Ferrari’s 458 Spider is a masterpiece that belongs in your art collection.
When it comes down to it, every car is built to take the driver and the occupants somewhere.
Minivans are designed to take the family to and from school and soccer practice. 4x4s are built to take owners off the beaten path. And luxury sedans are created to carry passengers in the lap of opulence. Ferraris, though, are made to take drivers somewhere altogether different. Rather than an elementary school or boardroom meeting, Ferraris are crafted to take people not to a tangible place, but rather to a state of being. In short, Ferraris are built to awaken the soul.
Before I drove the 2014 Ferrari 458 Spider, I couldn’t quite fathom just what it was like to drive such a car. Sure, I understood that Ferraris are world-class driving machines, capable of winning races straight off the showroom floor, but that sort of reputation didn’t feel tangible; it didn’t feel real.
Carefully lowering myself behind the wheel of the 458 Spider, the Ferrari experience came into focus. Everything about the 458 was designed to be both beautiful and functional.
The carbon fiber dash, elegantly trimmed with leather, is both spare and also stunning. The air vents, for example, have been shaped to resemble the exhaust chimneys of Formula 1 cars of the early 2000s.
Unlike other supercars in its class, a large infotainment screen doesn’t overwhelm the 458’s dash. Instead, designers flanked the centralized tachometer with two screens, which display vehicle stats, media, and navigation.
458 Spider at a glance
- It’s the world’s first mid-rear-engined supercar with a hardtop folding roof
- The folding hard top roof is 25 kilograms lighter than a folding soft top and 40 kilos lighter than the standard fixed hardtop
- 0-60 in just under 3.4 seconds
- Top speed of 202 mph
- The suspension is 35% stiffer and the steering 30% more direct than the F430 it replaces.
- At around 125 mph, the body generates 308 pounds of downforce
The F1-inspired steering wheel, however, is the driver’s porthole to the seriousness of the 458. It’s constructed from carbon fiber, and, while a bit visually cluttered, everything is laid out to enhance the driver experience. Every feature a driver could need is close at hand. The ignition button, the wipers, the horns, and the turn signals: each has a place on the wheel.
Topping off the wheel is a series of red LEDs that illuminate sequentially, as the engine nears redline. This enables the driver not to take his eyes off the road ahead, instead relying on his periphery to monitor rpms.
The rest of the interior is much like the dash: carbon fiber-laden, spare, and elegant. The seats – carbon fiber buckets wrapped in leather – are incredibly comfortable, even on a long journey.
The bit that sets the 458 Spider aside from the Italia is the roof switch embedded in the center console. Press it and the 458 transforms – in just 14 seconds – from hardtop dynamo to open-air roadster.
Dropping the top not only lets the sun and sounds into the cabin; it also makes the 458 Spider into the world’s first mid-rear-engined convertible hardtop supercar. If that title along doesn’t impress, the things the car is capable of will.
The Ferrari lineage is immediately apparent in the body of the 458 Spider. That said, the body’s form, penned by Pininfarina, is a complete departure from previous prancing horses.
This car’s lines are designed not just to be beautiful but also to be functional. The body, for example, creates 308 pounds of downforce at 125 mph, ensuring it stays firmly pushed to the road. The winglets – which I think look a bit like an old-time-y mustache – incorporated into the front fascia deform at speed, routing air more effectively around the car.
The underbody, too, is fully function. It’s flat and includes air intakes in the rear, which cool the end-mounted radiators. And rather than be impeded by the heat generated by these radiators, Ferrari ingeniously routes the air into the slipstream behind the 458 Spider, reducing drag, turning a nuisance into an asset.
Firing the 458 is an awe-inspiring event. It pales in comparison to burying the skinny pedal in the floor, though.
I’ve driven many supercars and experienced what I thought was every sensation a car could convey. I was wrong. The first time I went full-throttle on the 458, I felt as though I was in a time warp. The immense roar of the naturally aspirated 4.5-liter V8 behind my head matched with the sheer speed of the thing was overwhelming.
Its accelerative properties aren’t its only impressive points. The 4.5-liter V8 produces 558 horsepower 398 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a seven-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission, the shout-y V8 will rocket the 458 to 60 mph in just under 3.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 202 mph.
I’ve driven fast cars, and I’ve driven loud cars. Nothing, though, matched the 458 Spider. It sounded like a jet engine in a shouting match with a lion. It was intoxicating. And that auditory intoxication was no accident. Ferrari rejiggered the 458 Spider’s exhaust not only for weight savings but also to recreate a sound ideal for open-top motoring.
And drivers get plenty of opportunities for uninterrupted V8 bellow; the shift times between gears, as Ferrari claims, are zero. With every tap of the paddle shifters mounted just behind the F1 steering wheel, occupants are bathed in a ceaseless roar. It’s incredible.
The 458 Spider’s straight-line acceleration might be jaw dropping, but so, too, are its cornering capabilities. Other cars claim a quick steering ratio, or a communicative chassis. However, these cars pale in comparison to the 458. I’m not hyperbolizing here, either. The 458 Spider changes direction on the road like, well, a spider.
To put that in tangible terms, the 458’s steering is 30 percent more direct and its suspension 35 percent stiffer than the outgoing F430.
That’s what’s so incredible about the car. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series, for example, is blisteringly fast, and a master around the track. But driving it, I felt like I was wrestling it for control. I had to strong-arm it into everything. Not the 458, though. Its steering is well weighted but not too heavy. Its chassis feel is communicative without pummeling the occupants.
Unlike so many of its competitors, it’s that perfect blend of ease-of-use and road-handling mastery that before only seemed theoretical.
I always imagined Ferrari being the benchmark of how a car should look and behave. But I never really fathomed what that would feel like. Now I get it.
It’s not hard to find a fast car, or a beautiful car. Finding a car that will be both of those things 10 years, 50 years down the road, though … that’s more difficult. The Ferrari 458 Spider is one of those cars. The 458 Spider is a work of art, both to behold but also drive. I truly believe that while so many other supercars will fade from memory, the 458 Spider will remain a pinnacle, a bright spot, in automotive design.
Is it the ultimate Ferrari? No, the 458 Speciale, F12 Berlinetta, and LaFerrari can battle for that prize. Instead, the 458 Spider rides in that sweet spot between insanity and perfection. To me, that makes it even more lovable.