So, the Ferrari 488 Spider is to be the latest sensation to grace my Twitter feed ahead of the official launch later this year. Despite the fact that it won’t be on sale until next summer this isn’t a surprise. Coming hot on the heels of the GTB, the Spider is set to be the fastest drop-top to ever roll out of Maranello and among the grand fraternity of automotive anoraks a new Ferrari is always a big deal because, well, because it’s a Ferrari. As well as being the law, it’s a matter of common decency that even non-Tifosi should view Ferrari in a special light, an aura fuelled by the fires of glorious tradition and unparalleled success.
But there’s an issue that appears to have slipped beneath the radar. I’ll gladly run with the crowd when it comes to singing the praises of Ferrari’s technical prowess, they regularly set the bar that others attempt to clear. Yet underneath the engineering excellence, technological wizardry and controlled explosion the 488 leaves me mildly disappointed, again.
I should be upfront at this point and say that obviously I haven’t driven one and all honesty it’s unlikely I ever will. You won’t find my name on Ferrari’s media list, I don’t get invited to events, they certainly wouldn’t lend me a test car, but crucially I don’t begrudge my current insignificance. Ferrari are rightfully protective of their brand and actively maintain a high degree of exclusivity, I’m ok with that because that’s exactly how it should be. A Ferrari should be rare enough to draw wistful admiration. There was an occasion last year when I rolled down the car window in a traffic jam to chat with the guy in the 360 alongside and see if I could persuade him to waste a few drops of unleaded by revving the engine – he readily complied and my 5 year old son damn near wet himself with excitement. I understand that a Ferrari is special.
The 488 Spider is no exception to this rule. The 3.9L twin turbo V8 produces 660bhp and 760Nm of torque, enough to take it from standstill to national speed limit in 3 seconds flat and on…and on…and on…to a distinctly illegal 203mph. It’s a phenomenally quick car. It’s not only faster than its predecessor but the aluminium chassis and added strengthening have kept torsional rigidity equal to the GTB while only adding 50kg so it can keep up with it’s coupe sibling too. A few tweaks to the electronics have also increased responsiveness and made the traction control less intrusive so be assured the Spider will handle beautifully.
Those of a more fiscally responsible mindset will be pleased to hear that Ferrari are also claiming that the 488 Spider will do, as near as makes no difference, 25mpg and only produces 260g/km of carbon dioxide. True, anyone who really cares about fuel economy probably won’t accept this as justification for spending £200k – pricing will be announced closer to the Frankfurt unveiling but it’s likely to be around that mark – on a Ferrari, nonetheless these are very impressive numbers when you consider the performance.
But all of this goes without saying. We know the 488 will be brilliant but will it fulfil the other role a Ferrari must perform? Will it be mind-bendingly, heart-achingly pretty? Only if your idea of pretty is usually featured in a David Attenborough documentary.
Viewed in profile the Spider is utterly gorgeous. From the rear it’s power and purpose are evident. From the front it looks like one of those unfortunate fish that swim along the sea bed sucking up mud in an endless attempt to justify owning such a ridiculously wide mouth. I’m sorry, I really am, but despite the brilliance the 488 just isn’t pretty enough. To be fair, and this is purely opinion based, there hasn’t really been a truly pretty Ferrari since the early 70’s but that’s also part of the problem. The 250, the 275, the 246 Dino (don’t argue, you know I’m right), these are some of the dizzying heights of prettiness that Ferrari have achieved and they haven’t really come close since.
There’s no question that Ferrari create stunning cars. There’s no question that they are at the pinnacle of automotive engineering. They’ve earned their privileged position but I just wish they could spend an extra few minutes on the design and make a truly pretty car again. It feels like they spend so much time concentrating on airflow and aerodynamics that they have forgotten the skill of making those holes in the bodywork look nice. That front end serves to scoop up great mouthfuls of air and divert it to the right places for downforce and cooling. It’s adaptive, it’s clever, but it looks like a fish and I don’t believe that’s the kind of simile Ferrari should be aiming for.
To paraphrase a sexist sentiment I once overheard: Killer body, shame about the face.
And now I shall run away………..