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Ferrari 430 Spider F1

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“Ferrari’s 196mph
  F430 Spider wears
  its supercar status
  in much the same
  way as the Devil
  wears Prada.
  But there are no
  devils here —
  this delectable
  convertible is
  definitely made
  in Heaven....

IF YOU ACCEPT that you
't take your money
with you, then why not spend it? And spend it you could, on a taste of Heaven on Earth. Ferrari-shaped Heaven, that is. The Prancing Horse on the nose might not have wings but at 196mph and 0-62mph in a blistering 4 seconds it rivals Pegasus for thrills. But there
's more than 24-carat performance to Ferrari's latest convertible supercar: wherever it goes, it looks and sounds good enough to grab attention and approbation in equal measure from other road users and foot traffic alike.

Plug 'n' Play and Ferrari? Not words you'd expect to find used in the same soundbite. Traditionally, Ferraris have demanded serious respect and ability if they were to be driven properly. They still do. But even with 483bhp and a mid-engine set-up, a new Ferrari is an amazingly user-friendly machine. But Plug 'n' Play? Why not? If you'd driven an earlier model and then found yourself fast-forwarded into the cockpit of the latest F430 Spider you'd be amazed. Because while this latest Ferrari is every inch the supercar, just about anybody — with even a modicum of common sense! — can enjoy driving a Spider in the manner to which the craftsmen and engineers who built it fully intended. Even if you're not quite up to the standard of 'The Man' himself.

Admittedly there's a 'getting to know you; getting to know all about you' period, as in any valuable long-term relationship. And a Ferrari is most definitely no one-night stand. The first thing that you need to accustom yourself to is the F1-style paddle-shift gear-change. Once purely the preserve of Formula One drivers, it's appearing on more and more top-end cars. The problem for most drivers is that since the day they passed their driving test they've been using a standard stick shift. A paddle-shift set-up is easy, once you've got the hang of it. And it only takes a couple of outings to adjust to the new technology.

“While this latest
Ferrari Spider is every
inch the supercar,
just about anybody —
with just a modicum
of common sense! —
can enjoy driving it... hard
One of the problems with writing about cars is that important words soon become degraded because they're often applied to cars that don't quite come up to scratch. Take the oft-used 'dramatic'. The Spider is unequivocally dramatic.

From the back — the view other motorists are most likely to see — two aspects stand out immediately. First those round rear lights. With a laid-back nod to the Enzo, they break out of the tail's upper deck like four glowing red rocks pushed up by a sea of molten lava. Over the top? Well, maybe. But continuing the theme of a bubbling volcano is the evocative red crackle finish to the twin cam covers capping the V8 — displayed under a clear glass engine cover incorporated into the rear deck.

Completing Pininfarina's aggressive tail treatment is a quartet of ball-polished steel tailpipes — and the aerodynamic diffuser to manage under-body airflow is not just for show: it generates a strong down-force to ensure stability at the very high speeds the Spider is easily capable of hitting.

Strongly defined by an aggressive stance, the front end is immediately identifiable by its two distinctive elliptical air intakes that channel cooling air to the radiators. The two intakes are linked at their lower edge by a spoiler that directs air towards the Spider's flat underbody. Aficionados will spot a further knowing design nod to another Ferrari model — the '61 Formula One 'shark-nose' Ferrari 156. The functional styling touches continue even once you're strapped into your seat: the wing mirrors, for example, have specially-profiled twin mounting arms that channel airflow to the engine intakes sitting proud on the shoulder of each rear wheel arch. Their job is to feed masses of raw, cold air to the engine: 483bhp is hot stuff.

While the all-aluminium body is clearly designed for sin, the cabin is equally evocative. A skilfully mixed cocktail of function, Italian style and luxury. Top quality hide covers everything from the seats and the A-pillars to the inner door skins — the heady scent of it rolls out at you like an expensive A-list perfume as you pull open the door. The test car's Daytona style upholstery was a smart Bordeaux/Ivory combination which looks super-smart, ensuring the cabin ambience corresponds to the test car's £160K price tag. For the record, prices for the F430 Spider F1 start at £136,325 on the road.

