► Ferrari 488 GTB driven on road and track
► It's the successor to the sublime 458 Italia
► But has turbocharging ruined the magic?
The new 488 GTB is Ferrari’s replacement for the 458 Italia, which is a bit of a big deal: the 458 remained top of its class some five years after launch.
The 488 is essentially a very thorough evolution of the 458, so you might expect Maranello to simply find another gear and power away from the opposition. But there’s one big sticking point: after years of naturally aspirated V8s that screamed to as high as 9000rpm, the GTB adopts a downsized and twin-turbocharged V8. And this, more than anything, will be crucial in how the new model is received.
This is Ferrari’s second attempt at turbocharging in the modern era – the California T was the first since 1987’s seminal F40 and while the folding hardtop’s engine is technically impressive, it can’t match the excitement of the old V8. There’ll be jitters at Maranello, and no mistake.
Let me guess: more power, more torque, lower C02, better mpg?
Exactly. The 458 Italia’s 4497cc V8 made 562bhp at 9000rpm, 398lb ft at 6000rpm, 24mpg and 275g/km (or 597bhp in ultimate Speciale guise, the rest of the figures remaining the same – with the optional stop/start HELE system). The 488 GTB’s smaller 3902cc twin-turbo V8 ramps that up to 661bhp at 8000rpm, 561lb ft at 3000rpm, with 25mpg and 260g/km. That’s a helluva big jump in performance. And the new car is claimed to be some 43kg lighter than the Italia, its kerbweight coming in at 1445kg.
So, everything improves, but note that the peak power is delivered 1000rpm lower than the Italia, and that the massive wodge of torque is on tap way down low. There is, however, a caveat here: Ferrari has cleverly engineered the engine to unleash the full 561lb ft at 3000rpm only in seventh gear, parcelling the torque out in lower gears to encourage drivers to chase the redline and, therefore, approximate the rush of good ol’ natural aspiration.
But it’s just the California engine dropped into the 488, right?
Well, the two units are closely related, but there are also some big differences: the California has 47cc less outright capacity, revs 500rpm lower at 7500rpm all-in and falls short in the performance stakes by a whopping 109bhp and not so whopping 4lb ft. The 488 GTB's V8 gets new con-rods, pistons, crank and cams, and new cylinder heads with thinner walls for larger cooling channels. New twin-scroll IHI turbos feature ball-bearing shafts to reduce friction, while the compressor wheels are lightweight titanium-aluminium alloy, reducing turbine inertia by 50%.
Ferrari says the engine responds to throttle inputs in 0.8sec, an improvement over the California T’s 1.1sec, but down from the 458 Italia’s 0.6sec.
What else is different compared with the 458 Italia?
While the basic silhouette remains – indeed, the roof and glasshouse are identical – there are some big alterations to the bodywork, particularly the LaFerrari-style front bumper, the twin bonnet vents, and larger twin side intakes ('base-bleed intakes', in Ferrari-speak), all of which cater to the turbocharged engine’s appetite for cooling air – indeed the rear track is 40mm wider to accommodate the turbos and intercoolers on either side of the V8. Along with a new aerodynamic underbody with vortex generators – two paths that start at the front axle line, and curve out behind the front wheels – downforce is said to increase by 50% to 325kg at 250km/h compared with the Italia.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is carried over from the Italia, but the ratios are ‘4-5%’ longer (though seventh is shorter than the California’s cruisey top gear) and the already fast shifts become faster yet again than the Italia – 30% faster upshifts, 40% faster downshifts; for reference, the Speciale was 20% and 44% faster than the Italia, respectively. Carbon-ceramic brakes are borrowed from LaFerrari, while the suspension is lightly evolved with a riff on the Speciale damper set-up.
Side-Slip Angle control returns, an advanced kind of stability-control sport setting, which integrates with the traction control and E-diff as before, but now also includes the adaptive dampers and is claimed to be less intrusive – a good thing, as the old system was better at managing the small slip angles you might generate while chasing a lap time on track, than allowing you to play through tighter, slower turns.
