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The Ferrari Files: Evolution With a Twist

Twenty-six years after the F40, the California T (pictured above) marks Ferrari's late return to the turbo fraternity, and its next turbocharged model is just round the corner. At the 2015 Geneva show next March, the Italian sports car maker is expected to launch the M458-T Italia, powered by a twin-turbo V-8 rated approximately 670 hp.

With 110 more horsepower than the California T's 560 hp, the 3855-cc engine requires extensive design changes to guarantee the wellbeing of the Italia's turbochargers, intercoolers and brakes. The most obvious alterations concern bigger nasal air intakes complemented by prominent lateral scoops. Flavio Manzoni and his design team are also going to reshape the bumpers, fit restyled LED lights and further improve the aerodynamics for enhanced cornering downforce. Inside, the M458-T gets the same Harman/Kardon infotainment system as the California T.

One could assume that Ferrari will eventually switch to turbocharged engines across the board, but this is not the case. Mid-term, the V-12s will remain members of the free-breathing fraternity. The 6.3-liter unit fitted to LaFerrari, where it develops 800 hp and 517 lb-ft, demonstrates that there is still plenty of life left in the high-revving normally aspirated big block unit. The Maranello grapevine is now predicting two new derivatives of the hybrid supercar, both due next year. In addition to the awesome FXX (30 units, power output in the neighborhood of 1050 hp), we can expect a striking LaFerrari Spider (50 units, about twice as expensive as the hardtop).

Meanwhile, the FF will undergo its mid-cycle changeover in 2016 when the output of the charismatic 48-valver will likely climb from 660 hp to about 700 hp. To further boost the sales volume of the unique all-wheel drive 2+2, Ferrari is expected to offer an 'entry-level' variant powered by a twin-turbo V-8. Although Ferrari must keep sheet metal changes to a minimum, the FF gets a facelift that trades out the upright hatchback look for a sportier, more elegant stance. Improved infotainment complete with Apple CarPlay will be part of the Modificato package.

We should also see in 2016 an improved F12, which does not really need a fresh make-up or more power but is set to get both. Its V-12 also remains turbo-free, and there is no hybrid version forecast. However, electrification is an integral part of the all-new Ferrari architectures due to come on-stream for front-engine cars in 2017 and mid-engine cars in 2019.

It remains unclear how Ferrari is going to address the critical efficiency issues. From a 48V circuit to plug-in hybrids, anything seems possible. The overdue V-6 engine should become a pivotal part of the marque's CO2-reducing efforts, but it won't spawn the entry-level Dino we have been speculating on for so many years. CEO Luca di Montezemolo and research & development chief Amedeo Felisa received fresh three-year contracts not long ago, so the controversial, small, $200,000 Ferrari continues to rest in peace. So does the widely expected switch from aluminum to carbon-fiber architectures.

But carbon fiber does play a role in certain areas, and the new modular structures are going to be 40 to 110 pounds lighter, depending on the model. To keep the center of gravity as low to the ground as possible, composites will be used primarily above the beltline. Such advanced assembly methods as the extensive use of hydroformed extrusion panels, injected aluminum foam used to reinforce pillars and sills, and more sophisticated bonding techniques also will help improve fuel efficiency.

Carbon-fiber roofs are a distinct possibility, as are composite hang-on panels and integrated lightweight air deflection elements masterminded by small hydraulic actuators. The new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is said to weigh even less than the current seven-speeder, and R&D has vowed to make the more compact new engines as physically lean as possible. The big question is how and when to incorporate the new e-technology instrumental in reducing consumption and emissions.

The first Ferrari to benefit from the revised DNA is the second-generation California, which will likely retain the popular retractable hardtop when it debuts in mid-2017. The follow-up to the F12 coming a year later is an even more serious sports car, and less of a GT.

What about the FF? Good question. While the heavily modified version might get an extended lease on life, the string-pullers are debating whether to venture into four-seat coupé territory (think 400/412 reinvented), or to develop more practical new doors on an unchanged footprint.

The M458-T is to be phased out in 2019. But if the new FF is delayed and ties up too many resources, the best-selling Ferrari model may not be replaced before 2020. In essence, the next mid-engine two-seater uses the same technology as its front-engine sister models. According to one supplier source and one company insider, Maranello is at least toying with the idea to cater to this segment with two different, if closely related models.

While the V-8-powered 458 would, in this context, supersede the Italia, we should also see a slightly more affordable version powered by a new six-cylinder engine. Let´s call it 456 for lack of a more plausible name. Current thinking is to make the 456 a slightly more compact car by shortening the wheelbase, the overall length, or both. Felisa is not only a stickler for weight, he also likes his sports car nimble and compact. That's why the F12 is smaller than the 599 and why LaFerrari is no bigger than the Enzo. But mass, number of cylinders and power output all directly influence a car's efficiency. Indirectly, they determine how big and heavy you need to go in terms of cooling apparatus and brake dimensions, to name two key parameters.

Thanks to the fresh opportunities provided by the highly flexible modular matrix, it would only be logical to make the 458 look more aggressive and sporty than the leaner and slimmer 456. There might even be a case for reviving the good old manual gearbox for the 456, which could be a DCT-derived seven-speeder similar to the cogworks installed in the base 911. We do not have official confirmation yet, but intelligence indicates that the new twin-turbo V-6 is a 2.9-liter unit. Staying under three liters has serious tax advantages in China. Although the power output will be determined later in the R&D process, 500 hp and 440 lb-ft should be achievable.

These numbers are strategic and political. If Audi can squeeze 525 hp out of a 2.5-liter five, Ferrari surely could get close to 600 hp out of a 2.9-liter six. But don't expect the new entry-level Ferrari to cost less than 175,000 euro (about $237,000).