The leather and carbon-
fibre steering wheel
invites — sorry, demands
that you grip it...”
The cabin is actually more practical than you might expect, with a decent sized glovebox, long flexible door pockets and generous room behind the seats for luggage to complement the 250 litres of 'boot' space under the bonnet. There are even pop-out coat hooks in the rear of the headrests. Settle into the driver's seat: the driving position is as sporting, and the adjustable side bolstering as good at holding you firmly, as first appearances suggest. The leather and carbon-fibre steering wheel invites — sorry, demands that you grip it. The thumb cut-outs, just down from the built-in horn buttons and neatly integrated into the rim, are comfy and exactly in the right place.

On the bottom left of the carbon-fibre centre boss is a large red starter button. And mounted on the lower right-hand side of the boss you'll find perhaps the cleverest piece of the F430 Spider's electronic hardware — the 'manettino'. Twist this small, red anodised toggle switch and you can dial up the driving style option of your choice: five individual dynamic settings ranging from Ice, Low Grip and Sport through to Race and Expert. The manettino adjusts gearshift times and the V8's engine management system as well as the Skyhook electronic dampers and the threshold at which the traction/ stability control and ESP anti-skid systems get involved.

It also modifies the characteristics of the 430's new electronically-controlled differential, the E-Diff. Acting on constant real-time data (accelerator pedal angle, steering angle, yaw acceleration and individual wheel rotation speed), the E-Diff appropriately apportions torque to the rear wheels. On the track, the E-Diff guarantees maximum grip out of bends, eliminating wheel spin. On the road it is a formidable technological refinement that increases handling balance and grip (which noticeably improves acceleration), makes for better roadholding on the limit and also guarantees improved steering feel.

Details delight wherever you look or touch: aluminium and carbon-fibre highlights, a beautifully-fashioned steering wheel — intriguingly very slightly flattened at the top for improved visibility in the straight ahead position — ergonomic and stylish instruments with pride of place in the driver's direct line of sight going to the large yellow-faced rev-counter that also displays the active gear in easy-to-read digital format. Three big swivelling 'eyeball' air vents, each strikingly detailed with a miniature 'prancing horse' cast into its metal core, ensure you stay as cool or as warm as you desire. Every single aspect is a visual and tactile treat. The major controls are physically spot-on but, despite the luxurious demeanour, the Spider's cabin emanates almost a modest 'pared down' feel. It seems to be saying 'Yes, of course I look fabulous, but I am designed to be driven.' And drive it we did: given the flimsiest of excuses; day or night, rain or shine.

Seasoned trackday
drivers will want to select
Expert, which turns off
all the safety kit
except the ABS and
electronic brake
distribution. At which
point you really are
on your own
The Ice setting locks-in automatic gear-changing and proved an effective choice on the icy mornings we experienced during our test in the days immediately preceding the year's first snow.

With the outside temperature hovering at two degrees above freezing, Low Grip — which optimises damping for best comfort — still had the tail scything round on right-angled crossroads and the Lilliputian roundabouts that only work on planners' drawings. The standard Sport setting is ideal for every road menu you're ever likely to meet; from bustling towns to high-speed autobahns. In Race mode, gearshift change times step up a notch, going from very fast to almost instantaneous with every change done and dusted in a mere 150 milliseconds.

The Race setting also permits enthusiastic drivers a large margin of leeway by winding back the Traction and Stability control thresholds but, happily, not at the risk of extracting a penalty for over zealous driving. Seasoned trackday drivers will want to select Expert, which turns off all the safety kit except the ABS and electronic brake distribution. At which point you really are on your own.

Actually this Ferrari Spider is a very much a practical everyday car. It's tractable, comfortable over long distances and it will drive uncomplainingly down to your local Waitrose where it can be slotted into a standard parking bay alongside lesser machinery as easily as the average repmobile. The audible rear parking sensors make it even easier. There's room for a week's groceries or weekender luggage in the front compartment and the car wash jocks in Sainsbury's will vie to charge you the same going rate as if they were washing a Mondeo. And you'll never forget where you left it — just make for the crowd in the car park. Blatant approbation from 99 per cent of other road users blasts away any Monday Morning Blues. If that doesn't do it, then a blip on the throttle will cure all ills!

