Do Ferraris dream of internal-combustion sheep? No, they dream of winding roads, full of undulating bends and free of traffic. At least, it seems as though they should. It’s not hard to imagine them quivering in their garages, lurching against their parking pawls and squeaking their front wheels left and right, like a dog as he chases a rabbit in his sleep. Every car has character, but few have as much personality as the ones made in Maranello.
Years of development; millions of dollars of R&D; the blood, sweat and tears of some of the world’s best engineers and designers — a heck of a lot goes into making every new Ferrari an astounding speed machine, one that blends software and hardware into something bordering on magic. Sadly, thanks to monotonously straight highways and urban gridlock, most Ferraris will spend their lives not living up to their full potential.
Case in point: while an isolated two-lane through the mountains or 12.9 miles of track carved through the German forest might be my preferred settings to uncork the new Ferrari F8 Spider, my maiden route along the traffic-clotted highways and side roads connecting New York City to Montauk was likely more akin to how the average owner will use the car. (For the record, it was Ferrari’s idea — a socially distant drive event to the tip of Long Island in lieu of a flight to Italy.)
But a Ferrari is a Ferrari, whether it’s attacking a track or crawling through Friday afternoon congestion. You can feel the purpose in the steering — razor-sharp and perfectly weighted, like a finely crafted sword. The battered and shattered roadways of New York City and Long Island prevent you from approaching the car’s limits — even on a cloverleaf — for fear of the tires skipping clean off the pavement when you hit a bump. Still, you can feel the car’s focused intent every time you dart between other vehicles on the highway. The combination of a fast-turning steering rack and good old-fashioned steering feel allows the F8 to respond intuitively in a way few cars, even sports cars, do today.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the absurd times we live in that a 710-horsepower road car doesn’t seem that outlandish, but the fact remains that said output means the F8 Spider is outpunched by cars made by everyone from Chevrolet to Porsche. Still, seven hundred-plus ponies in a car that weighs in at well under two tons even with a full tank of gas and two grown people aboard produces mighty results.
Click the manettino (the drive-mode switch on the steering wheel that looks like it was pried from a B-52’s cockpit) to “CT Off” (traction control off, stability control on), then floor it from a slow roll in first, and the Spider will scream forward like the devil is chasing it from two steps behind. Watch for the LED shift lights mounted at high noon on the steering wheel; if you don’t yank the right-hand paddle shifter for an upshift the instant you see them start to illuminate, the engine will slam into the 8,000-rpm limiter.
You can’t compare vehicles like the F8 or its similarly powerful super-sports-car kin — the McLaren 720S and Porsche 911 Turbo S, to name a couple — to the mortal cars most of us normally drive. Computer-aided dual-clutch transmissions shift faster and smoother than any driver ever could with a stick, while deeply integrated electronic controls for the engine and differentials constantly redistribute the power to make the most of it.
Yet the Ferrari manages to avoid the common trap of letting that computerization suck the soul from the driving experience. As with the steering, there’s an immediacy to the throttle and brakes that helps make the car feel like an extension of your body. And in spite of the car’s stiffness, the suspension never punishes; the dampers do their damndest to soften the blows of the potholes and broken pavement that dominate New York’s streets.
Still, it’s not perfect. But a Ferrari doesn’t have flaws; it has quirks. Hope you like isometric exercise, because there’s no armrest to plop your right elbow on. While the F8’s face is a definite improvement over its predecessor, the 488 — the new car’s central air duct, pulled from the racier 488 Pista, gives it the look of a cobra rather than the 488’s catfish face — the rear is a tangle of aerodynamically-optimized lines, ducts and lights that seems to place function a little too far above form. And the triumphant howl that once defined Ferrari’s engines has been somewhat muted by the arrival of those twin turbochargers and other nods to modernity. It’s still loud and proud, but the F8’s song isn’t as mellifluous as that of its predecessors.
The biggest foible, though, is one of size. Simply put, there’s not enough room inside. Granted, at six-foot-four, I’m an extreme case, but anyone more than six feet tall will find themselves constrained to the point of pain after a couple hours. Blame that tight mid-engine packaging — there’s not enough room to stretch in the compact cabin, as the giant wheel wells cut into the foot wells, pushing your legs into less-than-ideal angles to compensate. Which wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the brutally conformist bolsters on the sides of the seats that force your thighs together. It’s a problem I’ve found in other mid-engined supercars: racing-inspired seats and tiny cockpits don’t play nice with those of us on the lankier side.
Impressive as everything about this Ferrari is, the F8’s fate has already been written. Its replacement has already been teased in the form of the new SF90 Stradale — Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid supercar. The SF90 merges an even more powerful version of the F8’s V8 with a 7.9-kWh battery pack and three electric motors to whip up nearly 1,000 horsepower — then uses all-wheel-drive to put it down with maximum effectiveness, resulting in a ride that’s both quicker and more efficient.
Such is the march of progress. Still, if the F8 Spider proves to be the last open-air V8 Ferrari powered purely through combustion, it’ll be a worthy conclusion to a line that dates back 45 years. A decade from now, I won’t remember the cramps in my legs; I’ll think of the banshee wail this beast let out as I flattened the gas and it flattened me into my seat merging onto the highway. In that moment, it was living out its purpose. If it felt the weight of the past or future on its shoulders, you’d never know it.
Yet the name of the Spider’s hardtop sibling shows that Maranello is well aware of the model’s place in history: the coupe goes by F8 Tributo. Tributo is Italian for tribute; the 8 signifies the number of cylinders; and the F … well, you can probably guess what that stands for.
2020 Ferrari F8 Spider
Engine: 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox
Horsepower: 710 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 568 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Dry Weight: 3,086 lbs
Top Speed: 211 mph
Base Price: $302,500
A version of this story first published in a recent issue of Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today.