Inside, there are new satellite control clusters and instrument panel, plus new graphics and interface for infotainment system – the reality is it looks and feels much the same, despite the updates. Thankfully, the plasticky old key that looked more Fiat than Ferrari has finally – finally – been replaced.
What’s the new 2015 Ferrari 488 GTB like to drive?
Do you want the good news or the good news? Well, the good news is that the 488 GTB still essentially feels like the brilliant 458, and the switch to turbocharging has been carried out much more effectively than on the California.
Response is excellent, lag non-existent, and the mid-range is far, far stronger than the 458. Variable Torque Management means you don’t feel tempted to short-shift, but to wind the engine right out. The new V8 sounds great, with a gruff flat-plane crank idle, and a guttural mid-range underscored with a light whistle of boost. Both the sound and the delivery encourage you to chase high revs, which is very satisfying, and when you do that the delivery feels far fuller and richer than a straining high-rpm California.
The precision with which you could play with the 458 Italia’s rear end has also survived the switch to forced induction. I feared lag and mushy throttle response would make balancing the 488 GTB beyond the rear tyres’ limits a far trickier experience, but the reality is it’s easier than ever, and you can really sense even the tiniest adjustment in right-foot attitude when the tyres are spinning.
On track, at first, I hit the limiter a few times, because it does take some time to recalibrate from the old 9000rpm power peak and, no, the new engine doesn’t sound as good when you really strike the high notes, but I’d say the substantial extra performance is a decent trade. And, look, this isn’t a dull-sounding engine. Gearshifts are said to be even quicker, and that certainly feels the case, but what’s more noticeable is the thud of engagement when you’re driving hard and you pull for the next upshift, perhaps a result of all that extra torque. It’s not brutal, it’s just a very mechanical feeling, one that adds to the sense of interaction.
On track you’ll notice more understeer than in the hardcore 458 Speciale – with its stickier tyres and stiffer suspension, remember – but the trade-off is a far more pliant car on the road; the 488 is incredibly supple, and yet still offers fantastic body control for road driving. Keep it in the default firmer setting if you must, but that’s best left for the track.
The steering ratio remains the same as the madly quick 458, but it feels like there’s more weight and consistency to me – though not the feel of the Speciale.
Ferrari vs McLaren, who wins?
Well, it’s a bit early for a twin test, but Woking will be watching the 488 GTB’s progress closely. McLaren claims 641bhp at 7250rpm, 500lb ft at 6000rpm, 0-62mph in 3.0sec and 207mph for the 650S. So the GTB makes 20bhp and 61lb ft more, revs 750rpm higher, and is said to record similar performance data. The McLaren 675 LT gets back on terms (more power, still less torque), but is limited to 500 units and will be more comparable to a hardcore Speciale-style version of the 488 GTB. What should we guess? 700bhp and similar torque to the GTB for that?
We all feared that the switch to turbo power would scupper the 488 GTB, leaving the 458 Italia representing both the benchmark and the end of an era. The reality is quite different: the new 3.9-litre V8’s performance, response and sound make it a highly engaging engine, one that pairs incredibly well with the 488 GTB’s extremely playful chassis – you can still intimately sense the boundary between grip and slip, and quickly feel comfortable taking liberties. This is not a car that intimidates, despite its prodigious power and torque.
But the fact is, the 488 GTB works very well even when you don’t act the hero or exploit its performance to the full. It’s still a very tactile car when driven well below its limit, and combines that interactivity with high, for the most part, levels of comfort. Our only complaint is the sports seats in our car – the ones with the cut-outs behind your back – were too firm and unsupportive. If you’re using your 488 GTB as often as it deserves to be, I’d pay very careful attention to your choice of seat.
This is a car that could’ve gone so wrong. Instead, it feels genuinely exciting to tell you Ferrari has got it right.