2017 Ferrari 488 Spider: Perfection — almost


It’s stupid to say the 2017 Ferrari is really fast, handles really well and is incredibly fun to drive.

Of course it is. It’s a Ferrari.

But it’s not stupid to say these things are particularly true of the new 488 Spider. It’s a truly marvelous machine, and a perfectly eloquent expression of what Ferrari calls “extreme performance.”


Despite that, it’s not perfect. And at a base MSRP of $272,700, shouldn’t it be?

This update of the 458 Spider is Ferrari’s idea of a drop-top supercar with touring comfort and capacity.

In execution, it is all that. It’s screamingly fast when you want it to be, and entirely manageable when you don’t. You can take it to the track and treat it like a race car, and then drive it home in complete touring comfort.

The new 488 — I tested the hard-top version in a Big Sur coastal drive at last year’s Monterey Car Week — is powered by a 3.9-liter turbo-charged V-8 engine that makes 670 horsepower and 560 pound feet of torque. That jets the lightweight 488 from zero to 60 mph hour in under three seconds.

Ferrari calls the 488 engine its “most high-performance engine ever.” But the car is equally impressive doing 60 to zero. The company says improvements in the Brembo braking system have shortened stopping distances by 9%.

The 488 does all the starting and stopping with precise handling, cutting like a stiletto through the canyons, diving in and out of corners and making even an adequate driver like me feel like an ace.


But it also proves smooth and steady on the open road. A comfort setting on the suspension takes some of the stiffness out of the pavement. The “wet” driving mode setting, intended for safer driving on slick streets, also makes for good urban driving in heavy traffic. (Other driving modes are sport, race, traction control off and electronic stability control off.)

With the top up, it’s also surprisingly quiet. You could actually do some touring in this grand touring car and, if you weren’t too distracted by the driving, carry on a conversation with a passenger or enjoy the music coming out of the premium JBL sound system.

The Bluetooth-connected telephone engages easily — unlike many new cars, which still require special telecommunications skills — and functions well.

I found it even quieter than the F12 Berlinetta, which is actually more of a touring vehicle.

That’s impressive, given the weapons-grade thermonuclear device that powers this car is placed right behind the driver’s head.

But the intoxicating roar of the engine is just a push-button away. One switch lowers the rear glass, with no other purpose than to bring the V-8 noise into the passenger compartment.


Another switch lowers the top entirely. It takes about 10 seconds to disappear into the trunk. (That leaves the front trunk, or “frunk,” open for storing your golf clubs, tennis rackets, polo mallets or picnic baskets.)

Once out of the city, I took the top down and started toggling between sport and race modes. I also went back and forth between the automatic and paddle shift manual transmission settings, thrilled by the throttle response and hypnotized by that amazing Ferrari sound.

I was halfway up Angeles Crest Highway before I had to turn back.

A friend who knew I had recently driven the new McLaren 570 S and Porsche 911 Turbo S asked me which of the three sports cars I would buy if I were shopping for a new set of wheels.

This is tantamount to asking me to guess my weight on Mars, because it’s a riddle I will never have to solve. Any one of these cars is five times more car than I could ever use, with 10 times more performance value than I could ever maximize.

Plus, they’re a hair out of my price range.

But I do believe the Ferrari has a more discernible turbo lag than the others, despite its claim to have eliminated turbo lag entirely.

I’m sure a better driver than I wouldn’t have this problem, but unless I was between the middle and the top of the power band, there was just the slightest hesitation when I really put my foot on it — before the car took off like a rocket.


This is very much a sports car. It sits so low that I found myself frequently engaging the nose-lifting system — a $5,000 option — to get in and out of even slightly steep driveways. That means it’s easier to get into, at the start of the day, than to get out of, at the end.

It also means it’s not what a female friend called “skirt friendly.”

Ferrari expects its owners to be very engaged and connected to the driving experience. So it’s put buttons to operate almost everything — turn signals, driving mode, windshield wipers, even radio stations and phone calls — in the steering wheel.

That may also be why the company barely gave the 488 a cup holder, and put it so far out of reach, far forward in the center console.

The version I drove cranked up the driver experience dramatically. It included upgraded seats, special wheels and tires, a variety of weight-reducing carbon fiber elements, and improvements to the standard suspension.

That added considerably to the cost of the vehicle. The electrically adjustable Daytona-style race seats alone added about $12,000; the Blu Corsa paint job added about that much too. All the carbon fiber? It’s designed to lighten the weight of the car, but it will also shrink the size of your bank account by an additional $13,000.

The result is one of the lightest, fastest, most desirable sports cars in the world. It’s so close to perfect that you have to wonder: Why isn’t it perfect?


Having spoiled me rotten with the 488’s “extreme performance,” Ferrari disappointed me in two areas.

First, the dashboard screen attached to the optional $6,000 front and rear cameras is so small as to be not very helpful. This is a shame. A car this delicate and expensive is likely to make its owner extremely interested in knowing whether he’s about to bump into something.

Second, the HVAC system is pathetic. Over a full week in the 488, I never did find a way to keep the car comfortable. With the top up, top down, driving during the day, driving during the night, it was almost always too hot or too cold, and was often too loud, because any fan setting above “Low” was blowing so hard that it ruined all the lovely sound-deadening work the Ferrari engineers have worked so hard to create.

Those don’t detract from the mechanical perfection of the 488, and they may seem like unreasonable quibbles.

But if I’m going to spend almost $400,000 on a car, I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Ever. Call me spoiled. Blame Ferrari.

2017 Ferrari 488 Spider


Times’ take: Supercar specs, touring car comfort

Highs: The most powerful Ferrari Spider ever

Lows: First-rate car with a couple of second-rate elements

Vehicle type: Two-door, two-passenger convertible

Base price: $272,700

Price as tested: $392,784

Powertrain: 3.9-liter, twin-turbo, 8-cylinder engine

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Horsepower: 670

Torque: 560 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy rating: 15 mpg city / 22 mpg highway / 18 mpg combined

Twitter: @misterfleming