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Ferrari 488 GTB review — Song and dance

Leow Ju-Len
03/07/2015

Turbocharging may have ruined Formula One, but in the 488 GTB it changes the supercar game

MARANELLO, ITALY — Ferrari fans, or supercar lovers in general, mark your calendars for July 8th. That’s when the Ferrari 488 GTB will be launched in Singapore, and it is a car that completely changes the game.

In some ways, other supercar makers already have plenty of catching up to do with the prancing horse brand. England’s McLaren has a limited product line-up for now and only a brief track record for building road cars. Lamborghini has less motorsports pedigree than Toyota, let alone Ferrari.

If anything, the 488 GTB’s fiercest threat might well have come from within, in the form of Ferrari’s own 458 Italia, the very car it replaces.

That machine was sublime, with razor sharp handling, beautifully sorted manners on the track, and a howling engine that could make the small hairs on your body tingle. The hardcore 458 Speciale edition left an even harder act to follow.

But why the scepticism about the 488’s ability to fill the holes in our hearts left by the 458? Two reasons, and they’re both IHI turbochargers.

That’s right, Ferrari has fully embraced forced-induction — both of its V8 models are now turbocharged — and there’s a legitimate worry whether that will have altered the essential character of its cars. The noise made by a Ferrari is crucial to the experience, after all, and if you’ve heard the current batch of Formula One racing cars, you’ll know that putting a turbo in an exhaust system is like placing a sock in a soprano’s mouth. But I’ll get to the 488 GTB’s voice later.

All good singing comes from the heart anyway, and the 488 has a stout one. At full chat, the 3.9-litre V8 (each cylinder, notice, is 488cc in size) pushes out 670 horsepower, a huge jump over the 458’s 570hp. That was the amount of oomph needed for Ferrari to hit its performance targets for the car, namely 100km/h in three seconds flat, and 200km/h in a frankly mind-boggling 8.3 seconds.

Whatever you think about turbochargers, they are the reason the 488 is as fast as it is. Nor was forced-induction used to cut emissions, says Matteo Turconi, a Ferrari spokesman. “For us it was the best way to reach such a challenging target for power and performance and also to maintain the Ferrari DNA,” he tells us. “Then obviously we also reduced the CO2, but that was not the first goal for this project.”

Going the twin-turbo route is also why there are enormous air ducts behind the doors. The funnel airflow to the intercoolers, but some of it is guided out the back of the 488 GTB, in a way that interrupts the vortex coming off its rear wing, so as to cut drag.

Say what you like, turbo or not, the 488’s engine is a masterpiece. The first time you experience what it can do, it literally makes you gasp. The acceleration is pretty much instant, but more than that, it’s fearsome. The 488 GTB is just ferocious about the way it gathers speed, accompanied by a growl from the engine bay that’s much heavier with bass than the 458’s howl.

It’s instantaneously responsive, too. Well, the 458’s naturally-aspirated V8 was famously spontaneous, with a response time of 0.7 seconds, and the 488’s turbo does needs a fraction of a second longer to deliver maximum shove. But it does so in 0.8 seconds. Other turbo supercars, say Ferrari’s engineers, need more than twice as long.

ferrari 488 gtb engine singapore

Intriguingly, the engine’s prodigious torque will peak at 3,000rpm only if you’re in seventh gear. Otherwise it comes in later, which might seem like a strange way to do things, but it actually makes sense in practice. It rewards you for hitting the redline, for one thing, and it means the 488 GTB feels like a Ferrari, and not a turbodiesel.

And it’s a good thing that it comes with carbon ceramic brakes too, because without the 488’s strong stoppers it’s hard to see anyone using the engine with proper confidence.

ferrari 488 gtb rear singapore

But then the handling is yet another revelation, and until now I never would have imagined that a 670hp car could feel so utterly controllable, both on the street and the track. If the 458 took corners with a scalpel’s precision, the 488 is a laser. The steering is incredibly sharp, with only a smidgen of gentle understeer if you’re too aggressive with it on the circuit, and it’s full of feel and feedback in a way that the 458’s helm never was.

Ferrari says the 488 GTB has an updated version of its Side Slip Control system, but it’s difficult to feel what it’s doing. What you notice instead is that the 488 pivots into corners like a dancing partner so skilled that your own shortcomings are masked. It’s just an incredibly flattering car to drive, and with the manettino set to “CT Off” it will indulge big, smooth tailslides that make you feel gifted behind the wheel.

On the flipside, even in the rain the 488 is impossibly easy to drive fast. The front end sticks faithfully, and the “Wet” setting doesn’t allow even the tiniest wiggle from the rear.

Meanwhile, whoever set up the transmission is a genius. It’s the best set of cogs I’ve ever experienced, offering silky gearchanges when required but somehow firing from one ratio to another faster than the 458’s gearbox by some margin. The 488’s gearbox is scarily good at reading your intentions and finding the right ratio, too, so much so that for the first time ever, the gearchange paddles feel utterly superfluous.

Undoubtedly, there is an army of software programmers responsible for much of the 488 GTB’s brilliance, and electronics have come to form an integral part of the Ferrari experience. You might cling to the old school and denounce that as interference or a dilution of some misguided notion of purity, but driving the 488 GTB feels so richly rewarding that it’s like what viewing a colour TV for the first time must have been like for your parents.

But more important is that while the electronics are there, they never intrude on the proceedings, making your interaction with the 488 GTB feel entirely natural and spontaneous the whole time.

