Love and Breakups in a Ferrari 488 Spider

The 458 Speciale once stole my heart. Now, it’s complicated.

Romance is always in the air in a Ferrari, never more than in Italy. But even in Emilia-Romagna, in the thick of a Sangiovese vineyard-cum-spa, I’m determined to resist a 661-horsepower come-on from that pneumatic hussy, the turbocharged 488 Spider. Ignoring those out-to-here hips, painted in the latest Blu Corsa fashion; trying not to get lost in the dusky caverns of the side air intakes.

Let some Eurotrash gigolo take my place. My heart belongs to another, the 488’s predecessor, the 458. We’ve only had a brief fling, but a romp around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track convinced me the track-focused 458 Speciale was the world’s greatest sports car. But now, Ferrari whispers like some procurer, the ingenue of my dreams has picked up a coke habit and put on 7 pounds. And I need to dump her. Presto. Before this turns into creepy-sexist Mad Men copy, let’s snuff the post-test-drive cigarette and consider the 488 Spider.

The eighth generation of Ferrari’s mid-engine, V-8 convertible raises the bar the way you’d suspect it would. Transport the 488 Spider to the seminal Ferrari 308 era, and Tom Selleck would yank out his mustache just to sit in the Botticelli-shell seats, play with the steering-wheel manettino switch and ask what the hell it is he’s stroking. (It’s called “carbon fiber,” Mr. Selleck). Despite harnessing 0.6-liters less displacement than the 458, the 488 Spider amasses 99 more horsepower and a shocking 40-percent torque bump. The not-so-secret is turbocharging. And with an record 170 horsepower per liter, this engine spits another nail in the coffin for free-breathing V-8 engines.

The 488 Spider pops the cork from 0-62 mph in three seconds flat, 0.4 seconds quicker than a droptop 458. Braking distances, shift speeds, lap times, steering response, and even perhaps sexual response: Ferrari has PowerPoint math to prove that 488 beats 458. Here in Emilia-Romagna, we don’t need a single espresso to get antsy at the sight of a half-dozen 488’s, tops lowered and waiting.

The front end leads with almost alien maw, including an aerodynamic splitter that hovers like a cantilevered bridge. At first, the 308-style scalloped doors, Hobbit-high door handles and looping rear fenders seem too greedy for attention, dragging your eye down the rabbit hole of its air intakes. But from the rear and three-quarters, it’ll make you giggle from sheer exotic aptness.

The dual aluminum headrest fairings are the Spider’s design coup over the coupe, windswept dunes that spill over a rear deck, wide and martial as an aircraft carrier’s. This Ferrari is all about wind, including the signature “blown spoiler” that funnels air through an intimate orifice at the rear to pin the tail to the pavement. Compared to many new convertibles, the top is languorous, opening and closing in 14 seconds. But once it’s dropped, and the autumn vineyards recede behind us, we quickly learn that 488 Spider and a public road is not a fair fight.

Unleashed on the Autostrada, my searing yellow Spider leads a three-car convoy to an effortless 150 mph. Something up ahead pings my radar, and I slow down just as a parked Carabinieri pops into view. I swear he’s grinning as we flash past.

The steering wheel is a Schumacher-via-Mitty affair, strung with everything from shift lights to turn signals. Twitch a finger on its column-mounted shift paddles, and the seven-speed auto gearbox downshifts 40 percent faster, and upshifts 30 percent sooner, than that hardcore 458 Speciale.

We tear up a long, lopping ascent to Forte di San Leo, a medieval castle atop a hyper-dramatic promontory that stood in as Leonardo da Vinci’s pad in Hudson Hawk, the early Nineties epic Bruce Willis bomb. In the courtyard, the mayor (wearing a sash in Italian-flag colors) and his cohort greet us with coffee table books and local wines, cheeses and honey. Because driving a new Ferrari in Italy is like pulling up in the Popemobile.

The stability control, conspiring with a range of Formula 1-inspired onboard systems, constantly assesses your inputs and relative skill level, maximizing speed and traction in any situation. During full-out driving, Ferrari claims, the 488 is shooting 130 more horsepower to the pavement at virtually any moment compared with its predecessor.

Gliding over Italy’s gimcrack asphalt to the Adriatic Sea near Rimini, the 488 Spider captures and carries us like a bobber in the rushing Colorado. The body never oscillates, the tires don’t squirm until intentionally provoked with gobs of power in lower gears. Our speeds climb higher and higher, and we wonder what it might take to rattle the Ferrari.

There are only two related downsides, three if you count the near-unobtainable price: The hallmark of decades of Ferraris, that warlike shriek, has been silenced. And while the ambitious tachometer displays 10,000 rpm at it outer spectrum, the actual redline is 8,000 rpm, down from 9,000 in the 458. In automatic mode, the car is too smart to bother chasing redline, preferring to upshift around 7,000 and let the next gear drop.

The engine is still a flat-crank beauty, the turbos an amazingly technical affair with a featherweight turbine wheel, ball bearings and abradable seals that reduce energy losses. The 488 emits a wolf whistle of turbo hiss—not a bad sound, but it does conjure Evos rather than Enzos. Ferrari describes the sound as a baritone. We all know tenors are the real stars at La Scala.

Just as the company did away with manual transmissions, it now tells us every future car will be either turbocharged or hybridized. Porsche’s new 911 is turbocharged, even models that don’t wear a Turbo badge. This is now the way of the world, more horsepower and torque with less fuel consumption and emissions. Game over. And that goes for the Fords and Audis and Japanese metal that the rest of us drive, too. Especially with an IPO afoot, Ferrari isn’t about to let rowdy turbo engines—like that in Mercedes AMG GT S—start brutalizing its supercars.

So raise a glass of Barolo to the Ferraris of old, sure. But save a toast for this stupendous new 488, too, in Spider or GTB coupe form. The Lamborghini Huracán is one fine supercar, but its handling doesn’t flow from your fingertips as in the Ferrari; the Porsche 911 GT3 RS puts up a noble performance battle, but is eclipsed in curbside appeal parked anywhere near the 488’s orbit. The McLaren 650S, another performance toss-up, can’t match the Ferrari’s Italian mystique or blue-chip resale value.

That leaves the 488 plucking the 458’s plum role as the best current supercar. Breaking up is always hard, but I’ll let the 458 down easy. Please, amore: It’s not you, it’s me.