What does it feel like to drive a Ferrari 488 Spider?
That’s that! Have a good day.
No, just kidding, I’ll go on. In fact, I’ll probably talk your ear off if you let me. The a recent opportunity I had to spend four days as the possessor of a bright blue Ferrari 488 Spider were some of the most enjoyable days I can remember. Yes, all because of a car; it really is that powerful, that exciting, that outright cool. And you can trust me on this, because I’m not a car guy. In fact, before climbing behind the wheel of the 488, I was almost (not quite, but almost) an anti-car guy kind of guy. Why? Well, because I didn’t know what driving an amazing car could be like.
To be clear, I love driving. Back in 1998 when I got my first set of wheels, a dark blue standard shift Ford Explorer XLS, I put more than a thousand miles on it in five days just driving around the streets and highways of my hometown (Washington, DC area in case you were wondering). I’ve driven across the country five times and up and down both coasts dozens more. There are few things I enjoy more, in fact, than spending a few hours covering a few hundred miles in a car; alone or with family or friends, it’s all fine by me. But up until I was driving the Ferrari, it was more about the entire experience, be it the peaceful solitude of a solo drive or the shared laughs of a group road trip, the sights and scenery along the way, the music or programs on the radio, and all the rest of it combined.
With a Ferrari 488, the driving is the experience. Whether you’ve got the engine opened up on a four lane highway or you’ve got the wheels spinning through the turns of a desolate stretch of one-lane farm road — or even rolling through a town or city with stop-and-go traffic, frankly — driving such a high performance car is always a pleasure. Even in traffic you can savor the roar of the engine and feel the potential power at your fingertips. And also it’s kind of fun to see people looking. I know that might sound arrogant, but I’d rather be honest than assume the mantle of false humility. On the first day I had the car, I slipped in the fact that it was a loaner every time someone called out at a stoplight or approached me at a gas station; one days two through four, I just smiled and said: “Yeah, it’s a pretty nice car, right?”
Before talking about my personal driving experience, let me tell you a little bit about the Ferrari 488. This car comes in two models, the hard top GTB and the retractable hard top convertible Spider, which is what I drove and is the version about which I’ll be speaking. The 488 Spider has a 3.9-liter V8 engine with twin turbochargers made from the same alloy material often found in jet engines. This car weighs around 3,500 pounds, yet thanks to the immense power of its motor, the Ferrari 488 zero to sixty is three seconds long. Yes, you can go from a standstill to a mile a minute in three seconds (and in fact it’s actually 62 miles per hour in three seconds, if we’re being precise). The car goes from zero to 125 MPH in about eight and a half seconds, FYI. As for the top speed of the Ferrari 488 Spider? Why, that would be just over 200 miles per hour. (I topped out at 75 MPH below that, I have to admit… and you can take that either as a lament I didn’t go faster or as a confession that yes, I briefly had the car over 125.)
Now, do you want to know the horsepower of the Ferrari 488? 661. My wife’s Acura TL has 270 horses and that thing always felt like a rocket ship to me compared to the low 200-some HP in the SUV I was used to. So the jump from 270 horsepower to 661 was a quantum leap.
The Ferrari 488 has seven forward gears, and these are controlled either by paddle shifts set just behind the steering wheel or by its automatic transmission. I played around with the paddle shifts some, but frankly the car does such a great job of managing its own torque/acceleration/speed that I left it in automatic drive most of the time. The turn signals are set into the wheel itself, as are controls for the radio, the lights, the horn, and more. In fact, assuming you never have to back up (and you don’t want to open or close the roof), once you have the 488 Spider on the road, you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel once to control it. Even the ignition button is on the wheel.
And when you press that ignition button, your world gets a whole lot more exciting. The 488 comes got life with a roar. It’s not trying to be loud or to show off or anything, it’s just that the engine needs an immense amount to oxygen to power the level of combustion going on in there. At speed, the car takes in plenty of air through the intakes set into its flanks, but at lower speeds its engine actively sucks in extra air, which results in a throaty, often staccato roar. It turns heads, which is something you’ll grow to enjoy quite quickly. (Alright, I imagine if I owned this approximately $295,000 dollar outright, I might be a bit more self-conscious and might even grow to dislike the attention, but for a long weekend, I lapped it up.)
Here, in two words, is how I can best describe the feeling of driving the Ferrari 488 Spider: Total control. When you press down on the car’s accelerator, it doesn’t lurch forward and run away with you. If you want the 488 to start moving, you need to apply some actual pressure to the pedal. Apply a little pressure, and the car will assume a steady jog; stomp on the thing, and the car will howl its way up to triple-digit speeds. The simplest way to describe it is that the acceleration and maintained speed of the car feels commensurate with the amount of force you apply to the gas pedal. In other words, you’re in control.
The Ferrari 488 was developed with countless hours of wind tunnel research informing its final body design. It exerts fifty percent more downforce than its predecessor, the Ferrari 458, which many considered a near-perfect car. (Almost all experts agree that the 488 is even better, by the way.) The faster you drive, the more the Ferrari 488 is pressed down toward the roadway; this allows the driver to maintain maximum control even at high speeds. When you turn the steering wheel — which just feels great when gripped at the proper ten and two position thanks to ergonomic grooves carved into the wheel — the car responds deftly whether you’re rolling through an urban intersection or zooming around a backcountry lane’s bend.
And how’s this for attention to detail? See the way the door handles of the 488 point up and out a bit? Sure, they’re easy to grab onto for purposes of, y’know, opening the door, but in fact those handles help direct additional airflow into the intakes set above and just before the rear wheels. That’s right, even the shape of the handles helps the Ferrari 488 achieve its laudable performance.
Here’s another thing that struck me about my drives in this supercar: The sound. Or the lack thereof, in regards to wind noise. (Plenty of sound coming from that engine, mind you.) In most cars, simply opening the windows while you drive produces enough noise to drown out most conversation and require a radio cranked up loud. Most convertibles are rather noisy, often with a windy whistle, when the tops are closed, and are too noisy for anything more then shouted conversation when the top is open at highway speeds.
In the Ferrari, the cockpit (OK, the cabin…) of the car is remarkably quiet when the roof is closed and the windows are raised. When you open the roof and windows, however, you can still easily here your passenger’s voice or listen to the radio at half volume even when you’re doing eighty miles an hour. Rolling up the windows while the roof is still wide open further quiets the wind. I drove for hundreds of miles with the top wide open without ever once being bothered by ambient wind noise, whereas usually I can’t even stand to have a sunroof open. And as long as I’m admitting things here, I’ll come clean and say that I opened and closed the roof several times while sitting in traffic or at stop signs just because people always gawked at the unique mechanical function of the retractable hardtop. This was especially fun in a few of the smaller towns I passed through in western Massachusetts and Connecticut; I always waited until a few young kids were nearby, then pressed the button to open the roof. That got the kids watching. When I pressed down on the gas pedal, the engine’s rumble usually got them smiling.