2014 Ferrari 458 Spider

The 458 Spider is the folding-hardtop convertible version of Ferrari's magnificent 458 Italia coupe. It offers an open-air experience for those who prefer the wind in their face and the scream of their Ferrari exhaust as loud as the bright red paint job.

Mechanically identical in most respects to the Italia, the Spider a sonorous 4.5-liter direct-injection V8 that shifts through a seven-speed dual-clutch automated-manual transmission. The V8 cranks out 562 horsepower at a staggering 9,000 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm, which combines with its 3,153 lbs curb weight to help the 458 Spider scoot to 62 mph in just under 3.4 seconds.

Perhaps even more note-worthy than the performance numbers is the Ferrari's handling - the car feels like it's hard-wired to the driver's synapses, responding to control inputs with lightning alacrity yet remaining extremely forgiving (assuming the stability control isn't shut off) for less advanced pilots.

Helping to make the 458 Italia's sublime driving dynamics possible is a rigid, lightweight aluminum chassis that features advanced alloys and aerospace industry manufacturing and bonding techniques. The suspension is composed of a twin wishbone/multi-link setup, and an electronic rear differential helps apportion power so as to make the best of use of available traction. Standard carbon fiber brakes are extremely fade-resistant and effective at bringing the 458 Spider down from extra-legal speeds.

Designed to both save weight and add to the 458 Spider's profile, the aluminum hardtop can be lowered or raised in just 14 seconds. Ferrari says that the aluminum roof, the first such application on a mid-rear-engined sports car, saves around 55 lbs. over a more traditional cloth roof.

Given that most roofs would hide away where the 458 Spider's V8 engine resides, certain engineering feats had to be achieved. The roof stows just ahead of the engine bay and its compact dimensions meant that Ferrari was able to add a small rear bench for additional luggage directly behind the front seats. Like the hardtop, the 458 Spider also offers some storage room under its front bonnet.

Ferrari says that structural modifications mean that the Spider features the same level of rigidity with the top up or down. Meanwhile, an adjustable electric windstop keeps unwanted air out of the cockpit. Ferrari says that normal conversations can be had at up to 124 mph.

Inside, the cabin is a postmodern collection of abstract shapes and flowing lines. The look isn't for everyone, but materials and craftsmanship are first-rate. In order to free up real estate for the large paddle shifters, Ferrari has done away with steering wheel-mounted stalks and relocated a host of secondary controls to the steering wheel. This quirky setup is a bit of an acquired taste. Other ergonomic elements of the 458 are also a bit off-beat, such as a instrument cluster that displays the navigation system or the speedometer - but not both at the same time.

Thankfully, important details like the driving position and pedal placement are superb, and the manettino - a steering wheel-mounted dial that controls traction, stability control and differential settings - is simple and prominently placed.

Should buyers want to personalize their 458, Ferrari offers an extremely wide range of options ranging from different leather upholsteries to carbon fiber trim to faux-suede touches.

Key competitors
If you want a blisteringly fast car with undeniably Italian exotic styling, there are few substitutes for the 458 Spider aside from, say, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Spyder. If it musn't be Italian, you could of course take a look at a wide range of Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet models, as well as the Koenigsegg Agera or Agera R supercars.