The RM1.3m Ferrari F8 Spider roars, glides and bites

You’ll love every minute of driving this disarmingly practical supercar — if you can afford it


The brakes bite as suddenly as an asp and sink in as smoothly as fangs (Pics by Michael Rowe for Bloomberg)

FERRARI SpA has remained admirably stable during the Covid-19 pandemic, delivering 2,728 units in the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20) and reporting 1Q adjusted earnings of €317 million (RM1.52 billion) — near enough to the pre-coronavirus estimates of €321 million to garner praise.

To say that the workers in Modena, Italy, have been busy — minus the spring weeks when coronavirus concerns closed the factories — would be an understatement. Last year, Ferrari introduced a record five new models in one year, including the Roma and the SF90 Stradale, its first plug-in hybrid.

That boosted sales to first-time-ever 10,000- plus units for the 73-year-old automaker, which to that point had kept production closer to from 8,000 units to 9,000 units annually.

This threshold could feel dangerous for the world’s most powerful luxury car brand, which makes its bacon in large part from its perceived exclusivity. When such competitors as Lamborghini and McLaren respectively make roughly 8,000 and 6,000 cars each year, 10,000 units — a 25% increase from just two years ago — can seem quite the jump.

Still, if the cars Ferrari is cranking out are anything like the US$297,250 (RM1.27 million) 2021 Ferrari F8 Spider, we can consider the brand-safe from the possibility of damaging its reputation via overproduction.

Tradition Turned Up to 11

The author thinks the F8 Spider’s insanely good looks help justify its extremely high price tag (Pics by Michael Rowe for Bloomberg)

You knew the 8 in F8 alluded to the engine configuration, right? (I’ll get to that special V8 engine in a minute.) The F8 Spider is the convertible version of the Ferrari F8 Tributo introduced last year as the successor to the discontinued 488. Barring possibly the SF90, the F8 Tributo is the nimblest, most powerful, most advanced V8-powered car Ferrari has made.

The F8 Spider takes its cues from all the way back to the iconic 308 GTS which ruled roads from 1975 to 1985. You’ll see echoes in the roofline and the shape of the sides. The new car has what might be the best-looking body Ferrari has made since.

It continues the mood started by the F8 Coupe, but turns the dial-up, adding the verve of a retractable hardtop, which folds in half in 14 seconds. The lid slips into a curvaceous body that’s etched with air vents and sides so perfectly chiselled they belong in the Louvre.

The F8 Spider comes with the most advanced driving, exhaust, ride and entertainment systems made in Modena — such things as side-slip control, adjustable pressure on brake calipers, and a dynamic enhancement system that helps accentuate driver input and minimise body roll.

That all comes on top of the tangible thrill of top-down driving. Hair blowing in the wind from a Ferrari is always stylish, no? At least, that’s what the folks in Modena would say.

The F8 Spider’s insanely good looks help justify its extremely high price tag. The moment you witness its wraparound spoiler and round taillights (another nod to that 308 Ferrari — and all you’re likely to see of this speed demon if you’re not the one driving it), you know it’s a Ferrari.

I loved how low-slung it looked without looking squished; the F8 Spider looks fast standing still. I loved the swoop of the wheel wells that arch over the front wheels; the F8 Spider draws attention, but it doesn’t have to scream look at me like the insect-from-outer- space cars from Pagani and Koenigsegg. (Yes, the doors open the “normal” way: Out, rather than up.)

I also loved the new, super-slim LED headlights embedded into the hood of the car and the five-point star wheels that set it all off like a wink. Who wouldn’t love these design elements, which enhance the overall car without overpowering it.

But the smaller details are what really set it off: The discrete three-notch gills hidden underneath the car, near the front wheels; the multipiece air vents toward the rear sides of the car; the engine cover cunningly shaped like a manta ray, with a spine stretching down the back of the car, starting under the rear screen and following the spoiler along the air flow.

Is there a car more imbued with a sense of place, more evocative of its sunny home hills, than the lovely Giallo Modena (canary yellow) stallion I drove for two days through California’s canyon land? I have yet to find one.

The Award-Winning V8

Paddle-shifting makes it easy to drive the F8 Spider, but doesn’t decrease driving engagement through its 7 gears (Pics by Michael Rowe for Bloomberg)

Now, for that famous engine. Ferrari uses a 711hp V8 engine here, the same 3.9L, twin-turbocharged V8 as the one in the 488 Pista. (Pista is Italian for track, and that is just where that variant belongs.) Here, the engine has been fine-tuned to get even more power and achieve peak torque (568lb-ft) at a slightly higher RPM, making it the most powerful road-ready V8 Ferrari has ever made. Zero to 62mph (100kph) takes 2.9 seconds; top speed is 211mph.

