I always laughed at people who drove convertible Ferrari’s. They might as well walk down the street wearing nothing but a sign saying “fat, middle-aged and bald” to advertise their mid-life predicament.
And I kept on laughing until a couple of days ago when I caught sight of an overweight man nobody would call young any more, not least because of his rapidly receding hairline.
He was sitting in the driver’s seat of a new Ferrari F430 Spider, adjusting the mirror when his depressingly familiar features hove into view. So now that I fitted the profile of the convertible Ferrari driver in all regards save bank balance, I laughed no longer.
After a day at the wheel the list of things I really didn’t like about the car could have been counted using one thumb. Okay, I felt like an idiot driving it, particularly with another similarly proportioned friend at my side, but that was hardly the car’s fault.
The Spider is the convertible version of Ferrari’s wondrous new F430 supercar, and anyone hoping the Maranello factory would trip up in the conversion process will be disappointed.
It contains the same 483bhp, 4.3 litre V8 engine that will take it from rest to 62mph in 4.1sec, a scant tenth of a second slower than the coupé thanks to the extra weight all convertibles carry compared with their hardtop sisters. And it won’t quit until it’s doing 193mph, at which speed you’re unlikely to be too distressed by the knowledge that the coupé will go a whole 3mph faster.
It even looks pretty good relative to the aluminium-roofed F430, which is never a given in the convertible business. Its styling is a little awkward with the roof up, but once you’ve hit the hood button (while doing less than 3mph), and waited 20 seconds for its seven electric motors to do their stuff, you’ll be guaranteed the undivided attention of anyone you’re likely to bump into on the Riviera or the King’s Road.
But those who detail the F430 Spider to showing-off duties only will be missing the vast bulk of its appeal. Sure, it’s a good enough looking car but it’s not a classic — not like the convertible Daytona or some cloth-capped Ferraris produced for the American market in the 1960s. Its real, stand-out talent is the way it takes the extraordinary driving experience offered by the F430 coupé and puts it into the hands of the Spider driver in almost undiminished form.
Convertibles are always compromises but I cannot think of another that better covers the engineering limitations inherent in its design. Convertibles are structurally much weaker than coupés and should shake noticeably on broken surfaces, but unless you feel inclined to take your Spider off-roading, it’s not something you’re going to notice. Most convertibles, even those as illustrious as the new Porsche 911 Cabriolet, also feel less precise and give less confidence to the enthusiastic driver, but not this one.
True, the steering is a touch too light and could be a shade more communicative, but the same can be said of the coupé. Side by side down the same road, I don’t doubt I’d be able to spot where its performance, handling and ride have become degraded but, really, the differences are too small to detect.
In fact the only aspect of the car I truly did not like was its noise. This may seem a staggering thing to say about any Ferrari, not to mention a touch inconsistent, given that the F430 howls with the best of them, but the removal of the roof has changed its acoustics and Ferrari has fiddled with the Spider’s exhaust bypass valve so it makes more noise at lower revs.
The result is that if you drive it as fast as you can it still sounds glorious, but if you’re just pottering through town or trying to behave yourself on the motorway, it’s annoyingly, intrusively loud.
Nor is it even a chandelier-shattering pedigree Italian scream. It sounds more like an amplified bout of flatulence until you can break free from the lower reaches of the rev range and work the engine in the 4000-8500rpm bracket, where it’s clearly happiest.
Other complaints, such as the poorly detailed cabin, offset driving position and awkward rear styling have been carried over from the coupé and are not unique to the Spider.
But in the main this is a gorgeous car. Its secret is to offer the best of both worlds to two distinct types of Ferrari buyer: those who wish to be seen and those who simply want to drive.
Engine: Ferrari 4.3-litre Vee 8-cylinder
Built in Italy, the longitudinally, mid-mounted, all-alloy vee 8-cylinder petrol engine has a 4.3-litre (4308cc) capacity, with chain-driven quad overhead camshafts (DOHC per cylinder bank) that actuate a total of 32-valves, or 4-valves per cylinder.
The fuel injected motor has an 11.3:1 compression ratio and features cross-flow heads and variable inlet and exhaust valve timing. It will only run on high octane 95 RON petrol, and though it’s 0.7-litre larger than the 3.6-litre V8 engine from the 360 Modena, it is only 4kg heavier.
Fuel Consumption: 17L/100km (combined)
Max Power: 360kW @ 8500rpm
Max Torque: 465Nm @ 5250rpm
Max Speed: 310km/h
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds
Words like braggadocio, machismo, and others ending in ‘o’ instantly spring to mind when describing this vehicle. It’s just so Italian – so extroverted and brazen – that it’s hard not to become enamored with the fabled Ferrari aura.
Believe the hype, because this thing is amazing. Even when cruising around at slower speeds and not employing the car’s supernatural performance potential, the car is still a guilty pleasure to punt around in.Unlike the Lamborghini Murcielago, this thing is quite drivable in the city.
Apart from the hard core sequential manual gearbox, there’s nothing greatly prohibitive about the way it drives that could turn casual admirers away from a purchase. Sure, it’s a tad supercilious, but it’s damned hard not to grin like an 13-year-old with a fist full of fire-crackers when you drive this car.