At the heart of the F430 Spider beats 4.3 litres of highly-tuned and high-revving V8. The figures of 483bhp at 8,500rpm and 343lb ft at 5,250rpm (80 per cent of which is available at 3,500rpm) only tell half the story. All you really need to know can be summed up in a single soundbite: an absolute corker that even in sixth gear pulls cleanly from 1,500rpm. And the Spider's V8 is happy to take it all the way to the very top — to 8,500rpm.

“Once you cross the
demarcation zone around
4,500rpm, there’s a
palpable stepping up of
torque as the 4.3-litre
V8 really gets into
its stride
Once you cross the demarcation zone around 4,500rpm, there's a palpable stepping up of torque as the V8 really gets into its stride, which continues unabated all the way to the limiter. Equally as entertaining as the performance is the accompanying soundtrack, building up to a shrieking crescendo above 5,000rpm.

Drop the top and you'll never reach for the Hi-Fi's 'on' button. In four days of driving our Spider's roof rarely saw daylight. Long tunnels become an audible delight and worth every inch of a 40-mile detour for the sheer enjoyment of the bombardment reverberating off the walls back into the open cockpit.

It's no accident that the Spider makes more 'music' than its Coupé stablemate, and from lower revs, too: Ferrari has modified the exhaust bypass valve. Neat. It's tuneful at any revs but the best audio track is when you're flexing the V8 between 4,500 and 8,500rpm. Maximise the gear ratios and the roar can be heard streets away. All accompanied by a relentless forward thrust as the slim red needle races around the rev-counter, sweeping past the 7,000rpm marker at twelve o'clock with disdain. The effect is bellissimo and, of course, much easier to appreciate in a drop-top.

As the roof folds electrically, there's no reason to have the top up unless you really need to. Press one button and it unlocks itself from the screen's header rail before concertina-ing out of sight below the rear deck. Twenty seconds and you're cleared for take-off. But be warned: the whole roof folding thing itself guarantees an audience. But more importantly for the Spider's keeper, it is totally practical. With the roof in place, there's good headroom with excellent refinement at speed.

When the cabin is open to the skies, you're well protected from the wind — courtesy of a clear Plexiglass wind-blocker between the hooped roll-bar behind each seat. Whizzing around with the top down for our test — with seat heaters and the climate control dialled round to max — was awesome. Even at three-figure speeds you'll feel no more than a whisper of air around your head. Every passenger who joined us for a spin in the Spider was impressed by the stillness of the air in the cockpit, even at fast motorway speeds. Despite the vocal V8, normal conversation is no problem so long as the driver has the willpower to go easy on the throttle.

Given its mid-rear engine layout, the Spider is as forgiving as it is agile. From the second you pull out into the traffic for the very first time, it feels wonderfully composed. Nonetheless, Ferrari have — and quite rightly — provided a competent stability control system. In spite of the clever E-Diff, driving the 430 Spider with verve still requires a team effort. That said, this convertible incarnation of Ferrari's F430 is an immensely rewarding car to drive quickly. At a seriously brisk lick, it will flow sinuously along winding roads — its flat belly feeling hunkered down tightly — with an uninterrupted rhythm.

“With a fiery 483bhp,
the Spider eats up roads
with the kind of feral
ferocity that calls for
focused driver
involvement in the
braking, steering
and gear changing
Grip is amazing and credit must go to Ferrari's E-Diff for the unobtrusive manner in which it maximises — and maintains — traction. It needs to: with a fiery 483bhp on tap, the Spider eats up roads with the kind of feral ferocity that calls for focused driver involvement in the braking, steering and gear changing departments.

In anything less capable, progress this visceral could be pretty scary. Fortunately, Ferrari's F1 paddle-shift system is on hand — or rather, on the steering wheel! — so the next gear is never more than a finger-flick away. Pull lightly on the right paddle to shift up; on the left to shift down. The active gear is displayed clearly in the big rev-counter.

