The presentation for the new Ferrari 488 GTB contained more numbers, graphs, statistics and sundry information than any event I have previously attended. But one factoid didn’t appear in any of those lengthy technical briefings – it came about in general conversation with test driver Rapaelle Simone: and this is it. Down the main straight at Ferrari’s Fiorano circuit the new ‘baby’ Ferrari’s peak speed is only 6mph lower than the LaFerrari at the same point.
That utterance left me a little lost for words. One of these cars is million pound exercise in extreme speed, the other is a series production super sports car that will cost just over £183,000 when deliveries begin later this year. Beyond anything else, the 488 blurs the lines between what had already begun to feel like a redundant set of sub-genres for very fast cars. I have driven many machines happily classified as Hypercars that felt slower than this new Berlinetta.
The 488 is both the victim and the beneficiary of what is increasingly looking like an absurd, marketing-lead necessity for all new cars of this type to be more powerful and faster than those they replace. The 488 has 670hp and 560lb ft of torque. This means it has 100hp and 162lb ft more than the 458 it replaces – and anyone who has ridden in one of those will conform that it is not lacking straight-line speed.
But even a set of barely believable vital statistics can’t steal the new 488 GTB’s true headline – it is the first turbocharged Ferrari sports car in a generation, and this information has been greeted with all the enthusiasm of an early room service call for a FIFA official. People seem traumatised by the thought of forced induction on what has always been the delicate, throttle-adjustable Ferrari.
Digest the lengths to which Ferrari has gone to eradicate so-called Turbo-lag in the 488 GTB and it is easy to dismiss its claim that it has not tried to make the 488 behave like a normally-aspirated car. It has done precisely that.
The 3902cc V8 shares its block and bearing housings with the California T, but is stroked for extra capacity. The rest is all new: lightened crank and rods, pistons that are 20g lighter than the 458’s and an overall architecture that is far more effective at keeping everything cool. Two IHI turbochargers sit either side of the motor: F40 devotees will grin at the F40 link right now. They are twin-scroll turbines made from a Titanium-aluminium alloy that spin on ball bearings. Computer modeling dictated the length of each intake for the very best throttle response and the result, Ferrari claims, is a delay between pushing the pedal and power arriving at the rear tyres of 0.8sec. It has measured the best force-fed competitor in the sector at 2.0sec. The 458 was measured at 0.7sec. They claim is that it has eradicated turbo-lag. And yes, like you I’ve grimaced at that empty claim many times before.
As is now becoming the industry norm, the vast torque surplus has been rationed throughout the gear ratios. Rather than describe the numbers, take a look at the graph. It makes sobering reading, especially when overlaid with the 458’s torque curve. This has been a detailed exercise in engine and gear-ratio calibration. The aim has been to maintain the high-rpm experience of a traditional Ferrari, and to take advantage of the enormous low-rev potential from those quick-spooling turbos.
I suppose I should have paid more attention to the numbers before setting off around Fiorano. You see it all felt so familiar: Ferrari says the 488 is 85 percent new, but the dash architecture is very similar, as is the steering wheel. And I know Fiorano pretty well, so I just climbed aboard and clogged the old Dobbin to make best use of my track time. And very nearly stuck it in the gravel on the first lap. Not by losing it through a turn, but by arriving into a braking zone about 25mph faster than expected. The acceleration is so ferocious that you have to re-think your braking points and, once you’ve done that you have time to reconsider your opinion of the brakes themselves. I have to admit that for a few minutes I was convinced they were not up to the job, but I had just massively under-estimated my entry speed.
The first test is obviously to decide if you can actually detect and semblance of turbocharging, and of course you can – but not in the form of any noticeable delay between pushing the throttle and feeling acceleration – no, it’s the sheer quantity of the latter that confirms only an exhaust driven supercharger could possibly be responsible. It pulls from 1500rpm, by 3000rpm it feels stronger than a 458, at 4k you wonder if it’s wise to keep the throttle pinned and between there and 8000rpm it keeps pulling.
