Every Ferrari looks good in red, but the Spider we're driving is yellow and looks spectacular, especially when fitted with carbon fiber aero parts and satin-black wheels that distinguish it as the creation of Novitec Rosso, Germany's premier Ferrari tuning house.
It's not all show. With the Phase 1 conversion fitted, the 458 boasts 609hp and 420 lb-ft of torque (from 570hp and 400 lb-ft stock), endowing it with noticeable performance gains.
Novitec is never first to market with an engine conversion. Marketing boss, Dirk Moersdorf, explained why. "We never rush into engine work because we have to ensure perfect reliability. So if our development and testing takes longer, it is so we can confidently apply our warranty."
The changes start with a bespoke ECU remap for the fueling and ignition to make full use of the free-flowing Novitec exhaust, while the rev limit is moved to 9100rpm.
Novitec typically uses high-quality stainless steel for its street-legal exhausts, but this time they turned to Inconel - the material used on F1 exhausts - in search of weight saving and heat dissipation.
The Inconel system includes headers, 200-cell metal cats and a rear muffler with a sound flap operated from the steering wheel Manettino. It's a high-performance system in every respect, since the reduced back pressure liberates a few more horsepower while removing a massive 48.5 lb from the rear of the car.
The result is a lower polar moment of inertia, benefiting the handling and making the 458 even more progressive when power-sliding in Race or TC Off mode.
Yet this lightweight sports exhaust is Jekyll and Hyde. When you're driving in the city or cruising, it's as refined and civilized as the standard system, allowing you to chat with your passenger or listen to the stereo. But when you feel the need for speed, and snap the throttle wide open with the exhaust bypass valve selected, the orchestra behind your head goes into full mezzoforte.
Every nuance of the engine is amplified throughout the rev range, with a touch more bass than stock, balancing the flat-plane crank V8's primal scream beyond 6000rpm, and all the way to the 9100rpm cut-out.
We drove Novitec Rosso's tuned 458 Berlinetta some time ago and it was exciting to hear the motor perform its repertoire. But with the roof panel folded away, the open Spider transformed the same experience into something truly epic.
On the same roads, at the same speed as before, the soundtrack was not only greater in intensity, but was in a different league.
Before Ferrari moved to active damping, uprated suspension and larger wheels were a recipe for the jitters on anything but smooth tarmac. Not any more. If you thought the F430 had a civilized ride for a supercar, the Italia took another step forward.
On its standard 19" and 20" footwear, the Italia rides almost as well as the average family car, with a secondary ride quality that defies logic for an exotic supercar. And that wasn't excessively compromised by the 21x9" front and 22x12" rear Novitec Rosso NF3 wheels. They're fitted 255/30 and 335/25 Pirelli tires respectively.
Our only negative observation is purely subjective, but we're not fans of black wheels because they hide the shape of the wheel. Yet in this instance, Novitec wanted to highlight its carbon fiber inserts that are an option on the multi-piece wheels. The inserts look best on black or dark grey wheels, so that dictated the color scheme.
With the bigger wheels, very low profile tires and sport springs that were 15% stiffer and lower the ride height 1.4", we had cringed at the prospect of a harsh ride. However, it only took a few miles to establish that the changes were well calibrated. There was an increase in the Spider's roll stiffness in bends, but it hardly detracted from the low-speed bump absorption.
The ride remained supple, with moderate bumps easily rounded off. You can clearly feel the compliant suspension shrugging off undulations in bounce, while pulling everything back together again with perfect rebound control. If you live in a place with lots of steep driveways and speed bumps, you might want to skip the lowering springs and tick the box for Novitec Rosso's hydraulic front lift kit. It can raise the nose 1.6" for extra ground clearance, keeping the expensive carbon fiber spoiler away from obstacles.
Activated by a button in the cabin, the lift kit will actually work with the lowering springs. The system uses a sensor that automatically returns the car to normal ride height above 50mph, or can be lowered manually.
When ordering the body kit, an owner is able to choose between two rear spoilers. The one fitted here is subtle and more of a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the rear deck.
Tests in the Stuttgart University wind tunnel proved that it reduced lift on the rear axle at speed, but not as much as the optional angled wing that sits 3" above the deck on two struts.
The carbon fiber aero kit's components consist of the wings inside the main air duct as well as the front splitters. There are also carbon air ducts beside the headlamps plus side skirts, underbody diffuser, engine grilles, rear deck panel, as well as a distinctive black roof. The only non-functioning pieces are the small mirror inserts.
The engine bay is another carbon-fest, with the big airbox immediately grabbing your attention, contrasting the red crackle-finished intake plenums. There are also carbon side panels that conceal the inner fenders and bulkhead.
Open the door, and you see yet more carbon inside. In this case, the factory carbon fiber interior pack was ordered, along with the yellow stitching on the black leather. Novitec then added sill plates and a center console insert that provides extra stowage for small objects.
Another practical addition is Novitec's carbon paddle shifters. Almost double the length of the factory parts, they allow you to shift gears more easily when steering lock is applied.
Novitec Rosso is quick to emphasize it doesn't make a Ferrari better than stock. Rather, they personalize Ferraris for clients who lean more towards sporty driving. This 458 Spider is perhaps the perfect example of this philosophy, filling in gaps the factory have left open because of cost.
2013 Ferrari 458 Spider
Engine 4499cc V8 32v, direct injection, dry sump, Novitec Rosso Phase 1 ECU software, 9100rpm rev limit, Inconel exhaust headers, 200-cell catalytic converters, rear muffler, carbon fiber airbox and side panels
Drivetrain seven-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission
Suspension stock active dampers with 1.4" Novitec Rosso lowering springs and front lift kit
Wheels & Tires 21x9" f, 22x12" r Novitec Rosso NF3 wheels, 255/30 R21 f, 335/25 R22 r Pirelli P Zero tires
Exterior Novitec Rosso carbon fiber front wings, front splitters, air ducts, side skirts, diffuser, engine grilles, rear deck panel, rear spoiler, roof, mirror inserts
Interior Ferrari black leather with yellow stitching and carbon fiber interior pack, Novitec Rosso carbon fiber center console and paddle shifters