Good news, too, is that this latest generation F1 semi-automatic gearbox also offers a competent 'Auto' mode — simply press the button on the centre console. The software-controlled gearshift lets the car emulate a torque converter and change gear in a simulated automatic mode that's decidedly handy, particularly in heavy city traffic. Reverse gear is selected by pressing the 'R' button adjacent to 'Auto'.

Twist the manettino to the Sport or Race setting and you will literally feel the car 'sharpen up' around you. You'll also halve the gearshift time. Changes up and down the 'box are quick and clean; the paddle-shift transmission shifting faster and more polished than any mere mortal. And no pussyfooting about either: in this latest Ferrari the driver wastes no time juggling revs, clutch and stick. And there's no obligation to lift off the throttle as you finger-shift through the ratios. Simply floor the chunky aluminium accelerator and the Spider's electronics do the rest. In a machine this fast, the logic of paddle-shifting is unmissable.

Particularly impressive is the near-Coupé level of torsional stiffness evidenced by the Spider's open body. Not once during our test was there even the slightest hint of flex or shudder — not even when riding over some truly bad tarmac. The really, really good news arising from this is that Spider drivers don't have to give up handling and roadholding precision — often a non-negotiable penalty of going for a convertible.

A key factor in the Spider's driveability is the steering: deliciously direct, well-weighted, honest and with keen and incisive turn-in, it lets you place the 6-feet-3.7-inch wide Spider with confidence. And it also offers enough feedback to let you know what's happening under the front pair of 225/35 19-inch Pirellis (rear tyres are 285/35). Given the front/rear mix and size of this rubber you've probably already — and correctly — guessed that there's no spare, although there is a tyre repair kit. Directional stability is reassuringly good and, combined with markedly pliant suspension, it enables the Spider to deliver a firm yet very civilised ride — although never at the expense of composure and driver-flattering precision.

The optional £10,500
carbon-ceramic brakes
impart first-rate feel
and pedal modulation
along with awesome
stopping power
You also have the insurance of powerful brakes. Our test car was fitted with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes — 380mm discs with six-pot callipers up front and 340mm 4-pot callipers at the rear.

A worthwhile option, even at £10,500. They certainly impart first-rate feel and pedal modulation along with awesome stopping power — as dramatically demonstrated during a pulse-racing emergency stop caused by a broken down van in the fourth lane of the M25, while driving the Spider back to Ferrari's UK base in Slough.

We stopped near enough instantly and the Citroën behind, whose lady driver was busy ogling the Spider's rear deck, also managed a remarkable show of evasive driving. However, it was a sobering reminder of just what a distraction supercars can be. Passing vehicles swerved erratically, their passengers — sometimes even the drivers! — still fast-clicking away on their camera 'phones.

Some might consider fuel consumption to be irrelevant for customers spending around £150K for a car. Not at all. Ferrari's well-heeled clientele are concerned about miles per gallon in so far as it affects the range between fill-ups. Officially, the Spider should manage 10.5, 15.4 and 21.2mpg respectively on the town, combined and touring cycles. Over the course of 400+ enthusiastically driven miles we averaged a very acceptable 14.5mpg. The Spider is fitted with a 21-gallon tank, so forecourt visits shouldn't prove too tiresome.

The Ferrari F430 Spider is one very addictive piece of machinery. For such a finely-honed, performance-oriented driver's tool it manages to appeal on two fronts: firstly, it satisfies those who want to drive faster than everyone else; secondly, it flatters those who just want to be noticed by everyone else. Spending five days driving the Spider was a delightful eye-opener. A supercar it may be, but one that's utterly engaging and, even more significantly, one truly capable of living in the real world. Throw in that magnificent V8 backing-track and Ferrari's magnifico F430 Spider F1 fulfils every red-blooded driver's dream. — MotorBar

Ferrari F430 Spider F1 | £136,325
Maximum speed: 196mph | 0-62mph: 4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 14.5mpg
Power: 483bhp | Torque: 343lb ft