The Ferrari 458 Spider loses its roof but remains an exhilarating, evocative drive

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The Ferrari 458 Spider is a car for those as interested in being seen driving the latest Ferrari as actually driving it. Or to put it more charitably, one for those who want an ever richer, noisier and more evocative everyday driving experience than the already rich, noisy and evocative Ferrari 458 Italia can provide.

The launch of any new Ferrari brings with it plenty of excitement, but this car was that bit more significant than the usual decapitation job. The 458 Spider was Maranello’s first mid-engined convertible with a folding metal roof – the world’s first, or so said Ferrari. The roof is an aluminium arrangement that’s actually 25kg lighter than the cloth roof fitted to the F430 Spider, and motors from open to closed in just 14 seconds. It also packages very efficiently, doesn’t compromise the 458’s aerodynamics with the roof up, and leaves room behind the car’s seats for a small luggage shelf.

The Ferrari's roof is a brilliant feat of packaging and simple to use

One consequence of the rearranged rear deck is that you no longer have a glass cover over the engine. Instead you get a painted cover with six air extractors. The air intakes, which on the coupe are located near the B-pillar, have been shifted back just ahead of the rear lights.

Mechanically, the Spider gets more supple damper rates compared to the Italia, a gentler throttle map and a slightly fruitier exhaust tune. Ferrari has left the springs and anti-roll bar unchanged to preserve the terrific steering response, lateral grip and cornering ability of the coupe. The weight penalty it carries relative to the coupe is an extremely creditable 50kgs, and that means there’s very little appreciable performance difference between the two cars. Ferrari quotes an identical 3.4sec for the 0-62mph sprint, and there’s only 4mph between the maximum speeds of the two cars – the Spider being the marginally slower.

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When you look at the cockpit from the outside, you wonder if you’re going to get the full roofless experience. This is partly due to the buttresses behind the seats that not only contain part of the hinging mechanism for the roof but also double as static rollover bars. It’s a clever design because it means you don’t have to have pop-up rollover bars and the extra weight that comes with such a system, but it does leave the 458 Spider looking almost like a targa-roofed machine.

Any concern is dispelled when you get behind the wheel, because you do feel exposed enough. With the noise from the V8 engine, the performance and the rush of air, driving it is a more visceral experience than the coupe.

As you’d expect, the fundamentals of this car are very similar to the coupe. The steering is surprisingly incisive and quick; the car responds straight away to an input from the wheel, with very little roll, which is a consequence of the stiff springs and anti-roll bar. It is incredibly obedient and changes direction like a darting fish through a coral reef. On a B-road you do have to maintain alertness because camber changes will slightly redirect the car, so you have to counter those. It’s not a problem, because you buy a car like this to challenge you and it is one aspect of the enjoyment of driving it.

The key question is whether the Ferrari 458 Spider has lost much of the Italia’s rigidity. You can occasionally feel a quiver through the car, or a little bit of shimmy, but in no way does it feel loose structurally. On demanding country roads it holds together completely convincingly and is also very supple, especially when the least-extreme driver settings are used. Occasionally – if you go over a level crossing, for example – you’ll feel more clatter than you’d get from the coupe, but 95 percent of the time you’re not going to notice it.

The roof is simple to operate. You press a button and 14 seconds later the roof is either open or closed. When the roof goes down, the rear window drops to a position that is aerodynamically optimal for reducing buffeting. The roof itself is a brilliant feat of packaging and simple to use, although unlike most modern coupé-cabriolets, you can’t deploy the roof when the car is moving at slow speeds – you have to be stationary. The roof is in two pieces and folds into one hundred litres of space with a motion that is part-origami and part Houdini act.

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Overall the Ferrari 458 Spider gels tremendously well. You do lose that final 'edge' of the coupe version, but in terms of dynamism and exhilaration you lose virtually nothing. Expert drivers on a circuit will be able to tell the difference – apparently the 458 Spider is less than 0.5sec slower than the coupe around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. You certainly won’t drive this car with the nagging regret in the back of your mind that you should have gone for the coupe.

The compromise of the convertible is minimal, and the Ferrari 458 Spider comes highly recommended as a result.

Ferrari 458 Spider 2011-2015 First drives