One of the biggest things that automotive critics and journalists talk about is soul. They'll ramble on about how car "x" operates magnificently and how it is home to a kindred spirit. I can understand that because if you've had the chance to drive a six-speed Porsche Boxster Spyder with the top down you know it doesn't get much better than that. These days though it's exceedingly rare in the modern era of cars to find a vehicle with soul. They're all jam packed with technology and they're a little detached. Soul, you ask? I've only felt it several times.

Ferrari, they say, is the biggest producer of autos that have something more. There's no question the iconic Italian marque captures an element the other automakers can't, but is it soul?

Ferrari 458 Spider

Only one way to find out. That's why I spent some time behind the wheel one of the company's latest offerings, the 458 Spider. Although Ferraris are well-known for their front-engined V12 GTs, to me a Ferrari is a mid-engine handling machine.

When I picked it up at the company's North American headquarters in northern New Jersey, I was presented with the slinky rosso corsa supercar. The paint looked wet. While there have been fiery debates about whether or not Ferrari's design has wilted in recent years, there's no question that Pininfarina styled the 458 Spider right. That's because the 458 looks sensual and, to me, that's how a Ferrari is supposed to be. While the garage at HQ looks like something from the modern Gone in Sixty Seconds flick, the only cars keeping my Goldfish-like attention are the 458 Spider and two nearby 458 Speciales.

FF? Been there, done that. F12 Berlinetta? Cool, but it's smiling at me a bit too much. The assortment of Maseratis in the room are completely non existent. In the company of these ladies they just are trumped in every way.

Ferrari 458 Spider

There are several elements about the vehicle's design that I absolutely adore. First, from the vehicle's side profile, there is a line that runs from the front fender and elegantly drops below the door handle before fading into the rear fender. This little detail is enhanced by a line that runs parallel and starts at the door handle and runs upwards towards the rear taillights. It gives the 458's back end a chunky, purposeful look, which is needed because of the V8 powerplant sitting there as well as the wide rear track. Second, the convertible's aluminum hardtop is integrated neatly into the design via the buttresses incorporated into the rear deck. This was first seen in the 360 Spider so it isn't new; however, it just is executed so perfectly here. Last, but certainly not least, the rear deck foregoes the glass engine cover seen in the 360 and 430 Spiders. While a Ferrari motor is a pretty thing to look at, it just seemed out of touch with Pininfarina's tendency to favor good taste over showboating. The 458 Spider brings back louvres to help bring cool air into the engine bay and it's a much appreciated change.

Slipping into the carbon fiber-backed seats, it won't take you too long to realize that the interior is Spartan. Instead of wiper and turn signal stalks, Ferrari has designed its all-new vehicles to have the standard controls on the steering wheel. This takes some creative license from the company's Formula 1 efforts where racers can adjust a multitude of settings by controls located on the steering wheel. It may seem peculiar at first, but after 20 minutes of use you'll realize this is the way all cars should be.

Beyond the steering wheel you'll find the centrally mounted tachometer that is flanked by two TFT displays. On the left is detailed vehicle information and on the right is your infotainment. While the screen on the left is simple to use via a switch and two buttons on the left-hand side, the infotainment display left me a bit perplexed. There are a few buttons for your right hand — below one of the HVAC vents — to navigate the screen but in the little amount of time I had the car it was witchcraft to me. I couldn't figure it out.

Aside from that, the car is easy peasy and quite basic. Though its dash and doors are trimmed in super soft hide to make the vehicle feel luxurious, at the end of the day the vehicle was built for performance. It may have been the abundance of carbon fiber in the cabin that gave me that impression, which was even found in my test car's floor mats. By the way, if you're getting a 458, don't opt for the carbon fiber floor mats. A pair of heels will destroy them — my significant other simply got in and out and after that they were never the same.

Ferrari 458 Spider

But all of the above pales in comparison to how it drives. That's why you buy a Ferrari. Configured with a mid-rear engine layout, the 458 Spider is equipped with a 4.5-liter V8 that produces 562 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with this motor is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to make sure power is as seamless as possible between shifts. Zero to 60 happens in the low three second area and I guarantee you'll never even come close to its 198 mph top speed.

