Even in today’s supercar-rich automotive landscape, Ferrari stands out as special and awe-inspiring.
Look at the critical numbers for the 2014 458 Spider that we just drove, and it’s in an elite tier among just a few of the world’s top performance machines. The high-revving, 4.5-liter V-8 makes 562 horsepower (570 ps), and it’s hooked up to a seven-speed race-derived dual-clutch gearbox. Top speed is 199 mph, while 60 mph comes in a factory-official time of ‘less than 3.4 seconds.’ It can brake from 62 mph in less than 108 feet, according to Ferrari—and from 124 mph in less than 422 feet.
Those are all nothing to scoff at. They’re scorching by any gauge. But now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to what makes this car such a standout—and not just another status symbol.
As we point out in our video review above, the 458 is that car. Whether it was the Testarossa, the 308, the 348, the 355, or one of many others, mid-engine Ferraris have always been gorgeous—and a model for what a sports car can be.
But it’s not just that; it’s an onslaught of the senses. In sight and sound, and in poise—as well as performance numbers—the 458 Spider is unparalleled among top-down cars. It’s sexy beyond all the usual cliches, yet it’ll be happy to oblige all of them; it looks technical and racing-influenced in all the right ways; and it emits a soundtrack that will delight even those who typically shake their head at noisy sports cars.
Whether the 458 Spider is your first Ferrari or whether you have a garage full of them, and a fleet manager to boot, we’d venture to say that, based on our scant three days and nearly 350 miles with one earlier this month, it’s probably going to be the one that you as the driver would most enjoy driving out on real roads, at legal (or at least in the vicinity of legal) speeds.
Why more than other Ferraris? Because it embodies everything that we’ve come to appreciate about Ferrari, yet with what we think is more lasting charm and practicality. Although the 458 Spider is quite easy to drive, it can deliver astonishing performance, and with its open-air possibilities it’s more enchanting than any other high-dollar supercar.
First retractable hardtop with a mid-rear engine layout—and wow
Yes, it’s a convertible. The tight-fitting top is very well designed, and it can in less than 20 seconds bring the 458 Spider from a Coupe, visually, to what looks at quick glance like a well-done Targa. Only it’s truly an open-top car.
According to Ferrari, the 458 Italia is the first car ever to combine a mid-rear engine layout with a retractable hardtop.
At the risk of eliciting groans: It’s not a one-trick Itallian stallion. Yes, it’s the latest in a long line of mid-engine Ferraris—and the car we drove lived up to that image, delivered in Rosso Corsa (the classic red), of course. But it’s a car that could really be enjoyed for weekend touring, with a top arrangement that lets you enjoy the car well after the rain overtakes the sun.
We did exactly that, heading out to the golden foothills around the Columbia River Gorge from almost-always-rainy Portland. There we found some beautiful driving roads that allowed us to romp the 458 Spider on mostly smooth road surfaces—albeit on sinewy two-laners with cliffs, rock walls, and drop-offs.
Adding to those concerns is that the 458 Spider is a relatively wide car, for what it is; at 178.2 inches, it’s the length of a compact car, but its 76.3 inches of width make it the width of much larger cars, so you need to place it carefully in tight turns on narrow backroads.