Ferrari's new 488 GTB replaces the 458 with turbocharged ferocity becoming of the iconic Italian marque
It was almost a Ferris Bueller moment, soaring through the air in my magnificent flying Ferrari, and if it wasn’t so scary it would have been glorious.
The fact that the new and fully ferocious Ferrari 488 GTB — a machine that piles 100 more horsepower (74kW) and 220Nm on to the platform of the already freakish 458 it replaces — is capable of getting airborne really shouldn’t come as a surprise. A vehicle that can accelerate from a standing start to 200km/h in 8.3 seconds is capable of messing with the forces of gravity, and your internal organs, in all kinds of ways.
It’s still a shock, though, when I take the sharp right hander onto the bridge at Ferrari’s Fiorano circuit and feel the wheels leaving the Earth, and hear the engine bellowing as it spins the wheels helplessly for a split second or few.
Pulling up for the next steep downhill right is a puckering moment for me, but a breeze for the 488 GTB, fitted as it is with the braking package from the awesome LaFerrari hypercar.
Such is the performance of this new GTB that it almost deserves to climb from the supercar appellation into the hyper level itself. Consider that its 0-200km/h time is faster than Lamborghini’s just launched V12 Aventador Superveloce (8.6sec) and makes its supposed competitor, the V10 Huracan, look pedestrian over the same dash, at 9.9sec (the 458 Italia’s time was 10.4sec).
Zero to 100 times are less relevant, because all supercars today are struggling with grip and physics, but the 488 manages that sprint in 3.0sec flat, a jump of 0.4sec over its pacy predecessor.
So it’s got speed, and with 493kW and a mountainous 760Nm of torque from its 3.9-litre, mid-mounted V8, it’s got plenty of grunt, too, thanks to the slightly scandalous addition of turbochargers, but at what cost?
Well there’s the weight for a start, with each turbocharger weighing eight kilograms, but the boffins shaved other areas to get the 488 down to 1475kg, which is lighter than the 458 Italia. But what about the dreaded turbo lag, or what Lamborghini refers to as the insurmountable problem?
Ferrari engineers admit they were worried about it, and that it would have been possible to achieve more power without turbos “but not the usability of the car, the result would be at 2000rpm when you push the pedal you feel like on a motorbike,” as their chief engine guy, Nicola Pini, says.
Pini says he and his team used various technologies to reduce lag by some 60 per cent — a new Titanium-Aluminide turbine wheel, twin-scroll chargers, and an Abradable Seal on the compressor housing. And any engine tech from your F1 program in there, Nicola?
“I have to answer yes, but I cannot tell you what,” he smiles.
The result is that Ferrari claims the 488’s reaction time — how long it takes for you to feel maximum torque shove when you plant it at 2000rpm — is just 0.8 of a second, compared to around two seconds for its competitors (“Porsche and McLaren”), while the 458 measured 0.7.
The results are simply startling. On paper, the new car’s torque curve towers over that of the 458, and on the Fiorano track it is almost overwhelming.
Flatten it out of corners with the Manettino in Race and it feels like you are being given a lift on a comet towards the next bend. The car wriggles slightly, making it feel alive, as it puts all that power down, and even on the road the traction-control light flashes at you like a strobe light, constantly, yet the system is so seamless it never feels like it’s keeping something from you.
So far, so spectacular for the turbo revolution, but what about the sound?
Ferraris, perhaps more than any other cars, are defined by the operatic, over-the-top screams they make. A 458 is arguably the most fabulous form of aural punishment, achieving a pitch and a purity unmatched by other vehicles, particularly up at 9000rpm, where it makes max power (that point falls to 8000rpm for the 488).
The bad news is that this sound is no longer. People who love the whooshes and whistles of turbos will be happy, and the good news is that the 488 still has the bark and growl at lower revs, and a nice deep grumble in the mid-range, but the high-end ecstasy has been silenced, and overall it’s a quieter, less outrageous sounding Ferrari.
It’s not the only trade off, either, with the sculptural super sexiness of the 458 somewhat lost thanks to the giant scoops behind the rear doors, which are necessary to feed air into the intercoolers, and bigger radiators.
The 488 still looks superb from some angles, particularly front on with its mean nose and F1-fabulous double spoiler in exposed carbon fibre, but park it next to the car it’s replacing and you might almost think twice. The only panel they share is the roof, while 85 per cent of all parts are new.
A lot of the new scoops and shapes — and the weird new dog’s tongue doorhandles — are there for aero reasons, however, and if you speak to a designer about them they look ever so slightly upset at having a lost a few arguments in the great form v function battle.
The results, however, are impressive, with the new patented “blown rear spoiler” and adjustable flaps under the rear of the car to aid the diffuser all chipping in to increase vertical load on the car by a hefty 50 per cent over the 458, a car that already felt stuck to the road.
Ferrari also has a patent on its new SSC2 (Side Slip Control), which is, perhaps, the car’s most impressive party trick.
This system uses the 488’s magnetorheological dampers to cancel out understeer and oversteer, by adjusting the firmness of the front or rear axle. It also allows the car to cope with bumpy roads in a fashion that’s hard to fathom.
While the GTB initially feels hard and track focused when we head out to the hills above Maranello, it displays an uncanny ability to cope with broken tarmac, using the dampers to maintain a maximum contact patch at all times, and allowing you to push on at furious speeds on even the most challenging mountain passes.
As mind-boggling as the 488 was on the Fiorano track, it was on the road, where most of them will be driven, that it really shines. There was one glorious period of almost half an hour, as we descended a brilliant bit of road called the Futa Pass — part of the original Mille Miglia course — that provided possibly the most enjoyable, incredible driving experience I’ve ever had in any supercar.
Downhill, tightening radius hairpins, short straights, left-right-left jinks, all of them were swallowed up and spat out at speed by this amazing car, which felt easy to control and yet intimidatingly quick all at once.
The 488 is stable, wonderfully agile, with far improved, less light and flighty steering, and so torque-laden that you almost never need to apply full throttle.
It takes mid-engined supercars to a whole new level, particularly in performance terms, and is so good that you’re willing to forgive it the sacrificed sounds and slightly less perfect body (it is still, of course, a beautiful car in isolation).
Australian buyers are already convinced, without even driving the new car, with so many requesting a place in the queue to get a 488 that Ferrari Australia says it stretches out for two years.
There’s no official word yet on what they’ll pay, either, but you can expect at least a 3.0 per cent bump over the 458’s $525,000 asking price, or about $13,000.
Considering how much more supercar you’re getting for your money, it will be a price worth paying.