Ferrari 488 Spider Review
The Ferrari 488 GTB is the benchmark. Ferrari’s mid-engined sports cars have been the top of the pile for decades. This latest iteration is the latest in a line that started with the 1968 Dino (don’t start). The mid-engined baby quickly became the standard, with the bigger midships V12s fading away (Aventador excepted) to front-engines.
The 488 Spider is another in a rather shorter line of cars – the hardcore, mid-engined drop-top sports car from Ferrari. But it’s a line that’s as iconic as its coupes.
You can trace this style of machine back to the 348 Spider. Released in 1993 towards the end of the 348’s run, it’s probably no surprise it came after Enzo Ferrari’s death in 1988. Yes, there had been Ferrari convertibles before but they had either been conceived as softer lifestyle machines or based on GT cars.
Obviously, these things sold and they sold well. The 355 followed on and sales of the roofless version started to build. Americans particularly liked them but sales came from all corners.
The 488’s mechanical lineage started in 1999 with the 360 Modena and Spider. The all new aluminium space frame was a whopping 28 percent lighter than the 355’s steel monocoque with rear tubular space frame. It was also quite a bit stronger. The new flat-plane crank V8 was a screamer.
Amazingly, the split between the Modena coupe and the Spider was almost 50-50 (8800 vs 7589). In the US, the Spider outsold the Modena 2389 to 1810, the vast majority with the F1 semi-auto transmission.
The 430 came next and there was another addition – the model’s pinnacle, the legendary 430 Scuderia, was also produced in Spider form, limited to 500 units.
The 458 arrived in 2009, the Spider two years later. The new twin-clutch transmission was the only one available and a good thing too. The 458 is so fast – all Ferraris are now so fast – there isn’t the time to change gears manually. The Spider also switched to an aluminium roof panel that folds away under the engine cover.
And again, the Spider came in the form of the swan song, the Speciale – but instead was known as the 458 Speciale A (A for Aperta).
Sacrilege. Drama. Disaster. The Ferrari 488 made its debut at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. Off came the covers and there they were. The 458’s lovely hips had been defaced with gaping air intakes to feed the new, smaller, force-fed V8 engine. Now with two turbos and displacing 600 fewer ccs, certain fans – and some “experts” – went bananas.
How could they? Enzo turning in his grave, they said, while conveniently ignoring the iconic turbocharged V8 F40 produced under his watch. The F40 is considered “the” Ferrari. The 488, though. Not a real Ferrari, they screamed, despite never having driven it. The 458’s twin-clutch and no manual policy had certainly made waves, but this. Surely it was the end of all that is good.
Part of the aggro came from the fact that the “girly” California T (don’t get me started) had the same twin-turbo engine. As usual, it was all unfounded. The Ferrari 488 moved things along almost as far as the 458 had done with almost no loss of its tungsten-carbide tip sharpness.
Obviously the mid-engined sportscar segment isn’t a hugely crowded space. The obvious contenders for the crown are the Lamborghini Huracan Spider and Audi R8 Spyder, both of which share the same platform and drivetrain. In their most potent forms, both are all-wheel drive to the 488 Spider’s rear-wheel drive. They’re not as fast but they are stiffer with the roof down. Both have a carbon and aluminium spaceframe and that high revving (8500rpm) 5.2-litre V10.
The McLaren 570S Spyder is reasonably close to the Ferrari but you really need to step up to the McLaren 720S for similar performance. The 488 kind of fits between them. Both McLarens run a twin-turbo V8 and are rear-wheel drive. Built around the carbon monocage, the Spyder loses almost nothing to the coupe.
Of course, you can try the Porsche 911 Turbo or GT2/GT3 to try and get close to the Ferrari, but both are quite different types of car.
Engine & Transmission
The 488’s twin-turbo 3.9-litre V8 is available pretty much across the Ferrari range. From the California T, its Portofino replacement and the rear-wheel drive GTC4 Lusso T, the engine also forms the basis for Maserati and Alfa V6s. As a V8, it’s also in the Maserati Levante Trofeo, although detuned.
Here in the 488 it’s an all-aluminium, dry sump flat-plane crank V8 codenamed F154CB. Power weighs in at 493kW (670PS) at 8000rpm and 760Nm of torque from 3000rpm. The dry sump means Ferrari engineers could mount the V8 as low as possible in the chassis.
The two twin-scroll turbos come from IHI, with two air-to-air intercoolers behind those hip intakes. The low inertia turbo compressors are made from super lightweight titanium aluminide (TiAL). That particular material finds its way into the fan blades of turbofan jet engines.
