2016 Ferrari 488GTB: Fantastic and sublime.

Turbos! Two of them—two big snails of swoosh—have invaded the holy sanctum of a Ferrari engine compartment, and life will never be the same. Next thing you know, the future CEO of a publicly traded Ferrari, one Juan Wang Lipschitz or somebody, will pull the sheet off an SUV with matching carbon-fiber Apple Watch and then, what the hell, we’re in Mad Max and the whole world is fried.

All right, let’s cut the crap. Ferrari’s bestselling model line, the mid-engine V-8, needed more power. It’s not Ferrari pushing this so much as the customers, those Ferragamo-shod masters of the universe who see progress only in numbers that go up. More power equals more speed equals more grip equals more, well, more. With Lamborghini and especially McLaren breathing down its neck, Ferrari felt it had to make a power and performance statement, but without turning the model into a big-bore gas hog. So it went shopping for turbos.

“488GTB”—That’s It

The result is the 488GTB, not a wholly new car at $242,737, but an evolution of the primarily aluminum 458 Italia that preceded it. The engine, called the F154, is a more powerful version of the 90-degree, four-cam, direct-injected unit inthe new California T. Displacement shrinks from the old 458’s 4.5 liters to 3.9, but horsepower rises by 98 to 661 (about the same as the old Enzo), while torque, never the strong suit of a typical short-stroke Italian screamer, ramps up by 163 lb-ft to 561. Compared to the 4.5, the 3.9’s crankshaft sits lower by 3 millimeters and the engine’s center of gravity drops by 5 millimeters despite the high-mounted turbos.

These and other stats, which Ferrari engineers laid out, graph by mesmerizing graph in an exhaustive technical presentation at the Maranello factory before our first drive, show how different the 488 is in so many ways. First off, the 488GTB, which goes on sale in September, is one of the few new Ferraris in recent years that doesn’t have a nickname, such as Maranello or Fiorano or Italia.

According to Ferrari’s current CEO, Amedeo Felisa, since Ferrari was reverting back to the old practice of naming the cars by individual cylinder displacement—in the 488’s case, it’s actually 487.7 cubic centimeters—rather than total displacement plus cylinder count as in the 458, they might as well chuck the nickname convention, as well. Plus, all the obvious Ferrari locales had already been honored. So instead, Ferrari revives the GTB moniker to recall the 1975 original (and, presumably, GTS when the convertible 488 arrives).

More important, though, is the new 488’s métier. Ferrari is a company that has always seemed to operate by emotion and instinct. Like a chef who doesn’t use a recipe, Ferrari cooks its creations according to its own sense of purpose and history. While Ferrari doesn’t always get the dish exactly right, at least you know that its spicy meatballs come from the heart.

The Importance of Being Numerical

However, that seems ever so slightly less true of the 488GTB, an update of an existing Ferrari that is much ado about spreadsheet numbers, starting with the aforementioned power figures. There’s also the increased downforce, the millisecond improvements in throttle response and transmission shift times, the claimed 20 to 30 pounds shaved from the curb weight, and the greater lateral and longitudinal acceleration figures. All this detailed upgrading was expressed to journalists in concise statistics and percentages with accompanying graphs intended to prove that the 488 makes Ferrari once again the top stallion in the class.

After the briefing, we moved to the test track at Fiorano to be introduced to the new car itself, a pack of all-red examples of which were parked in front of Enzo Ferrari’s infield house as part of the de rigueur culture soak you get on press trips to Maranello.

As you can see, the new car looks familiar if a bit chunkier. The center section of the 488’s aluminum space frame basically carries over from the 458, with only the front and rear sections changed to accommodate the new powerplant and its greater need for airflow. Thus, the wheelbase stays static at 104.3 inches, while length and width increase only slightly, the latter due to a wider track.

The Aero Down Here

Still, and despite efforts by the designers to squeeze in the body-side forms to create arrow-shaped sensuality around the two-tier intercooler ducts, some of the elegant svelteness of the 458 was sacrificed as Ferrari bulked up the rear to accommodate all the new plumbing. Hey, you wanted more power. Up front, the 458’s flexible catfish antennae were snipped off, replaced with a more generic-looking face (not necessarily a bad thing) with twin vertical airfoils to channel air underneath the car, plus a winged underbite like on the F12 that sluices more air into the larger nose radiators.

Wind-tunnel work produced new forms, such as curved air gates attached to the flat bottom and rear diffuser to enhance underbody low-pressure zones for optimum downforce. Ferrari calls the simple air slot aft of the rear glass that tunnels through the tail a “blown spoiler,” and it replaces a more common solution such as a lip spoiler or a motorized airfoil. Indeed, the only active aero element is a flap in the rear diffuser that tilts down at speed to disrupt drag-inducing eddy currents. Even the door handles have been reshaped into little winglets to channel air into the intercoolers.

Modernized Cockpit

Pull your winglet and the cockpit reveals itself as both steeped in leathery tradition and also new. As in the original 308GTB, the broad dash floats above it all, with no vertical center stack to anchor it to the open, flat floor. Meanwhile, the squashed trapezoids that are the air vents look like space-program surplus, and modern, high-def display screens flank the larger center tach. The left panel conveys car data, including showing boost and “turbo efficiency” gauges, while the right display is the infotainment screen.

