Reviews

2017 Ferrari 488 GTB

 

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Ferrari 488 GTB

It isn’t the styling that grabs you, although, admittedly, it is a very pretty car.  Not something you’ve been able to say about a V8 powered Ferrari for quite some time now, but no, its not the looks.  Nor is it the fact that they’ve had to bow to pressure from a lot of influences and bolted some turbochargers on, although forced induction has been done may times before at Maranello.  No, its not the turbocharging.  Its the numbers that get you.  Just the numbers.

Take the number 3 for example.  This is the number of seconds that it takes you to hit 62mph from a standstill.  Three seconds.  Count that; 1…2…3.  Legal limit achieved.  The next number is 5.3.  Because just over 5 seconds from when you hit 62mph, you’ll now be doing 124mph.  It was at this point I wanted to emphasise the perspective of this and so was going to compare theses statistics to the legendary F40, Ferrari’s super-supercar from the late ‘Eighties that many consider to be one of their finest and also running a turbocharged V8 plonked in the middle of its chassis.  But I didn’t have to go that far back.  In fact, I only went back to 2002 and looked at the figures for the Enzo to be staggered.  The 488 is quicker than an Enzo.  A V12 powered, carbon fibre hypercar.  End of.

At this point I should make it clear that I haven’t been the biggest fan of modern Ferraris.  Cliched, yes, but the F355 was, in my humblest of opinion, the last beautiful Ferrari. After that they always felt a bit obvious and they seemed to trade beauty for aerodynamic superiority and Formula 1 references.  Don’t get me wrong, if you spend that level of money on the track, there should be some pay-off for your road cars, but for me, they just didn’t tug at the heart strings anymore. I respected them, but I just couldn’t love them.  A bit like Coldplay.

And then I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with the new 488GTB, so I approached this with a very open mind.  First things first, the name.  I love the fact that Ferrari are delving into their heritage and bringing back nomenclature from the past.  GTB, Lusso, California, Superfast.  A company that has such an illustrious back-catalogue should feel proud to emblazon their new creations with names as cool as these.  What I do find hard to understand though is how the mid-engined V8 Ferrari that used to be the “entry-level” car when the 308 was launched in my lifetime, has now developed into a genre of automobile far past anything else that I used to class as a “supercar”.  When most car manufacturers introduce a replacement model, they tweak the engine and give it a little bit more to justify the premium.  Take Volkswagen for instance.  When they replaced the Mk6 Golf GTI with the Mk7, they gave you another 3bhp.  Not shabby at 210bhp.  Ferrari, however, felt that their previous model 458 Italia was obviously lacking in the Gucci trouser department at “only” 562bhp. The 488GTB has 660bhp.  A simply colossal amount of power for any car, but now, I think you will agree by no means an entry-level car.  

So, engine-wise we have enough power to hustle with the very elite, but has the need for lower emissions and better efficiency come at a price?  Well, not really.  You see the torque is phenomenal too, and the noise, well, I really liked the fact my colleague Tim described it as “old school”.  Its not a screamer, but neither is it artificial.  It is a very characterful V8 engine with a lovely timbre that makes itself known when attacking a great road, but in no way intrusive when burbling through the city streets.  and trust me, you can burble through the city in this car.  Gone are the days of the recalcitrant, lumpy gearchanges and mechanicals that simply weren’t happy below 6000rpm.  This is a very usable and comfortable car capable of driving into the very worst that any metropolis could throw at you.  Although it is here that I come across the first chink in its armour of greatness.

I can cope with buttons on the steering wheel for damper control, and even for starting and stopping the engine.  I’m also a big fan of the lovely, tactile Manettino toggle for adjusting the traction control.  But please, can we just have normal stalks for indicators, lights and wipers Ferrari?  And as for the optional LED indicators for gearshift that are imbedded into the top of the wheel rim, no, I’m happy to rely on a good old-fashioned rev counter for that.  The whole driving environment and instrument binnacle is fussy in my view.  Configurable screens either side of the rev counter can be set and adjusted to display a lot of information without the need for a central display, but it just lacks a simplistic style and appears to be trying a little too hard in my mind.  The seats, although optional in “my” car, gave good support and the whole interior felt spacious enough for myself and Tim to cover a reasonable distance had we needed to, so no cause for concern there.  The advent of paddle-shift gearboxes in mid-engined cars has meant that the space is now opened up with slimmer centre consoles, if any at all.  And it is here that Formula 1 connection really pays off for me.

The 7 speed double-clutch gearbox is, in my mind, one of the finest transmissions that I have ever used.  I have always been a fan of paddle-shift gearshifts, especially when mated to an automated manual box.  I accept that they have limitations, and many bemoan the lack of pedal and stick interaction with the car, but I feel that those people have simply jumped on a bandwagon without really getting quality time with one as good as this.  The gearchanges are as instantaneous as a  thought, and as smooth as a clicking a button on a keypad.  No drop in power between shifts, and its all just a slight finger stretch away.  Couple this with the tsunami-like power delivery and this car is near untouchable in any situation.  Even then, I would question what machine would be capable of keeping tabs on the sublime haunches of this Ferrari as it simply stitches together corners like a fine tailor.