What makes the 458 Spider special isn't the way it accelerates or how fast you'll never take it. It's the way this car takes corners and handles sweeping turns. To be straightforward, I have never experienced a car that did it quite like this. There's just one problem, where I live the roads are far too congested and have strict speed limits. So, I took the car out west to experiment. Although there are a variety of driving modes that can be enabled via the Mannetino switch on the steering wheel, for our purposes Race was engaged at all times. It makes the 458 the sharpest and most exciting without turning off all the safety controls to ensure you don't wind up in a tree...backwards. After putzing around for several hours on windy mountain tarmac, a couple of things became apparent.

First, the 458 is incredibly well balanced. Even when you're pushing the car to the limit, in the low slung seats there is no perceptible body roll. You add more pressure to the throttle, the car sticks to the pavement and the saying "it's like its on rails," is genuinely applicable here. In most vehicles it feels like you are placed into a machine and you're an afterthought, whereas in the Ferrari it feels as though it is built completely around the occupants. It's almost as if you're wearing the motor on your back.

Second, the 458 Spider's steering is simply magnifique. Its weighting is not too heavy, not too light, just right. But even more important is how precise and direct it is. In this steering rack there is no sloppiness or dull feeling that's crept into many all-new high-performance cars. The car goes exactly where you point it, quickly. When you're working this car in the switchbacks, the Spider just gives you gobs of confidence because you know exactly what's going on at every moment. This is what automakers should strive for when building a performance auto.

Last, but definitely not least, there's the sound. While motoring around soccer mom-ridden, traffic-filled roads in Race mode the car is a bit peculiar. That's because it the sound is very muffled when the exhaust valves are not open. In Race the valves open above 2,500 rpm unless you're really light on the throttle in which case they'll open at 4,500 rpm. Because there is not much noise, the car feels almost like an electric vehicle as you dab the throttle in low speed environments. Once you pass that magic mark though, the exhaust opens up and you've got a loud Italian V8 on your hands. And the whole block will know it too. In stop and go traffic with the revs just passing that special spot, the 458 emits a little bark but when you go wide open throttle and the revs surge to its redline, the crazy red head screams its head off for what feels like an eternity — it's brilliant. Soon you're trying to do your very best Michael Schumacher impression as adrenaline courses through your veins.

So, what does all of this mean? Because the vehicle is equipped with with a dual-clutch transmission that shifts via paddles and the 458 Spider boasts the latest technology to save you in case you mess up, it's hard to say there's soul. It's all very binary and it makes you a much better driver, but that's not soul. Though I will say what it lacks in that special kindred spirit, it makes up for as a well-engineered, high-performance machine.

I don't believe anyone else is doing it quite like Ferrari these days.

It's easily one of my top rides this year and that's because of one thing: there is no other car on the road right now that makes you feel so one with the machine and has such an immense amount of power on tap. There's a certain feeling of connectedness that's lacking in all of today's exotic supercars. If you're looking for that, you need to consult the prancing horse for an awakening.

The Good:

- The best looking modern Ferrari in recent memory
- Fantastic driving position and supremely balanced chassis that makes it feel like the car is built around you
- The kind of car you drive all day and it doesn't get old

The Bad:

- The infotainment display is the antithesis of intuitive — make sure to consult your salesperson
- Optional carbon fiber floor mats took a beating without any abuse — they look awesome but do NOT get if your significant other likes to go out in heels
- No shift-it-yourself option, which would only enhance this experience exponentially

The Lowdown:

For the money you can have a lot of other vehicles out there; however, I reckon that none of them will give you the same feeling when you're behind the wheel. In addition the 458 Is quite flexible and can be comfortable, quiet and smooth if you want it to be. While I've concluded it lacks soul, there's is no question that you feel very connected to the 458 Spider when driving it. And because there's a load of technology making you a better driver, you can enjoy ALL of the vehicle's power safely — provided you don't turn off the traction settings, then you're on your own.

Make mine Pozzi Blue on Cuoio, please, and yes I'll have it with a Novitec exhaust.

Ferrari 458 Spider

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