Through verdant Italian hills, balmy late summer sun and a white, roofless Ferrari 458 Spider, its manettino dial one twist away from full electronic assistance deletion. Prod the button for manual shifting, pluck the paddle for first, solid-sink the throttle to direct-inject the V8 with stout gouts of fuel and – bang! – the Ferrari launches, squawking the gutteral, whooping blare that lies at the heart of its irresistible appeal.
A short shift to second, third and fourth on he first run, unfamiliarity with the hill and handling limits forbidding exploration of the 9000rpm energy burst. Two questions: Does decapitation threaten the 458's robustly brilliant dynamics? And, will the whirling swirl of outside air heighten the pleasurable sensations?
The promise is there. The 20-percent improvement in torsional rigidity and 33-percent increase in bending resistance over the F430 convinced Ferrari to leave the 458's springs and anti-roll bars unchanged, its dampers merely re-tuned to serve a more supple ride. Careful airflow management rids the cabin of uncomfortable buffeting, says Ferrari, and relocated air intakes leave the V8's 562hp undisturbed beneath a vented, aluminum rear deck rather than the coupe's glass cover. Besides these alterations, the retracting roof conversion (which adds just 110lbs) and an exhaust re-tuned to limit its assault on the ears, there are no other significant changes.
At the first downhill bend, the confident force of the brakes has you thinking you could have gone harder, and so does the Ferrari's unhesitating turn-in, super-accurate steering and crampon-like grip. From this moment on, it's impossible to resist charging into each turn that little bit harder until the E-diff allows the tail thrilling step-outs that make you feel like you are mastering this car. And you are, except that its ultra-capable chassis is set up to flatter and forgive.
Does the structure quake, quiver and shimmy? Sometimes. Successions of small bumps, hard-charged, can flutter the steering column and can make the Spyder patter slightly under braking, although it remains utterly controllable. But these are rare events and barely diminish the startling, inspirational, addictive pleasure of stretching this Ferrari – and you – as much as you dare amid the trumpeting of its aurally adventuresome exhausts.
Move on to a needle-straight, sun-hazed, lightly trafficked temptation of an autostrada, manettino in Race mode for heightened responses and extra aural effects, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in auto. Kick down to blast by a traffic shoal, for a roof-up exploration of the right-hand side of the 458's speedo, the mission to test the seals' high-speed clamping powers. Even after a day of exploring this 4.5-liter V8's capacity for cramming space into time, the rate at which the 458 hauls itself toward the next province is still a brutal, beguiling surprise.
Through all this, the roof seems like it's welded shut, with virtually no more wind roar than you experience in the coupe, and the directional stability and steering feel remain sensational. So it's confident and civilized, although you can drop the glass wind deflector even when the roof is raised to get an earful of triple-pipe exhaust, if you wish.
The extended re-configurings of the 458 Spider to allow even greater scope for enjoying the multitude of sensations that come with driving a mid-engined Ferrari make this staggeringly rapid, friendly and penetratingly communicative car all the more alluring. Even at $275,000.