We tried. With a loan for
long in the diary and the offer of a
around the same time we sniffed a chance to have the two in at the same time and do a bit of a cheeky head to head. We couldn't quite pull it off though. So here's a head to head of sorts, just separated in the actual driving by a couple of weeks.
Prancing horses on your headrests? £720 extra...
Close enough for the Ferrari to be fresh in our minds on driving the McLaren though and close enough to compare how these ostensibly very similar cars differ more significantly from an emotional perspective.
For all the supposed differences, both companies have reached a remarkably consistent answer to the question of making a convertible mid-engined supercar. They've even settled on the same name. So like the McLaren the 458 Spider retracts its multi-piece targa-style roof panel behind a flat rear deck to leave two free-standing buttresses reminiscent of F1 airboxes. And, again likewise, you've got the appealing halfway house option of keeping the roof up but retracting the rear screen for coupe looks but a dose of Spider soundtrack. In both cases the weight penalty for the topless option is modest too - 40kg for the McLaren and 50kg for the Ferrari.
But we know all that already. Question is, can a 'cooking' 458 Spider still feel special in this age of the Speciale version?
Course it can.
Roof up or down it's a stunning looking machine
Any Ferrari is about showing off, the Spider is just completely unashamed about it. Why fight it? And from beginning to end this car is entirely devoted to making you feel good about yourself. Short of offering you a happy ending at the conclusion of each drive its sole purpose is to bolster your self esteem and ego almost to the extent of parody.
Fundamentally it's a really, really good car too. From the second bum hits seat it feels sorted in every respect - the driving position is low-slung and perfect, the seat firm and supportive, the cockpit stylish and driver focused. Some bizarre ergonomics and over-complicated double sided infotainment controls are about the one remaining 'character feature' but forget tales of doubled over Italian driving positions, offset pedals and poor visibility. Genuinely, it has an air of daily usability to match a 911 or R8 without any dilution of the drama or glamour you'd expect of a Ferrari. Seems churlish at this point to mention pricing but, if you fancy a giggle, check out the options prices below. Like the colour? £15,360 to you sir.
Like the colour? That's £15,360 extra please
Setting that aside it is, as you'd hope, spectacular to drive. Much has been said of the darty steering of modern Ferraris but though light and pointy at least the front end is consistent and predictable, unlike the oddly mushy and synthetic Lamborghini Huracan. It's quick and easy around town but still precise and positive when pushing on and, like the rest of the car, fills you with confidence about the integrity of the whole package. So what if its structure is sufficiently compromised roof down to send surprising levels of wobble through the steering column? Listen to it!
Points not ban
Special mention for the transmission too, which slurs and purrs its way around town like a torque converter auto yet delivers whip-crack shifts from the paddles with just enough of a jolt to set your pulse racing as you progress to Race on the Manettino and rev it out to 9,000rpm. Do this in anything beyond second gear and you'll be well beyond 'points not ban' territory on most UK roads but such is the sheer visceral thrill it's hard to resist. Especially for the effect it has on passengers.
And after all, isn't that what it should all be about? If an open top Ferrari can't provoke screams of pure excitement from its occupants there's something wrong with the world but, unspeciale or not, the 458 Spider nails its primary objectives.
Sit here and you feel like a hero - job done
The biggest of which is to make you look like a complete hero. And here's just the hint of a problem with the 458. It makes absolutely no demands of you as a driver, reinforces your sense of entitlement and invincibility and, unchecked, could quickly let arrogance take charge. Philosophical complaints perhaps but, at a more objective level, the competence of the thing is such that without some very serious numbers on the dials it's just all too easy. Even when you do reach the limits the balance and calibration of the controls is such that a slip-road slide is so easily caught and contained - the rotation so perfectly matched with the corrective lock - it's hard to escape the feeling you've been gifted deity levels of driver ability purely by sitting behind a prancing horse. Which is, of course, the Ferrari dream.
Criticising a car for being too good seems odd but your choices with the Spider are either taking massive liberties or opting for a more theatrical style involving lots of attention seeking gearshifts and unnecessarily high revs. Fun in itself, if unlikely to endear you to onlookers.
So. Woking or Maranello? The 458 has always been the more emotive choice, removal of the roof only bolstering the more charismatic attraction of the Ferrari's fabulous normally aspirated engine. And yet, as a driving tool, it seems the 650S survives the loss of its roof with more of its dynamic ability intact, weighs at least 60kg less and achieves the Top Trumps feat of being a genuine 200mph-plus car where the Ferrari tops out just shy of that figure. Numbers though. Ultimately the choice is still going to be an emotional one based on brand loyalties and image. What a dilemma to have, eh?
FERRARI 458 SPIDER
Engine: 4,499cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 570@9,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 398@6,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 sec
Top speed: 199mph
Weight: 1,430kg (dry and fitted with optional forged wheels and 'racing' seats)
MPG: 23.9 (NEDC combined)
Price: £198,971 (Before options; £244,025 as tested comprising AFS lights £1,239.60, Grigio Silverstone brake calipers £879.60, cruise control £655.20, leather lower zone upholstery £723.60, 'Sabbia' colour matched central tunnel £465.60, 'Daytona style' seats £2,376, front axle lift £2,894.40, prancing horse logos in headrests £720, sport exhaust £432, leather inner grilles £207.60, HELE High Emotion Low Emission £984, iPod integration £579.60, Scuderia shields £1,012.80, sat-nav £2,169.60, rear parking camera £2,274, parking sensors £1,447, Bordeaux seat piping £570, full electric seats £4,030.80, Sabbia leather headlining £672, premium hi-fi system £3,410, Bordeaux colour matched stitching £296.40, tyre pressure warning system £930, Sabbia colour matched trim for upper section of cabin £723.60 and Rosso Maranello ExtraCampionaro paint £15,360)