First drive: 2016 Ferrari 488 GTB in the UAE
To be honest, we weren’t expecting to drive this car anytime soon. The Ferrari 488 GTB was just revealed in February this year, and given the long waiting lists for these things, we’re surprised the dealer even kept a test car, let alone gave one to us. However, we only had the car for a few hours, so here’s the quickest review you’ll ever read.
First off, despite the fact that it looks like a facelifted 458 Italia, the 488 GTB is in fact revolutionary for Ferrari, since this is one of their first turbocharged models in decades. And those massive air intakes up front and along the sides aren’t just for decoration — they feed air to the engine as well as provide enough downforce to negate the use of a rear wing.
Inside, every inch of the cabin is covered in matte leather, carpet or carbon-fibre, with parts such as the armrests and dash-top nicely 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 buttons that could’ve been placed elsewhere. Why is the engine-start button on the wheel?
While we eventually did figure out some of the buttons, such as how to set up a phone and how to flash the headlights, we did end up inadvertently splashing the windshield with water and never found the cruise control, which apparently involves the “PIT” button. However, some of the ideas we liked, such as the countdown gear-shift lights on top of the steering wheel, and the thumb-operated indicator buttons on the wheel for quick flashing during high-speed overtaking.
The car clearly holds only two people, but it is spacious as well as easy to get in and out of, unlike its sworn rival, 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. 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.
But how does it drive? Absolutely brilliantly. The new 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 produces a whopping 98 horses more than the Italia’s naturally-aspirated engine, at 661 hp with 760 Nm of torque. It doesn’t scream to 9,000 rpm like the 458 any more, but revs to 8,000 rpm with a bit gruntier-sounding exhaust note and a whole lot of unfiltered turbo-swooshing. And while the 458 we briefly drove once felt lacking in mid-range torque, there is absolutely no shortage in the 488 once the turbos kick in with a noticeable shunt. This car is ridiculously fast, from any and all speeds.
What’s scary is how non-scary it is to hit high speeds by mistake. On a certain road, we just floored it when we found a gap in traffic and ended up doing 220 kph in a few seconds. The car is so stable that you never feel you’re going too fast, unlike the Nissan GT-R that starts to get jittery at similar speeds.
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.
Ferrari seems to have cracked the code on how to make a 7-speed dual-clutch auto-manual feel more like a regular automatic, without the jerks and hiccups of some other carmakers’ dual-clutch setups. Its responses are instantaneous, and the shifts are lightning-fast whether in automatic or paddle-pulling manual mode.
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 quite notice it.
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. Hard stops are a neck-snapping piece of cake, 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.
So was our first official Ferrari time-waster of a test an eye-opener? Tremendously so. How they’ve managed to “fix” the typical issues with dual-clutch gearboxes and ceramic brakes is baffling, to say the least. We didn’t even have enough time to pull a 0-100 kph run, play with the driving modes or try the “side slip control” whatever, and we’re still impressed. The switch to turbos hasn’t dulled this Ferrari either. It’s all the better for it. Now if only they could engineer enough space for groceries.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Ferrari buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.