With the Manettino switched to Sport and dampers set to the simply wonderfully obviously named “Bumpy Road” setting, the way the 488 covers ground is sensational.  It never feels frantic, or that it is simply getting away from the driver, something I have previously criticised the bigger 599 for, it just flows like an existential part of you.  As ridiculous as it may sound, its almost as if the car is acting on thought input such is the direct sharpness of its dynamics.  You hint at an apex, the car responds.  You twitch the toes on your right foot, the car spears towards the horizon.  It has a mechanical fluidity that I simply have never experienced before from a car bearing the Cavallino Rampante.  

Don’t misunderstand this delicacy as being easy, however.  This isn’t an Audi R8, a capable, yet passionless machine.  The 488 will let you play, and ultimately if you play too rough, it will metaphorically smack your hand to tell you that you’re taking liberties.  You have to earn its respect and find the boundaries.  But when you do, my goodness, the rewards are there.  An adjustability in the chassis that works so harmoniously well with that powerplant and transmission you’d swear they had been cast as one.  You can go further, of course, the lozenge like Manettino shifted into its Race or CST Off positions, the traction control system (or in Ferrari language, Side Slip Control) will work with the E-Diff and dampers to allow more slip and slide whilst still keeping a watchful eye like a parent in a playpark.  It flatters you as a driver but never lulls you into a false sense of security.  The laws of physics do still exist.

The last Ferrari I drove, was a car you had to learn the hard way.  A misjudged gearshift was met with a kick to the kidneys, as transmission and engine fought.  Dampers and seats ganged-up to bully your body into submission if you weren’t being kind by using it in anything other than perfect conditions, and power had to be fished out of the pond marked “ear-punishing revs”.  The 488 teaches you.  It lets you find out your own mistakes and makes you understand its methods.  Its a car that can be mastered despite the intimidating power.  The driving position can be adjusted to suit you, not the car, and although much bigger than a ‘dainty’ 308 GTB, never once did I feel that it was too big for the little Sussex lanes we drove down.  Don’t get me wrong, it has its vices, but not like Ferrari’s of yore.

Nor is built like them.  Despite the relatively high miles for its age on this example, and given the use it has probably had, everything was tight, solid and robust.  This level of build is partly what gives Ferrari the confidence to offer a 7 year service plan and 5 year warranty.  Which also brings us to the literal elephant in the room, the price.

I approached the car knowing that it cost over £250,000 in this specification, and that is, in anyone’s book, a lot of money.  Can it be justified?  No, and yet again, yes.  You can purchase supremely capable cars that are less expensive and that in many ways equal the 488, some may even better it in certain areas.  An Aston Martin DBS is no doubt a much better Grand Tourer, a Porsche 911 Turbo S a better all-rounder, and, arguably, a McLaren 720S is technically superior.  But to dismiss the 488 on the grounds of the other’s strengths is to ignore its superiority over their weaknesses.  The Ferrari has technology that doesn’t reign you in thinking it knows best unlike the nanny-state of a Mercedes-Benz.  No its all there to help you achieve greatness in the 488.  To make you feel like you have achieved the impossible and tamed that level of power.  And the new turbocharged engine?  Did I feel that it took away some of that scalpel sharp throttle response that is almost a Ferrari trademark?  For the minimum amount of response lost, I’m willing to trade that for the extra torque it now serves up.

As I said at the beginning, when I approached the 488 at the start of this test, I did so with an open mind.  But there was a part of me that would have been quick to dismiss it as just another modern Ferrari, albeit a stunningly good looking one.  It would have been like the 360 Modena and F430, I’d have appreciated the performance, but would bemoan the lack of comfort, the twitchy handling, the low-rent interior and clunky gearbox.  And had I done so, it would have been a catastrophic error on my behalf.

So many are quick to jump onto a keyboard these days and tell the world how cars have lost the ability to thrill because of technology, but to them I would urge a rethink on that view.  Or at least a drive in the Ferrari 488 GTB.  Never before has a car won me over as much as spending 48 hours with it.  I was ready to hand back the keys and say how much I enjoyed and respected it, but instead I completely fell in love with it, so much so, I thought I was about to be dragged from the driver’s seat weeping like a broken man.  

Ferrari now operate on a different level when it comes to the interaction between driver and technological engineering, of that I am convinced.  What I am more convinced of is that the 488 GTB is a staggeringly fast, intuitive, dynamic, robust and comfortable car whose only purpose to be on this planet is to redraw the boundaries of what a driver can expect from a supercar.  In fact, make that any car, because it really is that significant.

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