Beyond the fact that it builds cars there, there’s a simple reason Ferrari invites journalists to drive its latest and greatest machines in Italy—driving nearly any car, no matter how pedestrian, through the Northern Italian countryside is a enthusiast’s dream come true. The roads are twisty, traffic is sparse, the scenery is beautiful and the polizia are forgiving. There’s a romance to the experience that simply can’t be beaten. Call it Montezemolo’s Law.
Unfortunately for me, I was tasked with driving the 458 Spider in Los Angeles, home of some of the worst traffic anywhere in the world. The condition of many of the roads is abysmal, and as for the scenery, well, L.A. isn’t much to look at. Worse, I was to drive the Ferrari as if I owned it, tackling the freeway during rush hour, running errands and generally subjecting it to the daily grind.
I’ll admit I would rather have been in the Alps, but at the same time I was curious to see how the Ferrari would handle the challenge. Would this 570-horsepower supercar prove too high-strung for the big city? Would the bloom fall off the Italian rose?
BEFORE I GET INTO THAT, though, let me say right up front: This is one breathtakingly gorgeous machine, every curve and nuance enhanced by the particularly luscious shade of Rosso Fiorano, a bottomless-looking, multi-stage metallic red. One female passerby commented that she’d like a bottle of nail polish in the same color. If I wore polish, I’d want it, too.
If there’s any downside to the current Spider’s styling, it’s the loss of the see-through engine panel found on its F430 predecessor—a concession to the new car’s retractable hardtop. The “vroom with a view” was such a wonderful design touch for this type of automobile that it’s a real shame to lose it. Some romantics might also miss the coachbuilt look of the close-fitting cloth convertible top of previous Spiders, but Ferrari had sound reasons for going the retractable hardtop route, including increased security, improved rigidity and reduced cockpit noise.
Okay, onto city life. I drove the 458 Spider in traffic, over rutted roads—just about everywhere nasty I could think of—and to say the car behaved admirably would be an understatement. It displayed perfect manners at all times, whether it was being repeatedly restarted and repositioned during our photoshoot or creeping along in heavy traffic on a hot freeway.
Another example: This Ferrari’s ride quality proved sportily superb. Even with the super-low-profile rubber mounted on 20-inch wheels, the Spider effortlessly soaked up bumps; it took seriously lousy pavement to upset the car’s balance in even the smallest ways. Credit goes to the stiff chassis and the magnetorheological shock absorbers, which constantly adjusted to changing street surfaces and kept the car controlled at all times. When things got really rough, pressing the “Bumpy Road” button on the steering wheel instantly softened the dampers without otherwise changing the car’s behavior—an amazingly useful feature to have. My favorite mode of travel was to leave the manettino set to Sport, which gave outstanding body control and firm, aggressive shifts, yet maintained all the safety benefits offered by the yaw and traction control.