2020 Ferrari F8 Spider first drive review: The perfect summer fling
The breadth of flexibility in modern supercars is staggering. A 710-horsepower Ferrari F8 Spider will make you laugh maniacally when you launch it and rip your face off with its cornering force. But it'll also run errands with the docility of a Honda Accord. A very loud, very flashy Honda Accord.
Every new Ferrari has to be engineered to lap the hell out of Fiorano or Monza, even if most will never even see so much as the parking lot of a race circuit. That makes a car like the F8 Spider surprisingly easy to live with and enjoy every day -- especially on a warm summer afternoon in Southern California. But make no mistake, that doesn't mean it's any less thrilling.
You've already met the F8 Tributo, the very worthy successor to the incredible Ferrari 488. The F8 packs more power, its interior is more luxurious and its exterior design makes a stronger statement -- for better or worse. I'll be honest, my personal descriptors of this car's styling aren't exactly positive -- "a little much" is what's written down in my notebook -- but it certainly wouldn't be a Ferrari if it didn't turn heads. I can't think of another car that nearly caused so many gawking-induced wrecks over the course of 24 hours.
When you remove the roof, which takes just 14 seconds, the Spider does away with one of the F8 Tributo's most controversial features: the rear window. On the Tributo, this is made of Lexan, and sliced three times for visual interest. Does it look cool? Sure. Does it absolutely kill rearward visibility? You betcha. Instead, the Spider has a body-colored rear panel, underneath which is where the roof is stowed when folded back. This means you can't actually see that monstrous V8 from outside the car. But it means you can see what's behind you through the rearview mirror. Kind of hard to decide which is more important with a Ferrari.
After all, that engine is one hell of a showpiece. As in the F8 Tributo, the Spider's 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8 makes 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, and thanks to a lighter crankshaft and flywheel, the engine weighs about 40 pounds less than the one in the 488. Huge side intakes feed cool air into the turbochargers, and the large inset tailpipes belt out a song that isn't quite as intoxicating as a naturally aspirated V8 rasp, but it'll nevertheless wake the neighbors two blocks away on a cold start.
Setting off in Los Angeles traffic, I found the F8 Spider had a very brief learning curve. Push a button for reverse, pull the right paddle to put the seven-speed automatic transmission into first gear. Use the toggles on the steering wheel to activate the turn signals (I hate this, by the way). Hit the suspension button on the left side of the wheel to put the F8 in Bumpy Road mode, giggle at the cuteness of the name and then enjoy the suddenly smoother ride quality. Don't bother with anything but the default Sport mode in city streets or on the highway. And don't bother looking for any driver assistance features. There aren't any.
Even before you get to a good driving road, the F8 Spider clearly communicates its intentions. The steering is borderline darty with its quickness, but gives you plenty of detail about what's happening where your tires meet the pavement. The brakes are a little tough to modulate, but offer a reassuringly strong bite, letting you know they'll be there to bring you back to reality should you get carried away. The V8 has a huge reserve of power, but it doesn't feel like a dam that's about to burst. You can roll onto the throttle and accelerate up to highway speeds quickly, but not overwhelmingly so.
But when you get off the highway and point that homely nose up a canyon road, holy cannoli, does the F8 rip. Ferrari quotes a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 2.9 seconds, matching that of the hardtop F8 Tributo, the shift lights on the steering wheel flashing red just before you pull the paddle and slap into the next gear. The rear-wheel-drive Spider has no trouble clawing into the road and putting the full brunt of its power through those 305-section tires. The front end lifts slightly as you launch forward. The V8 wails. The world flies by. Do not let go, and be sure your hat's on tight.
This is where you find the other end of the F8's capability spectrum. Every turn is rewarding. Every power-on moment out of a hairpin makes me smile. Every action in the F8 is so perfect that it starts to feel effortless after a while. And just when I think I'm not giving the car my all, digging even deeper into the throttle reveals a whole 'nother level of aggression I hadn't yet discovered.
I could do this all day long.
That's especially true given how comfortable the F8 Spider is, even with the -- gulp -- $9,112 carbon fiber racing seats (which of course then means adding the $2,531 racing seat lifter, as well as the $1,266 prancing horse emblems on the headrests, and you should absolutely have them done up in blue like my tester). With its shallow center tunnel and slim row of climate controls on the lower part of the dashboard, what appears to be a small cockpit is actually quite roomy, especially with the Spider's endless headroom. There isn't exactly much in the way of storage space, however, even in the front trunk, which is big enough for a pair of backpacks and not much more.
Should your co-driver get bored (hint: drive faster), the $4,556 7-inch touchscreen passenger display has more features than it did in the 488, showing things like multimedia and navigation information, as well as performance metrics like acceleration and cornering forces so they can back up the experience with real data.
Speaking of in-car tech, well, there isn't much to speak of. A rudimentary infotainment system is housed in a small screen in the gauge cluster, controlled by a knob and some buttons to the right of the steering wheel. The experience isn't all that great, so I recommend just working through Apple CarPlay, assuming you're an iPhone user, and assuming you don't mind spending a wholly absurd $4,129 for the privilege of using your own tech.
Not that money really matters when you're talking about a Ferrari. After all, the $302,500 starting price -- which includes $3,950 for destination and a $1,300 gas guzzler tax -- is really just the beginning. Once you option it up to your ideal spec, you'll be shelling out a boatload of additional cash. The Giallo Modena car you see here? It's got $94,494 in add-ons, including titanium exhaust pipes, carbon fiber pieces and a premium audio system. At $396,994 as tested, this Ferrari is more expensive than any house I've ever lived in. Neat.
The real figure to care about is $23,000, because that's how much more the Spider costs than the F8 Tributo coupe, which is basically chump change if you can already afford to park a Ferrari or three in the driveway of one of your many homes. That giant caveat out of the way, I say live a little and go for the Spider. It looks just as good (so I'm told) and performs every bit as admirably, whether you're running through canyons or just running errands.