– Distinctive inside and out
– Excellent power and response
– Great ride-handling balance
– Not particularly affordable
– No space in the boot
– Oddly-placed controls & knobs
Ferrari has been going through a transition lately. Thanks to emissions regulations in the West, all manufacturers have been forced to downsize their engines, keeping the power up with the use of turbochargers. Ferrari has had to do the same, with the California T and this 488 GTB being the first turbocharged Ferraris since the legendary F40 nearly three decades ago. But unlike the old days, modern turbocharging tech is not the bringer of bad tidings it used to be.
Like most Ferraris, the 488 GTB is a stunning car. It’s clearly just an extensive facelift of the 458 Italia, as clearly Ferrari didn’t know where to go after reaching perfection. Oddly enough, we like this example better than the red one we drove last year, as the yellow with contrasting black panels is more striking to our eyes. The front-end features a functional F1-style nose, while every vent or intake on the body is designed for either better cooling or more downforce without the use of a tall rear wing.
Inside, every inch of the two-seater cabin is covered in matte leather, carpet or carbon-fibre, with parts such as the armrests and dash-top mildly padded. The layout is weird for the sake of being weird, such as the nav screen within the gauge cluster, the two pods of buttons and dials on either side of the steering wheel, and the wheel itself loaded with controls that could’ve been placed elsewhere, such as the engine-start button, the high-beam flasher, the drive-mode selector and what not. We couldn’t figure out all of them, but we liked some of the ideas, such as the countdown gear-shift lights on top of the steering wheel rim, and the thumb-operated indicator buttons on the wheel for quick flashing during high-speed overtaking.
It is spacious as well as easy to get in and out of, unlike the McLaren 650S. There’s even enough storage areas to stuff your wallet, phone and soft-drink can in, while some net pockets are behind the manually-adjustable sports seats. Forward visibility is excellent even with the low seating position, with the rear managed with a camera and mirrors. Unfortunately, the practicality ends there, as the boot is made useless by a space-saver spare, and the passenger-side footwell is made uncomfortable with a fire-extinguisher mounted there.
Further features a button-operated transmission with paddle-shifters, four airbags and some sort of integrated stereo that we didn’t use at all, because of the music from the engine. While ours was a coupe, we briefly drove a Spider convertible version with a two-part folding metal hardtop that can go up or down in 14 seconds and at speeds of up to 40 kph.
The new 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 produces 661 hp at a sky-high 8000 rpm, which is a whopping 98 horses more than the 458 Italia’s naturally-aspirated engine. The bigger difference is the 760 Nm of torque at 3000 rpm. The turbo-fed V8 doesn’t scream to 9000 rpm like the 458 any more, but revs to 8000 rpm with a more baritone exhaust note and a whole lot of unfiltered turbo-swooshing. And while the 458 felt lacking in mid-range torque, there is absolutely no shortage in the 488 once the turbos kick in with a noticeable shunt, but you’d have to pay careful attention to detect any turbo lag. This car is ridiculously fast, from any and all speeds.
Ferrari seems to have figured out how to make a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic feel more like a regular automatic, without the jerks and hiccups of some other supercar dual-clutch setups. Its responses are instantaneous, and the shifts are lightning-fast whether in automatic or paddle-pulling manual mode. The automatic mode is especially well-tuned, as it downshifts instantly at slightest press of the throttle on the highway, making the car ready to overtake without delay.
We managed a 0-100 kph time of 4.5 seconds with a conservative launch in our June testing, as the rear-wheel-drive Ferrari moves off slowly initially to keep take-off wheelspin at bay, then never-ending shove-you-into-your-seat acceleration kicks in and doesn’t let up all the way into illegal speeds. This is coupled with as-expected horrendous fuel consumption of 20 litres/100 km, and they say this new model is supposed to be more fuel-efficient than before.
What’s scary is how easy it is to hit super-high speeds. The car is so stable that you never feel you’re going too fast, unlike the overly-firm Nissan GT-R that starts to get jittery above 200 kph.
The 488’s magic is in its civility, as the car’s adaptive suspension smooths out bumps very well, leaving only a firm-feeling ride that’s never jarring. While cruising, it’s also reasonably quiet for such a brutally-fast supercar, and we suspect it’s partly due to the amazing aerodynamics as it is to the sound-deadening. Still, you can always hear the engine revving away while cruising, so it’s not a Bentley by any means.
As expected, the car also hugs corners like glue, with 245/35 front and 305/30 rear tyres and no obvious body-roll whatsoever. The steering is sharp and direct, but while the feedback is average at best, it’s still easy to place the car precisely and keep piling on the speed around a constant-radius corner until the tyres finally let out a hint of squeal. By then, your neck is paining, but you don’t notice it as you take in the thrill.
After all that, if you need to haul yourself down from triple-digit speeds to zero in seconds, there’s the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes that can snap necks on full braking. But the real surprise is how easy it is to control them in regular driving. Most others behave with an all-or-nothing pedal feel, but the Ferrari’s pedal can be modulated partially, as city conditions require. Sure, they squeal very loudly when cold, but we’ll put that down as a character quirk.
While we never had any serious wheel-time with previous Ferraris before, it became clear to us why the brand is still held in high regard. We’ve driven everything from the Nissan GT-R and the Audi R8 to the McLaren 650S and the Lamborghini Huracan, aside from the also-rans such as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the Porsche 911 Turbo. The Ferrari 488 GTB simply feels like it is in a different league, and you can just feel the 75 years of technical expertise emanating from every part of the car. Shame about that boot space though.
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