Where do I even start? How do I write this story without sounding insanely spoilt? Screw it: I’ll just tell you about my incredible two days test-driving the latest chapter in Maranello’s ongoing love affair with open-top V8 sports cars, (yes, that is me driving, above), and you can then decide whether or not to hate me.
The Ferrari 488 Spider made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show this past September. It has a 7-speed, F1 dual-clutch transmission, and a 3902cc turbo-charged V8. For those of you who don’t speak car – I can translate.
It’s fast. Really f*cking fast.
The 488 Spider sprints from 0 to 100km/h in 3 seconds flat and from 0 to 200km/h in 8.7 seconds. (The smooth, progressive torque delivery in higher gears is courtesy of the Variable Torque Management system.)
But the thing that immediately catches the eye is the RHT (Retractable Hard Top), around which the entire car was developed.
Allowing a hard top roof to be retracted throws up all sorts of issues: how do you store it within the chassis when retracted? How do you protect against additional noise and wind in the cockpit? How do you deal with the extra weight overall, which affects performance, and how do you re-distribute that weight when the roof is retracted so that the car’s handling is not affected? And, when the car is rear-engined, where on earth is all that roof going when retracted?
Traditional hard tops tend to be heavy, bulky and dilute the look and design of a car. In fact, a classic hard top is stowed as a completely three dimensional object – not merely the roof itself but also the rear side windows and back window. Its weight is significant and its bulk will effectively compromise the design of the entire car.
This is why Ferrari chose to use the RHT on the 488 Spider, (a world first for a mid-rear engined car when introduced on the 458 Spider).
The whole key to the design was to raise the line of the car – if you look at the photo above you’ll see that I look almost enclosed within the car, even with the roof down, as opposed to a traditional roadster where the passenger almost sticks out above the chassis. This reduced the size of the top (it takes up 100 litres of space rather than the 150-200 litres required to stow a conventional hard top), and made it more two-dimensional in shape so it could be divided into two parts and stowed on top of the forward section of the engine.
I had quite a lot of fun testing the assertion that the RHT unfolds and retracts in a record 14 seconds – and when the car is moving. (Don’t try this at home, kids)
It is also very light thanks to the use of aluminium and an extremely simple mechanism. The result is a saving of approximately 40kg on a traditional hard-top solution and around 25kg on a soft-top.
If you do speak car, you’ll also want to know that this is the most aerodynamically efficient Ferrari Spider ever built. Maranello’s engineers managed to guarantee optimal downforce whilst reducing drag (two normally mutually exclusive objectives) by developing several innovative devices, including a blown spoiler and an aerodynamic underbody incorporating vortex generators.}
We left for Rimini from the Harrods Private Jet Terminal at Luton Airport. Let’s just say that if, like me, you are more used to flying the orange bus from Luton with the masses, this is a somewhat different experience. I left my sister’s house in Kentish Town at 1050hrs on a Sunday morning, and was in the air by noon.
We drove about an hour north west – slightly inland to the Conde Borgo Wine Resort, which was to be our base for the next 24 hours.
The evening was spent at Ferrari school.
And, after, a supper of tinned carrots, peas and a piece of cheese – who’d have thought that being vegetarian in Italy would be such a drag? – I retired to bed to think happy car thoughts.
Look no hands! (Yup, it’s left hand drive.)
I was quite worried about the basics – it’s always good to have a certain amount of fear about driving a £200k+ supercar, so you don’t do anything totally stupid from over-confidence when out on the road, but it’s a guaranteed embarrassment if you can’t manage to turn the engine on. (This has happened to me twice before with overly-clever remote ignition switches.)
Thankfully the 488 Spider has a new keyless start thanks to a chip which communicates wirelessly with the car’s ECU. This means that so long as the car key is within a reasonable distance – the driver’s pocket or in the special storage area on the tunnel, the car can thus be started or turned off by simply pressing the ‘Start/Stop Engine’ button on the steering wheel.
We tossed a coin to see who would drive first – I was relieved to lose the toss, so that I could watch and learn before my turn.
Yes, the scenery in Emilia-Romagna is magnificent, but just look at these road signs. They signal ALL THE FUN AHEAD.
The 488 Spider’s cockpit was designed to underscore Ferrari’s Formula 1 – inspired philosophy of creating a seamless relationship between driver and car: the commands not clustered on the steering wheel are on the wraparound satellite pods which are angled directly towards the driver.
In practice this is fine if you are the only one in the car, but not so helpful if your passenger is in charge of navigation – a good idea when your foot is on the throttle and you are seeing how fast you can take a racing corner coming down the mountain.
After a morning of whisking round hairpin bends, we drove up to the beautiful hill town of San Leo for coffee and photo ops.
After coffee, we drove back down through the hills towards the Adriatic for lunch.
Even after three hours in the car, my legs and back felt absolutely fine: no cramping or unfolding as I got out of the car. Great thought has gone into the new seats which have fixed headrests and padding designed for long journeys. Although they are very low profile, when seen from the side, in practice they enclose and hug the body.
We arrived in Cesenetico feeling a lot like movie stars – nothing attracts attention like a fleet of the latest Ferraris.
Cesenatico was founded in 1302, and its port and canal were built in 1500. At the request of Cesare Borgia the canal was later surveyed by Leonardo da Vinci althought it is often claimed that da Vinci himself designed the canal
We were so lucky with the phenomenal weather.
After lunch, it was time to test the car out on the autostrada, to see if the promise of superb in-cabin comfort at high speeds when the top is dropped, stood up.
Whilst we were told that occupants can easily carry on a normal conversation at speeds of over 200km/h, sadly we only managed to get up to 170kph. Ahem.
As we whizzed along, watching nonnas blow kisses at the car, and grown men’s jaws drop, we were still able to hold a conversation, with music on, without having to raise our voices.
This is partly thanks to an glass electric rear window which can be adjusted to any of the three positions regardless of whether the roof is up or down, the cockpit is incredibly quiet, and wind-free. Yes, I had a moderate case of Ferrari hair when we pulled up back at the Conde-Borgo Resort, but not the birds’ nest I get in my own MX5.
Many, many thanks to everyone at Ferrari and at the tourist authority of Emilia-Romagna for a stupendous 48hours in Italy.