MARANELLO, Italy — Welcome to modern times at Ferrari, courtesy of the new 488 GTB, the replacement for the much-lauded 458 Italia. There is no more fumbling with the immobilizer on a bulky ignition key or strapping yourself into an impossibly claustrophobic cockpit designed by a certified dominatrix. No more facing enigmatic ergonomics along with a flood of dials, digits, and displays.
The 2016 Ferrari 488 GTB — the “488” name comes from the displacement of each cylinder (rounded up) in cubic centimeters — unlocks its doors automatically as its driver approaches with the sensor-equipped fob in his or her pocket. The car’s major controls group around your fingertips; even the standard seats are unexpectedly body-friendly, and there is plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder room too. From a low vantage point behind the wheel, the driver faces a relatively straightforward dashboard. There is still no head-up display, assistance systems are conspicuous by their absence, and the satellite navigation software still seems ancient. On the positive side, we note the clean, main round instrument cluster that houses the rev counter, speedometer, and digital gear display for the transmission. The display to the right operates navigation and infotainment, as the matching one to the left switches between car-related displays, including a temperature monitor connected to the drivetrain, tires, and brakes. Fire the engine at the push of the red steering-wheel button, and the pictogram shows a healthy green for all systems.
We start the day at Fiorano, Ferrari’s famous test track. The short circuit is dotted with tricky fences and tall jumps. Second, third, and fourth gear are required to master the eight corners, and fifth and sixth gears take you past 150 mph on the solitary straight. Our instructor is Raffaele de Simone, who’s young, wiry, friendly, and super-talented. How else could you explain his ability to perform a smoking fourth-gear slide at 105 mph, facing his impressed passenger occasionally while explaining calmly what the car is doing and why.
The key difference between the 488 Gran Turismo Berlinetta and the 458 it replaces is, of course, the engine. The new twin-turbo, 3.9-liter V-8 develops 660 horsepower at 8,000 rpm; the outgoing naturally aspirated 4.5-liter unit needed 9,000 rpm to dish up 562 hp. Even more radical is the disparity of the two V8s’ torque curves. Whereas you had to push the 458 engine to 6,000 rpm to muster 398 lb-ft of torque, the 488 will lay down 561 lb-ft at a casual 3,000 rpm. Not surprisingly, the GTB lifts the performance figures to a new level. It cuts the acceleration time from 0-62 mph by 0.4 second to 3 seconds flat — 0-60 should come in around 2.8 seconds — and it boosts top speed by 5 mph to just past 206 mph. At the same time, Ferrari promises improved fuel economy, natch.
We know from the California T that defining a convincing common denominator for an engine’s efficiency and its emotional side can be difficult. The soundtrack is one important criterion, throttle response another. Predictably, the 488 seems more relaxed and refined than its predecessor. Its pumped-up, hard-beating heart avoids puerile part-throttle blat-blats, electronically generated fake heel-and-toe noises, and that notorious from-bad-to-bad-ass two-stage exhaust blare. Instead, the catchy tunes are composed by unequal-length intake pipes, a free-breathing exhaust, sparsely applied insulation, and a few strategic holes in the firewall. The result is more Pavarotti than Celentano, which keeps your goose-pimple level below the ecstasy limit but is still in line with the car’s ever so slightly rowdy character. Although the melody no longer depends on high revs to flourish fully, at around 3,500 rpm the engine’s voice breaks suddenly into “baw-wah, wah-baw,” which grows tireseome if 3,000-4,000 rpm happens to be your favorite spot in the rev range.
We’re allowed only four laps at a time on the circuit, so it takes a couple of stints to discover the bella macchina’s strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncracies. At the rev range’s top end, the outgoing 4.5-liter V-8 offered an extra 1,000 rpm, which was by no means essential but nice to have, especially in the first three gears. Below 4,000 rpm, it responded especially eagerly to throttle input, which is another bonus stored in the back of our mind. Ferrari claims this difference in reaction time to be a marginal 0.1 second.
Unusual yet effective is the gear-dependent torque flow, which reaches its peak only in seventh gear. Despite the seven strategically staggered portions of grunt, there is always enough oomph on tap to put down gobs of power and to modulate the handling balance. Inspired by a high maximum-boost pressure of 36.25 psi, the two small low-inertia turbochargers make the 3.9-liter powerplant rev with such vigor and eagerness that the LED shift lights in the steering wheel rim rarely come to rest. Perhaps Ferrari should consider offering a self-acting upshift function when the driver keeps the right paddle pulled — in the same way you can trigger consecutive downshifts by simply pulling and holding the left paddle.
On the track, the 488 GTB behaves in a more homogenous and benign fashion than the spicier 458 Speciale. Despite the extra plumbing required for its forced-induction engine, the GTB lost a token 22 pounds, to 3,252 pounds, and the latest Ferrari feels even more agile, maneuverable, and light-footed.
Thanks to the punchier torque delivery, Ferrari says the GTB beats the Italia in the 0-124-mph sweepstakes, 8.3 seconds versus 10.4. After eight laps, we throw all “what-if” concerns overboard and snap the whip. Even without all-wheel drive, the 488 masks any grip and traction issues with aplomb, at least up until nine-tenths of the limit. Here are some numbers to substantiate the claim: lateral acceleration up to 12 percent faster; 13 percent less body roll; 8 percent quicker steering response. So, when it comes to direction changes, dosage and timing are of the essence. It is easy to overdrive this car by exaggerating inputs, turning in too early, opening the steering up too late, correcting with counterproductive empathy.