The F154 features an extremely clever system known as Variable Torque Management. As with many modern turbo engines, the turbo wastegate is electrically-operated. Torque is limited by the system in all but seventh gear, with the system fiddling with the wastegates (among other things) to control the boost pressure. Not only does the system limit torque it also makes sure that the power feels less like a turbo than it might otherwise, with progressive delivery and impressive throttle response.
The Getrag close-ratio seven-speed transmission continued on but with plenty of work to handle the extra 220Nm of torque. That’s a whole hatchback worth of torque extra.
The aluminium spaceframe started with the 360 continues on, although it’s obviously much improved. The dynamic dampers and double wishbones front and rear combine with 20-inch wheels and Pirelli tyres. Formed of two digital screens either side of a beautiful big rev counter, the instrument pack is simple and effective. It’s a joy watching that big needle swing to the redline.
The basic spec is pretty good but you can choose a variety of seats, the stitching on the leather, the leather itself or junk the leather put carbon fibre everywhere. It feels beautifully put together and everything you touch feels great.
The driving position is lower than the Huracan/R8 pair, but subjectively feels slightly higher than either the McLaren 570S/720S. We’re talking millimetres here and the Spider feels slightly higher just because you can see the windscreen header rail.
The steering wheel feels great in the hand, the controls well laid out. The way the indicator switches are set in thumb’s reach, one on each side, betters the Huracan’s Ducati motorbike indicator switch. The paddles feel lovely and if I were you, stick with alloy – the carbon ones don’t really have the tactility of the alloy.
The Famous Manettino
You change the chassis setup on the steering-wheel mounted manettino. Here in the 488 Spider – as in the 812 Superfast – you have a choice of five settings. The lowest – WET – is for tricky, slippery conditions. The car is soft and doughy to stop the rears spinning up at the slightest provocation.
The second position is for tooling around in the dry without the car being all go-go-go. Despite its SPORT designation, it’s fairly tame, relatively speaking.
The third setting – where I spend most of my time in the 488 – is RACE. This setting amps things up, turns up the throttle response and the exhaust is louder more of the time. It doesn’t seem to affect the ride too much despite the dampers tensing up.
This mode is the best of both worlds. The car still rides, won’t get away from you in the corners and is by far the most fun when you’re on a public road. Idiots that appear on YouTube wiping out their car leaving a Cars & Coffee meet seem to skip this mode.
Fourth on the dial is CT OFF. This turns off the traction control and is useful on tracks where your margin for error is much greater and you can more safely explore your throttle control talent. The stability system is still there for you, but you are still more than capable of throwing it off the road.
And finally you have ESC OFF. I call that Certain Death mode. If you’re not a on a track and aren’t Fernando Alonso, you’re going to find yourself in a whole heap of trouble real quick. The 488 Spider is colossally powerful and you can shred those rear tyres in seconds.
I love driving this car. Unleashing that V8 is something that will never, ever get old. It still sounds great, even with the loss of a thousand revs. The hissing, sucking turbo induction sound is glorious and the exhaust note barely less of a howl than before.
The big difference between the 458 and the 488 Spider is all that torque so low down. The 458 was a long, hard revver with a dizzying soundtrack. Interestingly, so is the 488 Spider. While the noise isn’t as metallic and F1-like (before F1 went quiet), it still sounds amazing.
Sitting low and tight in the cabin, as soon as you get rolling you notice two things. The steering is unexpectedly light and the ride is excellent. You’re going to read that a lot about modern supercars – they shouldn’t ride well but they do. It’s one of the reasons the Aventador feels so old-fashioned – it doesn’t ride at all well.
The light steering is a key part of how the 488 Spider feels to drive. The rack is fast – really fast – and translates to a brilliant turn-in. The way this thing chases and arrives at an apex is what makes it great. There is of course understeer – otherwise there’d be a lot more YouTube videos of crashed 488s – but it’s just a tiny bit to let you know you’re approaching the car’s limits. You can push through it with the throttle and it’s glorious.
The grip of this car is immense – the things you can do and the things you can get away with are really down to the active differential and a brilliant chassis setup. There’s no way the car could dance, stop or corner the way it does without the colossal work that has gone into the differential.
Coupled with that is the dynamic damper setup – the differences between modes are subtle but hugely effective and it honestly feels like the car reads the road ahead and adjusts accordingly. If it’s all too much, you can hit the bumpy road button – you’ll have to back off a bit but your spine will thank you on poor surfaces.
The only complaint? With the roof down, a poor surface reveals a bit of scuttle shake. That’s it.
Want to really know how it feels? Watch the video. Make sure you subscribe to The Redline on YouTube for more.
|(May 2018)||488 GTB (from)||488 Spider (from)|
|South Africa||R5,122,000||R5,692,000 (approx)|
Ferrari 488 Spider Images by Rhys Vandersyde
Ferrari 488 Spider Interior Images by Rhys Vandersyde
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.