2020 Ferrari F8 Spider First Drive Review: Heat-Seeking Missile

First Drive / Comments

Pista power for Ferrari's mid-engined Spider.

Other than at every F1 race, it's highly unusual for a Ferrari to be shaded in the power stakes, but that's just what happened to the 488 GTB and Spider when McLaren launched the 720S - a direct 4.0-liter twin-turbo rival that made 710 hp, or 49 hp more than Ferrari's already seriously rapid 488 models. Many tools were thrown in the Maranello workshop.

Ferrari's latest F8 range redresses that balance, essentially slotting the engine from the 488 Pista into a heavily facelifted 488 - the result is a Ferrari spec sheet that is now almost entirely interchangeable with a McLaren's, not only because the basic twin-turbo V8/dual-clutch transmission/rear-drive layout ingredients remain the same, but because 710 hp, 568 lb-ft of torque, a 0-62 mph time of 2.9 seconds, and a 211mph top speed are near-as-dammit identical.

Ferrari
Ferrari

The pandemic torpedoed international launch plans for the F8 Spider we're testing here - the F8 variant that just over 50 percent of US F8 buyers are expected to go for. Instead, we managed to tag on to the delayed local-market launch activity, where cars were handed out by a gloved and masked PR representative.

Three laps of Fiorano and three courses at Ristorante Cavallino it definitely wasn't, but on the plus side we did get far more time than usual to explore this new Ferrari.

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Ferrari
Ferrari

Design: The Facelifted Facelift

The F8 is unique in the history of Ferrari's mid-engined V8 models, because it's effectively a facelift of a facelift. Ever since the 308 started the bloodline, Ferrari has introduced an all-new car, significantly updated it a few years later with a 'modificato' (think 308 to 328 or 360 to 430) and then moved on to an all-new model. But the F8 evolves the 488, which itself evolved the 458.

Very little has changed under the skin versus the 488 (there's no increase in torsional rigidity, for instance, and the chassis effectively carries over, bar what the engineers said was a little playing around with the damper tune) but all the body panels except the two for the folding roof and the doors are new, plus there are quad rear lights that echo the 288 GTO, F40 and F355, an S-duct in the front bumper, new lighter front and rear bumpers, a new rear spoiler, plus a reworked engine cover that's officially likened to a manta ray. There's no doubt that Flavio Manzoni's visuals make an impact, but it does look a little fussy and over-wrought in places, somehow more so than the Tributo.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

Interior: Still Focused

Inside there are a few tweaks, including a smaller steering wheel and lightly revised dashboard, but fundamentally this is a familiar environment: sports seats that drop right down on the floor, small steering wheel on which controls normally found on stalks are included, and an instrument binnacle dominated by a single rev counter and flanked by two digital displays either side - effective and plusher than the Pista, but it is showing its age now the Roma's interior has moved the game on.

The design of the F8 Spider's folding roof basically carries over from the 458, so when you press a button it revolves through 180 degrees and is neatly swallowed by the (re-designed) tonneau cover. But it uses the uprated hydraulic pump from the 488, which allows it - unlike the 458 - to open and close while you're driving. The whole process takes 14 seconds to raise or lower and can be done at speeds of up to 28 mph - quick enough, but no different than a 488 and slower in both senses than a 720S Spider, which opens in 11 sec at speeds up to 31mph.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

Opening Up: The Folding Roof

A neat touch is the vertical glass screen behind your head, which can be lowered independently with a push of a button at any speed, allowing the elements and V8 soundtrack to swirl into the cabin without you needing to drop the roof or lower side windows - it gives an open-air feel at high speeds or in the rain, but with total comfort.

