To think that a much greener and environmentally friendly car than its predecessor can be a faster and ultimately more fulfilling experience to drive may sound rather nutty, but here it is, in the form of a car that is surely bound to divide opinion among the brand’s faithful.
Turbocharging may be accepted fashion elsewhere, but this is a Ferrari, and for a long time it would have been sacrilegious to even venture blown as a means of propulsion until the California T appeared – the last road-going one to feature such novelty was a 485 PS beast from nearly three decades ago, a fling which some older folk might remember and have even lusted over. Everything else since then has trodden the atmospheric pressure path, uncomplainingly lapped up by the adoring.
Well, the divisive tip is here, and on time as planned. The seeds for the engine in the car you see here were planted quite a while back – seven years ago, in the very same building at Maranello where the technical presentation for the 488 GTB was held, the company’s then-technical director Roberto Fedeli revealed that going down the turbocharged route was unavoidable.
“It is in the process of development, as part of a mixed basket of powertrain solutions we are exploring. In the next couple of years a design will be defined, and the results should be seen within five to eight years.” Cue the advent of the new F154 engine family, the first iteration being the 3.8 litre BB in the California T last year.
Ever the firm NA believer, Fedeli didn’t offer the words with much conviction, but revealed later to this writer that the demands of the day dictated change, like it or not. “We have to look at different options because of tightening environmental standards, and turbocharging looks like the way to go. As much power, but lower emissions. It’s inevitable, I think.”
Shame that the man is no longer there – Fedeli joined BMW last year after 26 years at the Italian automaker. It’d definitely have been interesting to hear his thoughts on the 488 GTB. We’re left to find out on our own how much going the blown route has added – or detracted – from before.
No real surprise in the shape that awaited us at the Company Restaurant in the heart of the Ferrari village – the car had been caught in the metal a couple of days earlier in Malaysia when it made its local debut, where there was enough time to study the form. The red display example in Maranello seemed to project the lines better though, especially with natural light bathing down on it. Speaking of red, the car gets a new one in the form of Rosso Corsa Metallizzato, a tri-coat shade.
Exterior styling-wise, it looks less showy and more conventional (conversely, easier on the eye) than its predecessor, the 458 Italia. Quite a bit of alteration to the Centro Stile Ferrari-penned Tipo F142M’s design, even though the basic form from the 458 remains – the roof and glasshouse have been carried over, but 85% of the car is new.
Fresh styling elements include heavily sculptured flanks which are the key to the car’s character – the large signature air intake scallops pay homage to the 308 GTB and each is divided into two sections by a splitter. New too, a double front spoiler, base bleed side intakes and, at the rear, active aerodynamics coupled with a blown spoiler. The latter works in conjunction with an aggressive ramp angle for the diffuser, which features active flaps.
Underneath, vortex generators in a new underbody complete the picture – the result is that aerodynamics are up, with 50% more downforce (to 325 kg at 250 km/h) and reduced drag compared to the 458, and the new GTB is touted as having the best efficiency figure ever for a production Ferrari.
Inside, new kit include a new HMI offering new graphics, an easier to work menu and faster hardware, and not that buyers will necessarily need it, but a 12-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system with a 1,280 watt, 16-channel amp is on the options list. Outside, six wheel design choices abound – as standard, the 488 rides on 20-inch wheels and 245/35 front and 305/30 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubbers.
The party piece is the new 3,902 cc twin-turbo V8 from the F154 engine family – the CB unit in here is related to the 3,855 cc V8 in the California T, but the latter puts out less power, and there are mechanical differences.
New pistons, crankshaft and cams, con-rods, dry-sump lube circuit, even exhaust manifolds and cylinder heads, which are thinner walled, get slapped on, as well as fresh twin-scroll IHI turbos, complete with ball-bearing shafts, compressor abradable seals and titanium-aluminium alloy compressor wheels, the latter offering faster turbo speed-up.
The unit puts out 670 PS at 8,000 rpm and 760 Nm of torque at 3,000 rpm, quite a bit of a jump over that offered by the 4.5 litre normally-aspirated F136 F V8 in the 458 Speciale, which delivers 605 PS and 540 Nm (and 100 horses more than the standard guise Italia’s 570 PS). The new car is also lighter than the base Italia, at 1,475 kg.
Only one transmission choice for the car, and that’s a Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch F1 gearbox that’s based on that seen in the 458. The unit has been revised for the application here with slightly longer ratios and now features what Ferrari calls Variable Torque Management. Upshifts are 30% faster while downshifts are 40% quicker than that on the Italia.
Other improvements – the turn-in response is 8% faster, while cornering values are also up (13% less roll) and there’s improved longitudinal acceleration values on the exit. The brakes have also evolved, the carbon-ceramic units in use here – adopted from the LaFerrari – offering a stopping distance six metres shorter than the 458.
