Sunday, 6 November 2011

two Ferraris in one, with all the extra opportunities for enjoyment that brings


Price: About £198,850 
Engine: 4,499cc, V8 cylinders, 570bhp 
Transmission: Seven-speed sequential gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 199mph, 0-62 in 3.4sec, 21.2mpg official average, CO2 307g/km

In the minds of some, this should not be allowed. That it is suggests that the EU compliance office responsible for certifying vehicle-noise levels has a local branch in Ferrari's home of Maranello, staffed by ex-Ferrari employees. How else can I be sending gloriously explosive soundwaves of fuel-combustion across the valleys of Emilia-Romagna in a brand new, fully certified Ferrari? And discover that, contrary to the likely response in the UK, the locals smile and wave at the source of the sound?

As for me, I'm hearing it in better Sensurround than ever before, as this new version of the 458 Italia is currently roofless. It is called 458 Spider, but unlike previous Spider versions of mid-engined V8 Ferraris, it has not a fabric convertible roof but a hard one made of two flat aluminium panels. Their folding is electro-hydraulically powered, of course.

So the new open Spider is a coupé-cabriolet (CC), which instantly brings notions of extra weight and aesthetic challenge. Few CCs are genuinely good-looking, although the job is easier when there are just two seats and thus a shorter roof. And with the roof in place, the Spider looks much like the Italia coupé. The only obvious differences are the lack of the small rear quarter windows and a different rear deck: while the coupé has a large, sloping rear window through which you can see the engine, the Spider has a vertical rear window immediately behind the occupants and the engine is covered by the panel under which the roof sits when folded. The engine's air intakes are repositioned, too, under slots in the rear deck. Just as well, as leaving them near your ears would be too much of a good thing with roof stowed.

In Race mode, rather than the usual Sport mode, the loudness is on offer all the time, which it is not in the coupé. Ferrari figures that those who buy the open car are especially likely to want to hear the engine, but there are times in towns when the inevitable attention can get embarrassing. Best to keep Race for open spaces. Or tunnels, in which a blast up to the 9,000rpm point of peak power and peak screaming is irresistible.

How much power? An extraordinary 570bhp, making it ridiculously rapid. There is also very strong pulling power from relatively low engine speeds, and gear shifts, the work of a near-instant via shift levers either side of the steering column, are inherently smooth.

As I squirt the Spider through bend after bend, revelling in its grip, thrilling to little tail-slides as I squeeze the power, there's an occasional tremor through the steering column, but that's as far as the disturbance goes. The structure is significantly more rigid than the old F430 Spider's, and it feels it. With side windows up and the little rear window set to the optimal midway position, there's not much buffeting from the wind, either. This is as close to the perfect open Ferrari as it's possible to get.

The Spider has to be stationary to open the roof, but 14 seconds of aluminium choreography later the roof is closed. Now it's just like the coupé inside, albeit 30kg heavier and the view over your shoulder almost non-existent. But, at speed, the roof proves a fine piece of engineering. There is practically no wind noise at all, such is its sealing.

This is truly two Ferraris in one, with all the extra opportunities for enjoyment that brings – even if having the second personality facet does demand an extra £25,675. If you can afford an Italia coupé, though, you can probably run to a Spider. In which case, do it.