Powerful, passionate and full of fiery promise... this magnificent Italian supercar delights Fifth Gear's Tiff Needell
This car topped my wish list at Christmas but, sadly, never arrived. Now, after a soggy spring and with summer almost here, I want a Ferrari 458 Spider even more but fear that owning one will remain a daydream.
It's easy to picture the car delivered to my door – in rosso red, of course – with the cheery message: "Here are the keys, sir – and your £1,144 change." Not much from £200,000, but who cares if you've just won that imaginary lottery? And say if you did have lots of money to spare, there's nothing better to spend it on than a Ferrari 458.
I've always preferred smaller sports cars. I'd pick an Aston Martin Vantage before a DBS and Lamborghini's Gallardo ahead of its Aventador. They're much lighter, smaller and more manoeuvrable, and it's the same with the 458 Spider.
The first Ferrari I loved was the Dino 206 which, when
launched in 1968, was meant to start a range of affordable mid- engined sports cars. Powered by the Dino V6 engine, it was never intended to be called a Ferrari and it wore neither the name nor the famed prancing horse badge. But we all knew it belonged to the Italian marque, and it would be the one I always liked the most as it morphed from earlier versions to today's 458. From a two-litre V6 with just 160 horsepower, it has turned into a 570 horsepower, four-and-a-half-litre V8.
Soft-tops don't normally win me over as fabric roofs spoil a once elegant silhouette, but that's not a problem here as an aluminium folding hard-top follows the profile of the coupé and is 25kg lighter than it would be if fabric was used. Sadly, the see-through engine cover has to be replaced by a vented aluminium version to help accommodate the stowed roof but it's a small price to pay.
Usually, I prefer the windows rolled up and the aircon switched on but it's different in this Ferrari because in just 14 seconds I can listen to much more of that V8's glorious crescendo. Unfortunately, you can't put the roof down cruising at 30mph as you can with some modern drop-tops so it loses a few points for posing potential.
But press the start button to bring the engine alive and your worries fade away. While more carmakers turn to turbochargers to eke out power with slightly better fuel consumption, there's none of that with the 458 – just the rising and falling of revs at the touch of the throttle.
You can burble forwards in full automatic mode or tug at the paddle gearshift and experiment with the five options provided by the racing-style manettino switch on the steering wheel.
Ferraris are no longer temperamental thoroughbreds, meant only for occasional outings. The 458 is designed for everyday use, and with that imaginary £1,144 burning a hole in my pocket I'd be heading for the Channel tunnel and sunnier climes.