This means the F8 Tributo coupe's super-cool slatted Lexan rear screen has vanished, and with it the F40 reference to the rearview. It also contributes to the Spider being 154 lbs heavier than the Tributo (the gap between 488 GTB and Spider was smaller at 110 lb), but on the plus side you get a much better look at following traffic.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

Engine: Introducing Pista power

The big USP for F8 Spider versus 488 Spider is the engine. It remains a 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8 but 50 percent of hardware is new, including titanium con-rods, crankshaft and flywheel, titanium-aluminum turbo turbine wheels, Iconel manifolds derived from the 488 Challenge racecar, plus the air intakes have been moved from the flanks to either side of the blown rear spoiler for better airflow to the inlet plenums. All of which makes an engine that was already a benchmark in terms of power and response more responsive, 49 hp more powerful, and some 40 lbs lighter.

This is not quite an exact Pista driveline drafted for duty in the F8, however. New European and Chinese emissions regulations have resulted in a new gasoline particulate filter, and there are some slight tweaks to allow the engine to produce identical performance. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox also isn't mapped for quite the same ferocity of changes, though as we'll see this is all relative.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

At The Wheel: As Pure As The Coupe

Ferrari's own data reveals that F8 Spider owners will cover more miles, drive more gently, and are less likely to do track days than Tributo owners. Factor in under-body bracing that compensates for the removal of the roof and helps contribute 154 lbs compared with the Tributo coupe and you might mentally prepare for a softer, less focused driving experience.

That's how it used to be, but the truth is it's difficult to detect many differences from behind the wheel to the coupe - the F8 Spider feels taut and structurally stiff, has the same precise and unusually pacey steering and the same feeling of total composure as the Tirbuto, even when you really work the chassis. Perhaps there's a little extra wheel patter, but the F8 Tributo smothers bumps, shrugs off tricky camber changes, and glides over the surface while somehow still feeling intimately connected to it.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

It feels low, wide and hunkered down as you tip it into corners at what initially seems too high a speed (but isn't), and grips at the front like it doesn't even know the meaning of understeer, though oversteer is a different matter entirely. Flex your right foot and the F8 will playfully powerslide, but only if you turn the manettino dial on the steering wheel to its more liberal settings - we recommend Race, at which point the F8 palpably tightens and fizzes with more energy.

Race is also the point at which Ferrari's new twist on its Side-Slip Angle Control and Dynamic Enhancer kicks in, giving you plenty of leniency to exploit the playful chassis while remaining ready to intervene should talent expire faster than opposite lock can be applied.

Bar this minor tweak to the stability software, this is all as per the 488. The bigger difference is the Pista engine.

Ben Barry
Ben Barry

The gasoline particulate filter lends a disappointingly ticky noise at idle speed, and this is certainly a gruffer engine than the 488's, but it's also sensational: the 488 was hardly laggy, but the Pista-spec engine has an even crisper, more immediate response to throttle inputs, and it's really only the surge in the mid-range that indicates twin-turbochargers are boosting performance because the delivery is so linear - much more so than the boostier, laggier McLaren.

Wind it right out towards peak power and performance exponentially increases to such an extent that holding out for 8,000 rpm in third gear feels almost overwhelmingly frenzied, like riding a firework just before it explodes. Incredible as it seems, there's no doubt you can feel the extra performance over and above the 488.

And what of those 'softer' gear shifts? Well, they might not have the absolute ferocity of the Pista (which sacrifices a little refinement to go chasing every last tenth of lap time), but they remain a benchmark in terms of speed and precision, and simply add to the tight feel of this incredible powertrain, where every prod and poke yields an immediate response.

Ben Barry
Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

Verdict: The Zero-Compomises Spider

In essence, the F8 Spider takes everything that was so incredible about the 488 Spider and simply slots in a more powerful and responsive version of the same engine. In reality it's not quite that simple, if only because we're not totally sold on the design nor the disappointing idle of the V8, so there's still reason to enjoy your 488 Spider - and for similar reasons your 458. But there's also no doubt that the Pista powertrain makes the F8 an even more intense experience than a 488, one that's arguably best enjoyed in Spider guise with the roof stowed.

Pricing has crept up a little to $274,280 for the F8 Spider, but it's still way short of the $350,000 you'll need for a 488 Pista. In this rarefied world, that seems like a deal to us.

Ferrari
Ferrari
Ferrari

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