Like all models conceived in Maranello’s stylish new research and development center, the 488 masterminds the integration of its dynamic control systems with rare diligence and competence. The electronic differential pre-distributes forward thrust, which is then allocated precisely by F1-trac, and simultaneously kept in check laterally by Side Slip Control. If need be, it is also supported vertically by adaptable shock-absorber action. Thanks to this quartet of driver aids, a hard-charging GTB maintains its balance long before traction and/or stability control intervene. The trick to driving this car well is to trust it, to keep it on a reasonably long leash, to let it sort itself out. You are most welcome to brake hilariously late and to step back on the gas eerily early. However, maintaining a smooth line is absolutely essential, so no mid-corner full-throttle upshifts, please, and no show-off steering action. The degree of drama is determined by the little manettino dial on the steering wheel: On cold tires, CT OFF is all it takes to catch insects with the side windows. Once the status display changes color from yellow to red, however, drift kings must also deactivate stability control.
After lunch, we head for the lush green hills that link Pavullo on the Abetone road and Vignola down in the Panaro valley. Many hot summers and cold winters have left their marks on the cracked, ragged, and bleached-out tar that meanders through this fertile countryside. Crater-deep potholes, pavement broken up in the wake of a recent earthquake, and puffy undulations resembling gray monochrome quilts pose a serious threat to low-flying spoilers, rims, aprons, and underbodies — but not when you’re at the 488 GTB’s helm. As with other Ferraris, you can select a softer suspension setting via a quick stab of the button that disconnects the shocks from the other manettino settings. Living up to the motto “Compliance is control,” the car immediately stops chafing its chin and scraping its belly on what Italian authorities mistakenly preserve as ancient cultural assets. Instead, it masters the bumpy terrain with elegance and composure: no bottoming out, no nervous sidesteps, no restless steering, no brittle front suspension. The setup inspires confidence and is always connected and communicative, never wayward.
By late afternoon, the bond between the 488 and its driver grows even stronger. The 488 is equally addictive yet a different drug than the comparably quick 458 Speciale. For starters, it pushes for even more extreme boundaries: 30 percent quicker upshifts; 40 percent quicker downshifts; higher combustion pressures and temperatures than the California T; up to 50 percent more downforce than the 458; a lower center of gravity; active air flow devices front and rear; wider tires (245/35R-20 front, 305/30R-20 rear). Though it raises the high-tech bar a full notch, Ferrari’s latest creation is more accessible, more nicely balanced, and absolutely confidence-inspiring. On the circuit, this car is a blast. On the road, it is a latent threat to your driver’s license. The GTB executes overtaking maneuvers in time-warp mode, it approaches braking zones with zoom-lens rapidity, and it defies g-force with oodles of sheer mechanical grip rather than by employing nanny-like driver-aid intervention. Boasting the same extra-large Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes as the LaFerrari, the brake system builds up pressure much faster to cut the stopping distance from 125 mph to 0 by 20 feet.
McLaren banks on the carbon-fiber monocoque, Porsche has introduced rear-wheel steering, and Lamborghini fields AWD. By comparison, the 488 subscribes to a relatively economical and straightforward engineering concept: All Ferraris share in essence the same suspension, brakes, and electronic architecture, regardless of the engine’s location. This modularity generates serious economies of scale — and harbors handicaps such as zero electrification, barely enough high technology (no adaptive LED lights, backwater connectivity) and ho-hum fuel efficiency. On the other hand, Flavio Manzoni’s design makes essentially a face-lifted 458 look fantastic; Vittorio Dini converted the California T’s grand touring-type V-8 turbo into a proper sports-car engine; and Enrico Cardile’s aerodynamic finesse works wonders for speed and stability without in-your-face exterior addenda that would compromise the GTB’s appearance.
Perhaps it is time to rethink our perception of Ferrari. Noisy, hard, tight, uncompromising, capricious, unyielding, tricky — these familiar attributes no longer apply. The same goes for the once hiccupy-slow F1 transmission, the too-hard or too-soft adjustable dampers, and dubious control at high speed. The 458 was the last old-school, mid-engined two-seater built in the holy halls on Via Abetone, and we are going to miss it for being more extreme, for making do with fewer filters, and for being hot-wired permanently to its driver.
The 488 GTB is the first new-school Ferrari model. It is more sensible, comfortable, and predictable. With a starting price likely around the $245,000 mark, it is only about $2,000 more expensive than the 458 Italia. While it may be a slightly less emotional driving machine, it is undeniably the faster and more complete package overall. But there is absolutely no need to trade in the Italia just yet. After all, you may want to wait until your dealer opens its order book for the 488 Spider and the Speciale.
2016 Ferrari 488 GTB Specifications
- On Sale: Fall
- Price: $245,000 (base, est)
- Engine: 3.9L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/660 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 561 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 14/19 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 179.8 x 76.9 x 47.8 in
- Wheelbase: 104.3 in
- Weight: 3,252 lb
- 2.8 sec
- Top Speed: 205 mph