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Ferrari sets Geneva tone
Wraps come off 488 as supercars dominate | by Andrew Frankel

My world appears to have gone mad. On March 2 I was scheduled to pace the halls of the Geneva Motor Show, drooling at what looked certain to be the most exciting, astonishing and – for almost everyone – entirely irrelevant assemblage of metal ever gathered together under one roof.

For unless I failed entirely to read the runes, the effective, affordable, important cars we actually need will either simply not have been there, or were otherwise so utterly sidelined as to be more or less invisible.

Instead it was poised to be a show of wall-to-wall high-end supercars, and while competition is strong, there needed to be an unveiling of earthquake-inducing significance – not known at the time of writing – to dislodge the new Ferrari 488 GTB from its already assumed ‘star of show’ status.

This is the car that replaces the wildly successful and almost completely wonderful 458, and while it will of course be more powerful and far quicker, it is not automatically to be assumed that it will occupy the same place in the hearts of the tifosi as its mesmeric predecessor. Why? Because, like the recently announced California T, the 488 GTB is turbocharged, and while giant strides have been made with the technology, perfect throttle response and a scalp-tingling soundtrack have yet to be achieved.

The 488 GTB is fitted with a 3.9-litre V8 producing 660bhp, which might rightly be regarded as a thumb to the nose at McLaren, whose rival 650S has a 3.8-litre engine and 650bhp… That’s almost 100 additional horsepower over the 458 and it comes backed by 560lb ft of torque at 3000rpm: the 458 didn’t quite manage 400lb ft and required double the revs to do it.

So for better or worse, this 488 GTB will drive completely differently from the 458. In raw performance terms, it will hit 62mph from rest in three seconds flat and get to 124mph in 8.4sec, the former matching the acceleration of Ferrari’s F12 flagship, the latter according to Autocar’s test results, actually beating it… These figures provide effectively identical performance to the McLaren 650S: whatever little the British car loses in outright power, it makes up for in its slightly slimmer waistline courtesy of its carbon-fibre tub. Ferrari insists aluminium remains the preferable material for this kind of car.

Why go down the turbo route? It clearly offers advantages in terms of power and torque provision in a limited space, but the more compelling reason for Ferrari is its quest to drive down fuel consumption and emissions. Now we all know the means by which the EU allows such numbers to be calculated are a complete joke, except for comparison purposes, because at least all results are equally ridiculous. And these show that 10 years ago a Ferrari F430 produced 345g/km of CO2 for its 490bhp, while now the 488 GTB emits just 260g/km, despite its 660bhp, or 2.5bhp for every gram of CO2 compared to 1.4bhp. And that’s progress. Fuel consumption is rated at 24.8mpg.

The 488 GTB goes into production this autumn at a price likely to be close to but not quite £200,000. This will buy a car with active aerodynamics front and rear, 50 per cent more downforce than a 458, a Fiorano lap time fully 2sec faster and a stability control system so sophisticated it can tune not only the differential in real time according to conditions, but also the dampers. Whether it is able to retain the 458’s searing soundtrack and telepathic throttle response remains to be seen.

One last thing for Ferrari cognoscenti: while the ‘458’ number of its predecessor denotes simply that its 4.5-litre engine had eight cylinders, the new ‘488’ nomenclature revives a naming strategy that once applied to all Ferraris, be they road or racing cars, and refers simply to the cubic capacity of a single cylinder.

McLaren’s latest track star

Given that it has a fraction more power and was being unveiled at the same show, many will regard McLaren’s 675LT supercar as a timely response to the 488 GTB. In fact it is a reply to a Ferrari, but rather than the new one it should be seen as McLaren’s take on a more track-orientated car, in the mould of the 458 Speciale.

McLaren had not released full details before we went to press but, as the name suggests, power has risen by 25bhp compared to the 650S on which it is based. Far more significantly, weight has been cut dramatically, reputedly by up to 100kg. Leaked photographs show a distinctly different rear end, though not sufficiently to see if the tail really is lengthened and in such as way as to evoke the memory of the last long-tail McLaren, the racing F1 that contested the FIA GT Championship in 1997. Aerodynamic advances brought by the new bodywork increase downforce by 40 per cent over the 650S, which itself had 50 per cent more than the original 12C.

McLaren has not yet announced the price of the 675LT (which will be available only as a coupé), but if production is limited to fewer than 500 units (as rumoured), expect a substantial premium to be charged: Ferrari valued the Speciale at £30,000 more than a 458 and did not limit its run, so a price of £250,000 for the 675LT compared to the £198,250 charged for the 650S would seem realistic.

The 675LT is just one car in what will be the most important year for McLaren Automotive since it launched the MP4-12C in 2011. Not only is it revealing the already announced GTR track version of its P1 hypercar, later this year it will also launch its most affordable car yet, code-named P13. Like all other McLarens, the P13 will feature a carbon tub and is believed to use a detuned version of the 3.8-litre V8 seen in both the 650S and P1, yet could be priced below £150,000, opening the prospect of McLaren ownership to an entirely new clientele.

Cayman gets extra pep

Porsche has revealed details of its eagerly awaited Cayman GT4. The car will have a normally aspirated 3.8-litre engine with 380bhp. Many components, including its front suspension, dampers and steering, are borrowed from the 911 GT3. One omission is the GT3’s seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox – the Cayman GT4 will be manual only and some have suggested the PDK box is simply too big to sit alongside the larger engine within the Cayman’s restricted confines. Priced at £64,451, the GT4 is about £9000 more expensive than the hitherto most expensive Cayman, the £55,397 GTS, but drops its 0-62mph time from 4.9 to 4.4sec and raises top speed from 177 to 183mph.

But such figures don’t reveal much about the GT4’s likely character. As a car developed directly by Porsche’s Motorsport department, it is likely to be a far more hard-core driving machine than any Cayman seen so far, a car at least as suited to road as track. Unlike its 911-based GT3 stable-mates, the GT4 is no lighter than the standard Cayman upon which it is based, though that is primarily because of the additional weight of the larger engine. And it’s worth pointing out that it offers a near identical power to weight ratio to a 911 Carrera S for almost £20,000 less.

Aston Vulcan on target

Aston Martin is also joining in the fun. Not only has it revealed the much-anticipated GT3 version of its Vantage Coupé, but it also has an all-new track-based hypercar called the Vulcan. Little can be told from the brief teaser video Aston has released save that, from the sound, the car seems to be powered by a normally aspirated V12. If it is to provide convincing opposition to the likes of the Ferrari FxxK and McLaren P1 GTR, Aston Martin will need to find a way of nudging its power up to at least about 800bhp and, if as seems likely, no form of hybrid drive is used, recoup the shortfall through light weight.

The car is likely to mimic the One-77 limited-edition supercar by featuring entirely carbon-fibre construction. Unlike the One-77, however, the Vulcan is thought not to be road legal.

Expect a price considerably in excess of £1 million and a total production run of fewer than 50 cars.

* Alongside so much exotica, the new Ford Focus RS seems positively mainstream. Even so, Ford claims its new 315bhp hot hatch is, in real terms, the fastest of its kind in the company’s history, even if its peak power is below the 345bhp offered by the limited edition RS500 version of the previous Focus. Unlike any previous Ford hot hatch, the new Focus RS has four-wheel drive that, says Ford, provides a unique blend of pure cornering power and drift-friendliness. Expect 0-62mph to take about 5sec, despite manual transmission, top speed to be limited to 155mph and a £30,000 price tag.