It’s not all about the power with the new Ferrari 488 GTB. But that certainly was a main priority – and very likely the priority.
The mid-engine 458 Italia it replaces was blessed with a gorgeous body, obsessively quick steering, and emitted a 9,000 rpm wail from its 4.5-litre V8 at redline that could curl the toes of any red-blooded enthusiast, Formula One fan or not. Yet executives at Ferrari admitted that by the end of its run, the 458’s 570 hp just didn’t stack up well to McLaren’s turbocharged offering, first the MP4 12C and since renamed to reflect its horsepower – and metaphorically tweak Ferrari’s nose – with the 650S.
Tired of tasting diamond-encrusted sand in its face by McLaren, on F1 tracks and now in the market for quarter million dollar-plus exotic cars, Ferrari executives here at company headquarters for the launch of the 488 GTB stated very clearly that the main goal was to leap frog its latest offering to the top of its competitive set in power and acceleration. Yes, there were constraints, having to meet tougher emissions and fuel economy rules chief amongst them, but the overall package had to offer ‘manageable’ performance, along with a typical Ferrari soundtrack.
Oh well, three out of four is a solid pass. Similar to F1 racecars that have been downsized and somewhat muffled in their exhaust notes by its smaller yet more powerful engine, so goes the evolution from 458 to the new 488 GTB. After experiencing Ferrari’s new corner carver on the canyon switchbacks around Modena, as well its famed Fiorano test track, the 488 is a notably faster machine, but a quieter and more relaxed car to drive overall – and notably quieter at its new 8,000 rpm redline.
The new twin turbocharged engine with smaller 3.9-litre displacement is the obvious main news, Ferrari’s first mid-engine turbocharged model since the range-topping 1988 F40. Yes, this displacement is similar to the one in the California T, but the 488 features more advanced and performance-oriented materials than its front-engined and much less powerful convertible sibling.
The 488’s design features some new racing-inspired aero tricks as well, on top of providing sharpened surfaces marked most clearly by the aggressively flared nostrils up front, and the pinched, Coke-bottle waist that leads up visually to a bisected air intake in front of each rear wheel. Those trick active aerodynamic black “moustaches” at the front of the 458 have disappeared, in favour of an all-new double front wing and “Aero Pillar.”
The 488’s double front wing’s upper section helps channel airflow to the radiator, while the larger lower lip increases the aerodynamic vortices that help create low pressure and therefore downforce suction at speed. Its more aggressive front end more closely resembles the double stanchions of an F1 car’s front nose, though that may or may not last very long, with all the rule changes and aero development happening in F1.
At the base of the rear window lies what Ferrari calls a “blown spoiler,” a new element that channels air through the rear bodywork and also helps boost downforce, while helping to lessen the size and therefore aero drag of the rear spoiler. The only remaining active aerodynamic element on the 488 from its predecessor is an underbody flap by the rear diffuser that opens under acceleration and high speeds, and closes for more downforce under braking or while cornering.
Ferrari certainly made this engine more fuel efficient, at least for the low speed, minimally enthusiastic driving mandated during various emissions tests. But more importantly, it vaulted Ferrari back on top of its formidable class in terms of overall power, a podium the 458 relinquished to newer rivals like the McLaren 650S and the Lamborghini. Now with 670 Euro-rated horsepower, it trumps both the 650S and Lamborghini’s Huracán, the latter by a whopping 60 ponies.
All this power cuts down 0-100 km/h time to three seconds flat, down from an official 3.4-second time for the 458. Ferrari doesn’t get more specific than “greater than 330 km/h” when it comes to top speed, which may be answered in the forums once the GTB launches this fall in North America.
So, how exactly does a powerplant the same size as the one in the California T produce an extra 110 hp here? It’s a combination of engineering, fine-tuning and more aggressive hardware: each twin-scroll turbine is about eight mm larger, thus pumping more air through the entire system. The turbos themselves are mounted on unique easy-spin ballbearing shafts, while a new titanium-aluminum alloy material make them notably lighter, making them as quick to spool up as a child let loose in their favourite toy store aisle.
The entire drivetrain is about 15 kg heavier than before, but not only is the overall power-to-weight ratio much improved, but the engine sits five mm lower than what was already a low car before, lowering its overall centre of gravity. Unfortunately, it also means that even slight inclines and road bumps can produce that painfully expensive sound of exotic Italian aluminum scraping the ground.
The 488’s corner-carving ability is also improved by a next-generation version of the Side Slip Control System (SSC2) launched last year on the 458 Speciale, which now integrates the active MagneRide suspension control into its magical formula that allows the traction control (F1-Trac) and stability control systems to give the 488 GTB driver extra servings of tail-out fun. Especially with the steering wheel’s manettino set to Race or CT Off modes.
This system’s greatest trick is holding off on the intervention of traction and stability control systems when you provide a touch too much steering angle, or too quick of a right foot, before electronically dialing it back just enough to continue your yahoo, rubber-punishing but grin-inducing powerslide.
Yet what impresses most on the track is how quickly the 488 GTB’s new engine rushes up to redline. The massive thrust it generates means you’re still accelerating hard when you run into the rev limiter, which I inadvertently did the first few shifts. Keeping an eye on the prominent tach or on the optional red shift lights emblazoned on the top of the steering wheel is helpful to keep pace with the fast-forwarded proceedings, because short low gears help provide a muscular, responsive feel to this engine that hides any turbo tendencies to peakiness.
And then there’s that sound. It’s no longer a mechanically high-pitch F1-inspired aria, but a deeper, more refined thunderclap of an exhaust note. Yes, there’s still an addictive quality to working the engine hard, but it’s in a lower, perhaps less distinct octave than previously.
On the road, perhaps the most immediately noticeable trait about the 488 is its steering, which is nicely weighted and responsive, but not as shockingly quick to respond as its 458 predecessor. This actually makes it easier to drive in town when you first set out, as you’re not narrowly missing curbs through normal but suddenly way too early turn-in. But it also means that in-town comfort has increased to the detriment of immediate reaction times.
Given its major styling, engine and dynamic changes, the interior was left mostly alone from the previously artsy, instrument panel-free design. There are some upgraded features, such as a new, simpler entertainment system from the Cali T, a 12-speaker JBL surround sound system and an available speed, G force and engine rev display for the passenger.
Overall then, the 2016 Ferrari 488 GTB is a worthy successor in acceleration, dynamic performance and head-turning ability, but perhaps slightly animally attractive than its legendary predecessor.In human terms, the seductive 488 GTB could well be the hot woman at the wild party that loves to have fun, but knows how to dial it back just enough before taking it too far.
2016 Ferrari 488 GTB
BASE PRICE: $245,000 USD (estimate only)
ENGINE: 3.9L twin turbocharged V8
HORSEPOWER: 670 hp @ 8,000 rpm
TORQUE: 560 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Mid-engine / rear-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 1,475 kg
FUEL ECONOMY (COMB.): 11.4 L/100km (European cycle, with stop/start)
ALTERNATIVES: Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracán, McLaren 650S
BY THE NUMBERS
$365/HP (USD CALCULATED W/ EST. BASE MSRP)
11.4 L L/100 KM