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If there’s one car you should drive before you die, it is Ferrari’s 488 GTB. Wynter Murdoch reports
Shortly after Ferrari had launched its 488 GTB in South Africa, the brand’s local representatives chose as a journalistic test-bed for the model the Red Star Raceway near Delmas.
Though the dry and dusty platteland setting may have seemed unlikely for a sports car as elegantly imposing and lustrous as the 488, the vehicle looked quite at home at a facility reasonably transformed for the media day into Casa Ferrari.
Flags flying the famous Prancing Horse emblem blew in the blustery wind while four kilometres of racetrack blacktop beckoned in the early morning sun. In the pits, driving instructors from the company’s supercar academy at Fiorano – near the brand’s headquarters at Maranello – quaffed espresso and prepared to show the gathering throng of scribes how to best put the 488 through its paces.
Such is the allure of the Ferrari badge many journalists arrived at the track early. In conversation with the instructors while waiting for formal proceedings to begin, one of the first things we learnt was that the car’s svelte exterior produces 325kg of downforce at 250km/h – 50% higher than that of the 458 Italia which it has superseded.
Though based on that car’s platform – the 488 maintains a similar wheelbase and mid-section – refinement of aerodynamics front and rear played a significant role in the new model’s development, one of the success stories being an aero pillar at the prow – underpinned by an F1-inspired double spoiler – which, apart from directing airflow to large, dual radiators, helps to significantly reduce lift at the front wheels.
Another success story relates to the 488’s underbody, which has been moulded to include vortex generators – special curved appendages that help to reduce air pressure – so that the faster the car goes, the more it gets sucked onto the tarmac.
Designed in-house at the Ferrari Styling Centre – rather than at Pininfarina, which conceived the 458 – the new car retains the predecessor’s purity of line, sporting sleekly sculptured flanks, a long bonnet with a raised central section, a low roof and a bulked up rear.
Aerodynamic details at the front include skillfully hidden vents which have been styled to channel air out of drag-reducing way while, at the tail, a simple intake slot situated behind the expanse of rear glass acts as a blown spoiler – replacing a conventional lip spoiler or motorised airfoil. Further, a sizeable, active diffuser designed to disrupt drag-inducing eddy currents behind the car has been integrated beneath the bumper.
To get the diffuser to fit its allocated position, the 488’s magnum-sized exhaust pipes have been positioned high in the rump and, to help feed the engine’s intercoolers, large, dual stack vents have been carved into the muscled rear fenders. Even the vehicle’s door handles have not escaped aerodynamic scrutiny – they have been shaped in the form of winglets to help to channel air in the direction of the intercooler vents.
Ah, the intercoolers. From mention of their presence you will glean that the 488 is not powered by a normally aspirated engine, as was the 458. Instead it is equipped with a twin turbocharged V8 derived from a unit that debuted about two years ago in a sister model, the California.
The new plant is a lot smaller than that which was fitted to the 458, displacement shrinking from 4,5 litres to 3,9 litres. However, power output is a claimed 492kW – about equal to that produced by the latter day V12 configured Ferrari Enzo – while torque tops out at 760Nm.
According to a Ferrari spokesman, the switch to turbo power was driven by environmental concerns governing fuel consumption and emissions. “Even supercars are not immune to downsizing,” my driving instructor tells me, “though the good thing about this engine is that it has no turbo lag. And it still sounds much like a Ferrari engine should!”
Inside, the leather clad cockpit is driver-centric. The steering wheel features six controls – two rocker switches for indicators, a button for starting or stopping the engine, a rotary switch for selecting the drive mode, a button for lights and another for windscreen wipers. However, it’s the tall, well-placed paddle shifters on either side of the wheel that tend to grab most attention.
Dials are situated ahead of the driver in a hooded cowl, the large rev counter centrally placed, its face incorporating a window to indicate which gear has been selected. On either side are screens which can be set to display subsidiary information – speed, for instance, or coolant temperature, oil pressure or navigation and entertainment data.
There’s more switchgear on the dashboard and even more on the central tunnel. Hell, I think when I get behind the steering wheel – it will take a week to properly understand what all the buttons do. “Nah,” says my instructor. “Just put it in first and let’s go… everything’s set up for you.”