Billed by the automaker as its most responsive production model yet, with “razor-sharp response times comparable to those of a track car,” the GTB features an evolved version of Ferrari’s side slip angle control system – called Side Slip Control 2, it’s supposedly more precise and less invasive than the previous iteration. The system, which helps provide greater longitudinal acceleration out of corners, integrates F1-Trac and E-Diff as well as exercise control over the active dampers on the car.
Performance figures include a 0-100 km/h time of three seconds, a 0-200 km/h time of just 8.3 seconds and a 330 km/h plus top speed, as well as a Fiorano lap time of 1 min 23 seconds, half a second faster than the track-focused 458 Speciale and two seconds faster than the standard Italia.
No better way to put the numbers into reality than on Fiorano itself, or at least attempt to. Ahead of that, development tester Raffaele De Simone takes each of us on a run-out lap to offer an overview of the narrow-ish 2.99 km-long circuit and some tips on how to extract the best from the car. I ask him how if the 488 is easier to manage than the 458, despite the improved performance. “It’s easier to handle at the limit, which is higher,” he ventures. “The car will touch 240 km/h down the straight, try it and see.”
The 488 GTB is fast. Hilariously fast, and yet I never manage to catch what Raffaele is going on about speed down the straight because the speedo never breaches the 230 mark on each of the hot laps before the watermelons turn to dried prunes and the brakes come on. Still, there’s no doubting the in-line speed and immediacy of this one elsewhere around the circuit.
It’s not the jump off the line that provides the draw, but rather the sheer midband energy that’s arresting. There’s very little lag, and all that push means that there’s less cog shifting needed for corners on track (or for that matter, out on the road if you’re charging along). The new mill is enthusiastic when belted, and the available and ample spread of torque means you simply row less.
There are traces of understeer at the the limit, but nothing that detracts from the overall balance, which is far more winsome and poised than the last car experienced on Fiorano, a 430 Scuderia seven years ago. The latter responded well to clean input, but was less forgiving when things were left decidedly late and the set-up off – the 488 is far more tolerant of deviancy even with the Manettino set to its Race position, and the SSC2 is a thing of wonder, with very little intrusion to detract from the overall dynamics.
Grip levels are very good, but it is the level of adjustability that’s phenomenal – go clean and be rewarded, and if you choose to be wild about it, be rewarded as well. Rather neatly, the way the car presents its wares is also confidence-inspiring, and that steering is taut and crisp to commands.
Which is not to say that the GTB is indestructible, as a journalist from another country showed – large scratches on the side of the front bumper on one of the two track mules after his run hinted at the car going well wide and nearly into something. Still, it is eminently more forgiving – the Scuderia, which needed to be wrung harder, never quite felt as good a deal on the (relatively) unfamiliar territory.
There’s no Fiorano reference to fall back on as to how the 458 shapes up to it as far as I’m concerned, but the venerable Dr Andre Lam – a man familiar with such topics – provided the necessary, his intimations of the new car feeling faster, being more vibrant and easier to manage reflecting the initial suspicion that this would be the case.
Still, as able it is on track, it is out on the open road that the new GTB reveals why it is set to win many new followers (and buyers). Immediately striking is the level of compliance. Throughout the route, containing a mix of heavy-traffic urban and winding countryside terrain, the ride and handling was surreal, impeccable for a supercar. Firm and deep-rooted when it mattered, but comfortable puttering about town and over bumpy terrain, enough that my co-driver fell asleep as I made my way at intermediate speeds through a couple of towns. Yes, in a Ferrari.
The mind-boggling aspect of the ride is aided by reduced levels of noise brought about by the improved tractability – certainly not a library, but there’s no raspy, high-pitched banshee belt as you stand into things, and so there’s less far less intrusion on the whole. The new V8 has a nice growl to it at full pelt, but nothing like the old NA song for a real tune. Sonically, something is inevitably missing, but like the alluring 4.0 litre from the E92 BMW M3 and the 6.2 litre AMG V8s, life surely has moved on, as it must.
Again, out on the road, the car’s wide-ranging behaviour and drivability shines, allowing drivers able to hustle it convincingly to simply revel in traversing apexes and switchbacks in breathtaking fashion along windy, challenging sections, as a long run on the Futa Pass showed. But the magic is how it rewards the less technical, because it allows more to be had with far less work, with (arguably) less chance of floundering in it short of flubbing the lines badly.
It is this, along with the compliance and refinement, that will make the 488 GTB a winner for many. Stunningly fast, inherently far easier to drive – and push – to nearly upper-limits and more comfortable than its predecessor, the latest Prancing Horse perfectly fits the intent of today. The flipside is that it does feel a bit emotionally detached if you delve deep into its character, but this will not be of concern to most buyers.
Less challenging than the old? Of course. Less rewarding then? Not quite. Normally-aspirated fans may wave a dismissive hand in response (and that’s putting it kindly), but accessibility is not necessarily a bad thing – it is key to growth and ultimately, a wider audience, which this one will surely have. Surely, even the erstwhile technical director couldn’t disagree with this being the right way to go.