And in spite of the tremendous pace it can set, the Ferrari has an entirely civil side to it, too. The suspension’s bumpy road setting conjures up a decently pillowy ride over bad tarmac, and the chin spoiler somehow managed to escape being bruised by some scars and dips on roads that wouldn’t have felt out of place in rural Malaysia.

At long last, too, it receives a keyless entry and start system, with a transponder that doesn’t feel like it was fished from the Fiat parts
bin. Instead, the key feels weighty and substantial for a change.

As much as the 458 Italia was the platinum standard for its generation of supercar, it’s clear that the 488 GTB surpasses it in every way.

Well, perhaps not every. It’s impossible to deny that turbocharging has altered the 488’s voice, though it still sounds glorious. There’s a different character to it, not to mention a noticeable drop in volume. But if what you want from a Ferrari is to drive it jerkily, and thus loudly, down Orchard Road in an attempt to get as many people as possible to stare at you, then there’s always the F12berlinetta. The 488 GTB is so ostensibly a driver’s car that Ferrari says it’s aimed at people who are expected to spend 70 percent of time behind the wheel by themselves.

But what it boils down to, ultimately, is this: even if you think the 458 Italia is the better singer, the 488 GTB is by far the better car.

ferrari 488 gtb side singapore

NEED TO KNOW Ferrari 488 GTB
Engine 3,902cc, 32V, turbo V8
Power 670hp at 8000rpm
Torque 760Nm at 3000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch
Top Speed “over 330km/h”
0-100km/h 3.0 seconds 
Fuel efficiency 11.4L/100km
CO2 260g/km
Price $995,000 
Available July 2015

Also consider Ferrari F12berlinetta, McLaren 650 S, Millennium Falcon

10 Things You Need To Know About the 488 GTB

It’s literally vacuumed to the road
Drive fast and most cars are lifted by airflow, which is why they feel wobbly at high speed. But the 488 GTB is sucked down to the road. It has a patented rear wing design, a front double spoiler, underbody vortex generators and a rear diffuser that together generate 325kg of downforce at 250km/h.

It’s the most aero-efficient car in Ferrari’s history
ferrari 488 gtb aero singaporeGenerating downforce usually results in wind resistance, or drag. That limits a car’s top speed and raises fuel consumption. But even though it has 50 percent more downforce than the 458 Italia, the body shape creates less drag. In fact, the 488’s downforce-to-drag ratio is the best for any Ferrari, ever. It’s helped by the air ducts behind the doors, which bleed air to the rear of the car to cut drag. Active flaps in the rear diffuser can reduce resistance when downforce isn’t needed, too.

The gearbox is bloody fast
ferrari 488 gtb shift paddle singaporeThe dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission has been carried over from the 458, but in the 488 it’s been reprogrammed for faster gearchanges. Changing up takes 30 percent less time, and dropping a gear is 40 percent faster. In the time it took the 458 Italia to downchange three times, the 488 GTB can drop four gears.

Most of it is new
The roof and glasshouse are carried over from the 458 Italia, but 85 percent of the parts are new. Ferrari considers the 488 GTB a completely new car

This is a manettino
ferrari 488 gtb singapore priceAn idea borrowed from F1 and introduced in the 488 GTB’s grandfather, the manettino is a switch that puts the Ferrari into different driving modes immediately. It affects the suspension, the driver assist systems (like traction control), the engine and gearbox response and so on. Every setting feels noticeably different.

The engine holds back
ferrari 488 engine singaporeThe turbos give the 488 huge peak torque: 760Nm at 3,000rpm. But that’s only available in seventh gear. In lower gears the engine only parcels out maximum torque at higher revs, encouraging the driver to chase the redline and making sure the V8 didn’t end up feeling like a big turbodiesel.

It’s got a bit of LaFerrari in it
ferrari 488 gtb brakes singaporeAlthough it’s the “affordable” sports coupe in Ferrari’s line-up, the 488 GTB has the carbon ceramic brakes from the limited edition, 960 horsepower LaFerrari. They’re reassuringly effective, and weigh 2.7kg less than the 458’s brakes.

It has a heavier engine
Though the 488’s engine itself weighs the same as the 458’s, each of the two turbos adds 8kg. But weight-saving measures used elsewhere in the car mean that it’s ultimately 43kg lighter than the 488 GTB, with a dry weight of 1,445kg.

There have only been four (or five) turbo Ferraris before this
ferrari f40 singaporeFerrari’s first turbo was the 208 GTB from 1982, designed to get around an Italian tax on engines bigger than 2.0 litres. It was followed up by a facelifted model called simply, GTB Turbo (or GTS Turbo). Then came the 288GTO, built to satisfy a minimum production run needed to enter the car in a certain class of racing. The F40 (pictured above) was the final car signed off by Enzo Ferrari before his death in 1988. And then there’s the California T, currently Ferrari’s top-selling model.

Ferrari calls this bit the “satellite”
ferrari satellite singaporeIt has buttons for the transmission (the “R” is for reverse, not racing) and one to initiate launch control, a feature that creates the fastest-possible getaways from standstill.

BONUS FACT: It’s faster than the Enzo
enzo ferrari singaporeLess than a decade ago the Enzo represented the pinnacle of Ferrari’s abilities. That car took 1m 24.9s to do a lap of the Fiorano circuit. The 488GTB is nearly 2 seconds quicker.

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