Driving the Red Star Raceway is an experience. Set in what was once farming land, the track was developed for motorcycles rather than cars and much of the circuit is tight and technical, characterised by short straights. Today we’re driving it in an anti-clockwise direction – last time I was here I went the other way, so now I’m learning the corners all over again.
In between, I’m trying to get to grips with the Ferrari. Never have I driven a car that stirs my emotions quite as much – not even the much-lauded 458 which, until now, has been top of my list of Italian stallions.
As I follow the instructor’s commands, I begin to appreciate that there’s something almost telepathic in the way the 488 reacts to throttle and steering inputs, gear shifts and brake applications.
Levels of grip are stupendous. You look, you see, you implement – and the 488 answers instantly. The vehicle communicates as seamlessly as its seven-speed dual clutch transmission changes gear. Bam! Bam! Bam!
Fast! Precise! Perfect! Confidence grows. This is a car that enjoys being driven. The engine screams for more revs – the limiter is set at the 8 000 rpm mark, where peak power is made – and, the faster we go, the more the 488 seems to anticipate my intentions. The sensation is downright thrilling, made all the more alluring by the compelling roar of the exhaust note, the reassuring bite of easy to modulate brakes and the rock-steady nature of the chassis.
The sheer speed the car is able to generate down Red Star’s straights is astonishing. Ferrari rates acceleration from 100km/h to 195km/h in fifth gear at around 2,2 seconds – quick by any standards.
Even with electronic traction control switched off the car remains perfectly manageable, the tail enjoying its untethered freedom by executing exhilarating power slides that are remarkably easy to control, judicious prods of the throttle coupled with calculated counter steering movements keeping the nose pointed exactly on line.
Built mostly from aluminium in combination with various alloys, the 488 tips the scales at 1 420kg, with 58,5% of the weight over the rear axle. Suspension is via double wishbones and adaptive dampers at the front, with multiple transverse and longitudinal links at the back.
While the front track-width (1 679mm) is shared with that of the 458, the track at the rear (1 647mm) is slightly wider than that of the predecessor’s (1 632mm). Overall, the car is also slightly longer (4 568mm) and broader (1 952mm) than its forerunner, but identical in height (1 213mm).
The engine features a 90˚ bank angle, a flat-plane crankshaft, an over-square cylinder design and two IHI twin-scroll turbochargers mounted in parallel, one for each cylinder bank. The unit spins with ferocious intensity right up to the point when the needle on the tach touches the red line. The paddle shifts are a cinch to use while the steering wheel – which requires just two turns from lock to lock – offers comfortable grip.
Overall, the perceived build and fit and finish of the car appear to be good, with a premium-quality feel to the cabin. Bluetooth, a sound system and air-conditioning are among a host of standard features. However, other supercar makers – McLaren and Porsche among them – tend to offer switchgear that seems to have more solidity factored in, with buttons and knobs more expensive-looking than the Ferrari’s.
That’s a minor criticism of an otherwise impeccably engineered vehicle, one that will get your adrenaline racing whether you are on track, on a winding mountain pass, or simply tootling about around town.
For a supercar, the 488 is imminently practical, too. Boot space under the bonnet is generous (230 litres), while the cubby hole, door pockets and cup-holders are sensibly sized. Despite being low slung, the car is easy to enter and exit, the long doors opening wide.
The cabin is light and airy, offering from behind the steering wheel a surprisingly good view both fore and aft, a trait not common to many class rivals. And, though I did not have an opportunity to drive the vehicle on a road, reports indicate that, with suspension set to comfort mode, the 488 deals well with surface imperfections, compliantly riding the bumps to make for smooth journeying.
In all, I believe Ferrari has succeeded in producing one of the finest cars you’ll find in a showroom. Make sure you drive one before you die – the experience will surely ignite your automotive passion.
SPECIFICATIONS FERRARI 488GTB
Type V8, turbocharged
Displacement 3 902cc
Power 492kW @ 8 000 revs/min
Torque 760Nm @ 3 000 revs/min
Getrag seven-speed dual clutch
Maximum speed 330km/h
0 to 100km/h 3,0 secs
0 to 200km/h 8,3 secs
0 to 400m 10,45 secs
0 to 1 000m 18,7 secs
Combined cycle 11,4 litres/100km