Driving Ferrari's 488 GTB


The new Ferrari 488 GTB never seems more absurdly fast than when you consider where it came from. Trace the line of mid-engined, two-seater Ferraris that preceded it and it goes 458, F430, 360 Modena, F355, 348, 328, 308, 246 and, finally, 206GT. But while in 1968 the 206GT was claimed to have 180bhp – and that claim was almost certainly optimistic – the 488 GTB has a probably quite conservative 660bhp.

Let’s think about that for a minute: that’s the kind of power turbocharged Ferrari F1 cars were toting in the early 1980s. It’s also the same as offered by the Ferrari Enzo, a mere decade ago the absolute pinnacle of money no object Ferrari engineering. And now you’ll find the same engine as the 488’s pushing along Ferrari’s entry level sports car.

But however fast you imagine that must make the car, in reality it feels faster still. For the first time since the F40, this mid-engined Ferrari is turbocharged, so all that power now comes surfing into shore mounted upon a mighty tidal wave of torque. It is quicker around Fiorano than not only the Enzo but any other new Ferrari you can buy – even the titanic 730bhp F12.

I will review the car at length in the next issue of the magazine, but I’ll make a few brief observations now. If the car has a problem, it is that for almost all drivers almost all of the time, the primary benefit that can be derived from such power is bragging rights in the pub. Out there in the real world – or at least as real as the world can be in the hills above Maranello – you cannot begin to use it all and stay both safe and show some consideration to other road users.

It has an entire 100bhp more than the normally aspirated 458 it replaces but if you try to access it at the exit of even a dry, third gear corner, your request will be met by the impassive blinking of the traction control light. The electronics are so sophisticated they don’t cut the power already supplied, just gently refuse your request for more.

As for turbo lag, there is none. Actually there is, but none the comparatively blunt instrument that is the human nervous system can discern. Ferrari says it actually takes one tenth of a second longer to respond to your right foot than the scalpel-sharp 458, but if you can detect that, let alone be inconvenienced by it, you are freak of nature.

All the car has lost is its soundtrack, that high-rev shriek that makes the insides of your ears itch. Under full load the 488 GTB sounds dull and loud at low to medium speeds and merely quite exciting near the 8000rpm red-line. It doesn’t even approach inspirational, a weakness trumped by its every forebear from 206 to 458.

But I can’t condemn it for that, not least because whatever character is lost by the engine is more than recovered by the chassis.

Not for the first time, I am about to get myself into trouble with those who love Ferrari blindly, but the truth is that very few cars on that list of antecedents ever handled properly. The 206 and 246 did, but the 308, 328 and 348 were needlessly tricky on the limit, the last mentioned quite scarily so. The F355 was a vast improvement, but the 360 Modena was horribly unforgiving (apart from the Challenge Stradale) and the F430 an improvement but with unpleasant steering. Even the 458 was fairly unforgiving in fast corners until they came up with the track-focussed Speciale version.

But the 488 GTB is magnificent, a car with vast grip yet such gentle manners you can drive it more like a MkII Escort than a mid-engined Ferrari. It’s even lost that overly light, non-linear steering that has just taken the edge off my enjoyment of most modern Ferraris. In short a 488 chassis with a 458 Speciale engine (with a trifling 600bhp) would be in my top five Ferraris of all time. Sadly and as yet, no such car is available.

But there is a coda to this story. Having burned its tyres at Fiorano, I was chatting to a chum when who should walk up but Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari’s new chairman and the man who last year ousted Luca di Montezemolo. Surely, I asked, there was now space beneath the 488 GTB for a more affordable mid-engined Ferrari or, in other words, a new Dino. He bridled considerably at my suggestion that any Ferrari should be more affordable, but not at the prospect of another Dino. “It is a question of when, not if,” were his exact words.

He didn’t say much more, other than to say he’d not be averse to a Ferrari with either six cylinders or 500bhp, which I am guessing is about where the Dino will be pitched, along with a price of around £150,000, or no less than the Ferrari California and therefore clearly not a ‘more affordable’ Ferrari. If it is small, light and focused entirely on the driver and not at all on chasing some spurious lap time, it could be quite wonderful, a prospect that leaves me more excited about a new Ferrari production car than I can remember. Having driven the never less than thrilling 488 GTB, that is truly saying something.

You may also like