A Ferrari finally comes with a usable infotainment unit, with a handy, multifunction dash knob controlling its various functions. Although the screen is not as large as the Jumbotrons in some cars, and it’s completely hidden from the passenger, the design is a brilliantly streamlined way to incorporate this modern convenience into a focused sports car without making it look like a Lexus inside.

Speaking of which, Ferrari at last joins the rest of the industry in employing a keyless fob, so you just push the steering-wheel starter button to get the fires going. We rolled out of Fiorano’s gate and turned left for the Futa Pass, that winding black shoelace draped over the eastern Apennine Mountains. Once we broke free of Bologna-area traffic, it was time to poke the V-8 to experience the massive torque infusion. And to see if this turbo Ferrari still screams.

The torque output is tremendous, the little 3.9 V-8 proving a very hard worker as it pumps out huge thrust from 3000 rpm on. The wait for boost is there if you look for it, but so short and smoothed over that you’ll rarely notice it at all. Once the manifold pressure builds toward the 35-psi peak, the engine rushes with even greater gusto for its redline. The 8000-rpm cutoff comes up fast, and all the red LED shift lights running across the top of the steering wheel will activate far more often in the 488 than they ever did in the typical 458.

The flywheel effect is like that of a motorcycle’s, which is to say almost nonexistent. Press down and the engine zings hard and fast. Lift off and it shuts down almost as suddenly as the boost bleeds off. Track rats will love it, but daily drivers may find that such a tense throttle gets old.

Assessing the Fury

And the scream? This engine doesn’t quite as much. According to Ferrari, sound was one of the 488’s most difficult challenges. Turbos are natural silencers, and the trick is to tune the intake and exhaust runners and shrink the other mufflers until you get back the magical wail of a flat-plane-crank V-8. Ferrari gets almost there, but the new car is definitely quieter, the sound a little more silken and less of a raw shriek than the 458’s. Partly that’s because of the lower redline, now 8000 rpm instead of 9000. But the twin IHI turbos, which can also be heard as a ballerina’s soft but energetic sighing from behind you, also absorb some blare.

What emerges is pretty much the same furiously demonic riff as before, but turned down slightly, which makes the whole car feel more refined and, ahem, adult. Some young-at-heart buyers will complain, so money will change hands for aftermarket exhausts and for the inevitable Speciale or Scuderia/Stradale versions that will almost certainly be louder.

Meanwhile, none of the 458’s steering sensitivity or grip is lost, the 488 hurtling itself into corners with a dogged neutrality. The magnetorheological shocks, redesigned with new lower-friction rod seals, digest the road imperfections and keep the widened tires planted at stupendous speeds. While the springs are firm, indeed as firm as those on the outgoing 458 Speciale, which is to say fairly rocklike, the engineers rewrote the software to change the shock mapping and better tie the suspension’s workings into the car’s other systems. Basically, “SSC2” as the engineers call the new program, for Side Slip Control, Version Two, selectively dials in a little more give into the four shocks than before to make the street-compound Michelin Pilot Super Sports work better with the electronic differential, dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission, and stability-control system.

The result is a Ferrari that rides acceptably well over the worst Italian pavement but also surrenders none of its reflex sharpness. After reaching the Futa’s 2963-foot summit and hanging out with the bikers at a café there, we confirmed our driving impressions later, back in the safe haven of the Fiorano test track. The 488 is relentlessly neutral. Even with all that power, it doesn’t want to slither too much out of a corner. Sure, it flinches when you’re too hard on the gas and have the anti-slip nannies turned off, but it doesn’t swing wide. Rather, it steps out in a pleasant and highly controllable ooze as the electronic diff works the tires for maximum grip. Nor does the GTB tuck in dramatically if you lift midcorner; the suspension doesn’t stroke enough in the rigid, flat 488 to allow such weight transfer and subsequent camber changes. It is just stable and neutral, tracking exactly where you steer it until the tires can’t take it anymore and the car just slips slowly, gently sideways.

The brakes have been enhanced, which is good because they get a workout as you blast harder out of one corner and thus need to brake that much harder for the next. Because of the extra power, you feel less fluid and natural in the 488 than the 458 and more violent as your body is shoved by the amped up g-forces. This car is faster and perhaps a tick more stable, but it’s no more fun than its predecessor. Perhaps 661 horsepower is finally the limit?

Where from Here?

Ferrari gave its engineers a mighty challenge by upping the power so much. Preserving subtlety and character gets more difficult as the power output climbs and the tires, brakes, and computer torque management swell to match it. On the sports-car scale that has the cold blunderbuss Bugatti Veyron at one end as the ultimate car built entirely around numbers and the darty little Lotus Elise at the other, the old 458 occupied a beautiful middle ground. You got raw power but also a highly satisfying poise in the tight corners. It is a hard act to follow, having been the best all-around sports car in the world. The refined 488 is largely a repeat, but it nudges Ferrari’s mid-engine V-8 model in the direction of the Veyron.

When it comes to the horsepower question, Ferrari CEO Felisa says every new model must be better, a somewhat superficial and enslaving imperative that one day may force the company to build cars that are stupendously fast but not fun. However, the fantastically sublime 488 proves that today is not that day.

source: caranddriver.com By AARON ROBINSON

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