This engine is an astonishing exercise in calibration. Thousands of hours have been spent taking unwieldy lumps of power and torque and fashioning them into seven forward gears of striking thrust and high-engine rpm. Imagine the great trunk of an oak tree and the resulting delicate furniture whittled from it and you have a suitable analogy. Each gear has been mapped to release a little more torque, with the full 560lb ft only available in 7th gear. Peak power comes at 6000rpm, but such is the speed with which the crank spins it still feel like power is climbing beyond that point, so it seems linear. In other words, there’s reward for revving it out. And the response is so fast you can have several stabs at the right pedal to play with the balance of the chassis. One curious note, the rev limiter is set lower in the higher gears, and in fourth its intervention is quite harsh.
Other than response, turbocharging’s other great crime is destroying intake noise. Recirculating those gasses turns beautiful music into fevered whooshing, and Ferrari has gone to great lengths – quite literally in the case of the intakes – to create a decent sound. And it has succeeded. All of this stuff is subjective, but this is recognisibly a flat-lane cranked V8. Its intake is less harsh than the old car’s, and its exhaust valving less rigid – the 458 use to do that terrible 3000rpm silence-to-bwwaaaaaaarrrpp even on tiny throttle openings. In my opinion, the 488 makes a better noise than a 458, and it is underscored by a delicious wheeshing of turbo under full-load.
The chassis is 458-derived and that’s a good thing. The springs are from the last Speciale and the adaptive dampers are all new. There are two 488s for owners to play with. The first is the car that deploys what must be the best implemented chassis electronics fitted to a street car. With the steering wheel manettino set to ‘race’ the car has a sensible window of understeer that your right foot can neutralise with at any point. And when that process inevitably continues into a big slide, the SSC2 (Side Slip Control 2) does its thing to perfection. This car won’t slide for you, but it’ll get damn close. The SSC first seen in the 458 Speciale used only the differential to manage slip, but this car incorporates the adaptive dampers too.
‘The other 488 is the one that exists when you switch everything off. That 488 is something to behold, capable of pitching sideways in fifth gear under power.’
All the time you can feel the car looking for grip – the dampers noticeably soften at the corner looking for traction and that gives the some lean in the turns, and that brings vital messages to the driver. The steering maybe hydraulic, but it’s still quite uncommunicative, although it’s a little heavier than in the 458, and I think that’s a good thing.
Large Michelin Supersports (245 fronts, 305 rears) give good grip all round, and they do a fine job of fashioning some traction from all that torque, but the job the engineers have done of matching the torque curve to the available traction really is excellent.
The other 488 GTB is the one that exists when you switch everything off. That 488 is something to behold. It is capable of pitching sideways in fifth gear under power at Fiorano. And it is a car that is actually encouraged to slide – the SSC2 reverts to a stiff damper mode at all times, so the car stays flatter and wants to slide more. It all happens pretty quickly, but you can balance the car on the throttle and, if things feel too spikey, just pull up a gear mid-slide and it’ll do just the same, albeit less frantically.
None of this really matters in the context of the 488 GTB’s road manners, which are dominated by the dampers’ ability to run softer than in the 458. There’s added suppleness and the SSC2 comes into its own as the differential opens and closes – it’s easy, relaxed and not intimidating. It makes enough noise at low speed to keep poseurs happy, and of course it can cover ground at a rate that will land you in quite serious trouble. I often wonder if cars of this type are becoming too competent to entertain at ordinary speeds, and I think the 488 just about manages to avoid that accusation, but it has to be said that you do need to be travelling at quite a lick to feel properly engaged.
The cabin is a close derivative of the 458 – the small screens either side of the central rev-counter are new and one offers the obligatory boost gauge. There’s also the option of a punchy JBL hi-fi. The front boot area is quite a bit smaller than the old car’s, partly because the new motor needs larger radiators.
And the styling? It’s not my call really. Personally I think the 458’s rear hips presented too great an area of unbroken panel, and this car’s intakes really help. In fact I think the whole styling exercise is much more appealing, but I know many people who are less convinced.
The price in the UK will be £183,974, and you will be able to spend many, many more pennies on extras. But this is an entry-level sportscar whose overall performance isn’t far away from a million-pound hyper-machine built by the same company. That has to make it something of a bargain.