wheel and the car turning in response, and to have faith in the rubber’s apparently limitless grip.

Also from Issue 115

  • This supercharged 308 packs 384 horsepower
  • The SA Aperta redefines the GTO experience
  • Creating a factory-fresh Spyder California
  • Ferrari finishes the ALMS season with a win
  • Ferrari scores a pair of podium finishes
  • 250 GTOs invade Pebble Beach
  • Legends: The 250 GTO
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