This retention of that V8 is no surprise: No automaker celebrates its engines quite the way Ferrari does. When I visited the factory in Modena last year, the assembly of the V8 engine was the focal point of my trip.

(Of course, the engine would be the focal point, but the amount of words, caresses and looks of longing for the engines bordered on religious practice — more devout that anything I’ve seen at other manufacturing facilities.)

In Modena, men and women in white coats, special rubberised shoes, and silk-soft gloves construct each engine with the care a neonatal intensive care nurse devotes to putting an infant to bed. These second-, third- and fourth-generation artisans are rightfully proud: The engine has won the prestigious title of “International Engine of the Year” four years running, starting in 2016, and was selected best engine of the last two decades, according to the annual panel comprising automotive journalists and magazine editors.

Minutes after a friendly flatbed truck driver dropped off the car at my home in Los Angeles — social distancing firmly intact — I floored the F8 Spider up Route 110 on a long-way- around kind of drive toward Malibu. (There would be photography stops along canyon roads and overpasses along the way.)

The intense timbre of the engine — completely recalibrated for the F8 Spider, thanks to a new exhaust intake system — was like a yogi’s bell, clarifying my mind as I drove. The F8 Spider became the trap-door escape I’d been seeking from the pressures and unknowns of what is now our fourth month of coronavirus living. Salvation!

By the time I got to Little Tujunga Canyon Road, I could feel the tension melting from my shoulders. As I pushed up toward the back end of Mulholland Drive, squeezing the gas pedal with my foot, I found myself disbelieving just how much grip and balance the F8 Spider provided in exact tandem with the instant power and whopping 8,000 rev limit.

The adaptive performance launch system reduced wheel slippage so much that the car felt infallible. Everything sings in harmonic balance, with no sliding from side to side, inside the car or out. The brakes bite as suddenly as an asp and sink in as smoothly as fangs. There’s no raw edge, anywhere.

If you ever want anything from anyone, just buy this car and let them drive it for a while. Driving the Ferrari F8 Spider is a completely disarming experience.

(Un)Common Sense Placement

These screens show the driver most of what she needs; a 3rd on the side of the steering wheel helps dictate audio and navigation settings (Pics by Michael Rowe for Bloomberg)

The retractable hardtop of the F8 drops at speeds up to 27.9mph; it folds neatly into two pieces and sits on top of the engine, leaving storage room in front of the car that allows for two large overnight bags and a few bottles of rosé.

I mostly drove it with the top up in an effort to preserve my complexion —possibly a mortal sin in Italy, where, as a point of national pride, the Spider must shine in all its roofless glory. In that form, the cabin proved tightly made and quiet — a boon I’ve found you can never assume in a convertible, even one from one of the world’s most expensive auto brands.

Another surprise: I enjoyed nearly complete visibility at every corner of the car, rare in sports cars of this dimension and calibre.

It always takes me a half-second to reacquaint myself with the Ferrari driving configuration — all buttons on the steering wheel, including turning signals, so your hands never leave it — and then I remember how much I love it. I wonder why every brand doesn’t do this.

In the F8, everything the driver needs to see — audio levels, media, climate — is in the round gauges directly in front. You flip through via your thumbs. Ferrari’s signature seven-inch touch screen display, long like a ruler, sits on the passenger side, so whoever isn’t driving can control the audio and look at performance statistics.

These days, in the shadow of Covid-19, I find I am carrying more than ever: Masks, coffee cups, handphones, chargers, sunglasses, hats, multiple keys and garage clickers. The car has ample space for storing it all, thanks largely to a flying bridge configuration that leaves space and storage between passenger and driver; no central control screen or computer command centre divides them. (This is the exact opposite of the Berlin Wall that splits the Chevrolet Corvette C8 in two; the new ‘Vette is a great car, but I hate that divide.)

The F8 Spider I drove cost US$396,994 — a sum that included a few non-essential, highly expensive upgrades such as carbon fibre inner door handles (US$4,219), leather striped seats (US$1,181) and blue brake calipres (US$1,519). I’d suggest opting out of some such options, which cost more and make the car look less classy.

Still, I admit to loving the glossy silver wheels (US$6,243) and the titanium exhaust pipes (US$2,531). The US$4,893 protective film wrapped all over the car is a good idea, too. Ferrari’s latest is certainly priced as prohibitively as it is beautiful. But it’s worth remembering that the F8 Spider is wrought from the blood, sweat and tears of generations of Italian pride. Those who can afford it will find a willing workhorse in a supercar born of generations of strong Ferrari heritage and saddled with practical accoutrements that belie its supermodel looks. The F8 Spider is a shimmering bright spot during an otherwise unstable year. I highly recommend it. — Bloomberg