Test Driven: Ferrari F430 Spider, Al’s Take

Ferrari F430 Spider at NJMP

These past few months, I have been fortunate.  And just recently, I took the wheel of a Ferrari for the first time in my life.  Some words on the experience as a whole are on the way, but today, I want to talk about the first Italian supercar I’ve ever had the chance to drive.  And to say the very least, even if the F430 is out of production, it’s still a fantastic car that merits much praise.   

The F430 was launched in 2004, with the Spider variant coming along in 2005.  When it came out, the F430 was the first Ferrari product to use the “manettino” switch and the “e-diff”, two important features still in use today.  The manettino switch controls all of the car’s driver aids, from the traction control to the steering sharpness, e-diff, and Skyhook suspension in five stages: Normal, Sport, Race, CST-OFF, and Wet Weather.  The F430 also had the option of carbon-ceramic brake rotors, something not present on my car.  While a six-speed manual was standard (the last mid-engine V8 Ferrari to have a clutch pedal available), a large majority of F430s made were equipped with the F1 paddle-shift automated manual.  The engine was an all-new variant of the Ferrari/Maserati engine family, displacing 4.3L with 483hp and 365lbs-ft of torque, propelling the new model to a top speed of 196MPH.

Pininfarina did an excellent job with the styling.  The F430 is slightly chunkier up front and at the back compared to the 360 and 458 Italia, but it’s by no means ugly.  The sides curve very well, with great sculpting and gorgeous lines which lead to the air intakes for the mid-mounted enigne.  Up front, the thin, somewhat stubby headlights are a nice touch, and complement the air openings in the front bumper well.  The rear is more complex than the 360 Modena but looks great, with the vents out back looking very purposeful.

The interior is classic Italian exotic, with soft leather everywhere and high-quality trim on the dashboard.  The seats are grippy, yet still comfortable.  The dashboard layout puts the tachometer front and center, with the speedo off to the right and the fuel and temperature gauges to the left.  Visibility from the driver’s seat is decent for what one may expect, with the view to the rear being a joke and the mirrors offering an average view down the sides.  The view out front is spectacular, especially knowing that I’m sitting in a Ferrari, and not some other exotic.  That alone, in the first 2 minutes of my experience that day, made everything that much more special.

The first word that I can use to describe the way this car drives is “sharp”.  The steering is pinpoint-accurate, and makes no mysteries about where the front wheels are pointing.  On NJMP’s Thunderbolt circuit, it felt utterly in control, no matter how fast I was going or what corner I was attempting to get through.  The F430 corners flatly, with almost no body roll, and feels quite balanced thanks to its layout.  The brakes, while not the highly-regarded ceramic units, were excellent, and offered up good pedal feel and no nosedive.  The ride in the paddock at low speeds is pretty stiff, but that’s to be expected in Sport.

Of course, in a straight line, there’s nothing quite so potent.  The engine note is anything but subtle, and burying my right foot into the floor only served to make my world that much a better place.  I’ve driven some cars which say nothing (Volt), some which whisper (Rolls-Royce), some which growl (Pontiac GTO),some which roar (Jaguar XKR-S),  some which bellow like an animal (Mercedes SLS), and some which creak and groan (wait for an upcoming article).  The Ferrari F430, though?  It wails, it shrieks, and it screams all the way up to its 9000rpm redline.  The acceleration is incredible–perhaps a bit slower than the Mercedes SLS that I drove in the summer of 2011, but I didn’t notice it much.  All I noticed was how quickly this car gained speed from any engine speed, at any velocity.  It just goes and goes.  The floor mounted gas pedal only added to the joy I encountered.  This car is deceptively fast as well, although I felt like I was going about 45mph on a short straight, I looked down and saw 70, realizing just how planted the F430 Spider is.  And if you’re going to ask me “What kind of mileage does it get?” please keep walking, because that just isn’t important.

If there’s any gripes, it’s in that I wasn’t able to take the top down because of the clouds (and because I probably wouldn’t have been able to hear the instructor).  Perhaps, then, the other is that I didn’t go over 107 on the track.  But anyway, this car can be savored at any speed, whether onlookers are gawking, pointing, and staring at you in awe, or you’re tearing up country roads with that wailing V8 inches behind your ear.  I’m going to find other ways to drive Ferraris, and this was a great first step.  After the byline is the video from my drive of this fantastic car.

I would like to thank Nick for editing the photos.

-Albert S. Davis

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