2016 Car of the Year runner-up: The astonishing Ferrari 488 GTB

Ferrari 488GTB 1Hollis JohnsonSuch beauty as hurts to behold.

Editorial note: Business Insider just named its 2016 Car of the Year, the Acura NSX. This week, we’re re-running our reviews of the five cars that almost beat out Acura for the honour.

Ferrari builds three types of cars: sports cars, Grand Touring or “GT” cars, and of course rare and exotic hypercars, such as the current LaFerrari, which sells for more than a million bucks.

Of these three, without question the most important for Ferrari’s reputation are the sports cars. The only things more important are Ferrari’s Formula One race cars, but they are squarely beasts of the track. The road cars define the critical fantasies that animate the brand, that evoke its deep history, and that provoke sane people to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being what Ferrari calls a “client.”

And among the road cars, the sports cars rule.

But while Ferrari calls them sports cars, nobody else does. We call them supercars, for good reason.

Until 2015, Ferrari could claim that its core supercar, the 458 Italia, was indeed the finest car ever made by human hands. “What a machine!” enthused former “Top Gear” host Jeremy Clarkson when he hooned a 458 around the track.

The late, great 458

The 458 was the peak achievement of Ferrari’s commitment, decades old, to the mid-engine, naturally aspirated V8 sports cars. It began, effectively, with the 308 in the mid-1970s (the “Magnum, P.I.” Ferrari) and extended to the 458 in the second decade of the 21st century.

And it was served on a rosso corsa platter that the Ferrari lover craves beyond sexiness and speed: sound. The flat-crank V8 produced and otherworldly scream at its redline, like a wild thing torn from a wild place and barely domesticated behind the driver’s head. The sound was the sound of fear and pleasure and raw life raised to type of brutal art. The sort of thing that Ferrari does so, so well.

The 458 was also gorgeous, sleek, and fine-boned but intensely purposeful. I’ve had my eardrums blown out by them at pit stops on racetracks, and I have still always, always been in love with those lines. You have your drive-for-your-life cars and your die-behind-the-wheel cars, and, given a choice, I would perish dashingly and with a smile in a 458.

Enter the 488 GTB (it stands for “Gran Turismo Berlinetta”) and the dawn of a new age in Maranello, Ferrari’s home in Italy. It was necessary. A 570-horsepower V8 that sucks in air and uses that process of transforming gasoline into velocity is a politically unpalatable dinosaur, so the 458 had to be retired.

And Ferrari replaced it.

With a 661-horsepower turbocharged V8.

Ferrari hasn’t done turbos in this type of car since the 1980s with the F40, so there was concern, possibly even overt panic, among the Ferraristi.

You might be wondering how the Great Shift is going. Well, Ferrari kindly let us borrow a $360,000 488 GTB for a few days. Here’s how it went.

Photos by Hollis Johnson, unless otherwise credited.

The 488 GTB arrived on a damp day in spring. The colour is new: 'Rosso Corsa Metallizzato,' which is Ferrari red with what appears to be a touch of orange. It's a $12,500 option.

Hollis Johnson

The 488 isn't a major departure from the 458, seen here. But Ferrari's in-house designers made a few tweaks.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The family of mid-engine Ferrari sports cars, starting with the 308 GTB on the far left and moving through the 348, the 360, and the 458.

Ferrari

Ferrari debuted the 488 for North America in New York last year.

Ferrari

The main design challenge related to the new 3.9-litre turbocharged V8, which required some additional ducting and space for the twin turbos.

Hollis Johnson

This altered the back end, making it more bulbous than the 458. And yes, that is a carbon-fibre diffuser under the tailpipes. You won't need it on the road, but it's nice to have if you ever get an itch for the track.

Hollis Johnson

The front end was also slightly made over to be a bit less fine-lined than the 458 and a bit more in tune with the fascia on the LaFerrari.

Hollis Johnson

The upshot, surprisingly, is that the 458 to my eye has better balance between the front and the rear.

Hollis Johnson

And, as you can see, it has more of a 'snout' than the 458. But a royal snout!

Hollis Johnson

A pair of modest scoops was added to the hood, which conceals not an engine but rather the 488's 'frunk.' There's enough room in there for an overnight bag and maybe a cooler of Campari.

Hollis Johnson

The sweeping headlights aren't much changed from the 458. Because really, why?

Hollis Johnson

The biggest new detail is on the rear haunch. The deep cut-in that extends through the door-line has been called an homage to the 308. A nice wedge of carbon fibre bisects a gridded intake scallop.

Hollis Johnson

Up close.

Hollis Johnson

The engine has eight cylinders, each displacing 488 cubic centimeters -- hence the '488' designation. Add that up and you get 3.9 litres. It's all housed beneath a transparent hatch, so you can gaze upon the glory of what Ferrari can do with a motor whenever the urge strikes, which should be often.

Hollis Johnson

Aerodynamic side-view mirrors are actually pretty big, by supercar standards, and provide good visibility.

Hollis Johnson

Note the Ferrari badge: 'SF' stands for 'Scuderia Ferrari,' the original name for Enzo Ferrari's race-car atelier. It's an option ($1,700), but so is almost everything else on a well-appointed Ferrari.

Hollis Johnson

Where the magic happens.

Hollis Johnson

The twin-turbo V8 cranks our 661 horsepower, a huge increase over the 458's 570. But the 488 doesn't substantially better the 458's zero-to-60-mph time. Both cars can do a Ferrari-claimed three seconds.

Hollis Johnson

A Ferrari is supposed to be automotive sculpture -- as is a Ferrari engine.

Hollis Johnson

The hatch lifts for pure viewing of the 488's throbbing heart.

Hollis Johnson

Big Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes all the way around keep a car with a 205-mph top speed under control. They are astonishingly effective.

Hollis Johnson

Let's slip inside.

Hollis Johnson

Well, this is pleasant. As with the Ferrari 458, the cockpit is roomy for a two-seater. It feels open and airy.

Hollis Johnson

An abundance of carbon fibre and stitched black leather, in both the red and the black.

Hollis Johnson

The Ferrari knows its name.

Hollis Johnson

The instrument panel combines analogue and digital features. The two small screens on the left and right can be reconfigured, but front and center is the tachometer -- because on a car like this, you want to know exactly what your engine is doing.

Hollis Johnson

And the Ferrari 'Prancing Stallion' is also front and center, on the famous Ferrari steering wheel with its Formula One-derived features. The engine start-stop button can't be missed. And the turn signals do take a get a bit of getting used to.

Hollis Johnson

These controls allow you to customise one of the instrument displays. For example, you can monitor how much turbo boost is being generated in the engine.

Hollis Johnson

Climate controls -- uncomplicated. The large wheel on the control cluster to the right of the steering wheel manages the infotainment and navigation systems, and it's angled toward the driver.

Hollis Johnson

Basic transmission stuff: 'R' for reverse, 'Auto' to switch of the full manual mode on the dual-clutch gearbox, and 'PS' ('Partenza Sportiva'), a performance-start mode that prevents wheelspin on quick launches.

Hollis Johnson

There isn't much storage in the cabin, but the 488 has a few cubbies, a cupholder, a USB port, and ...

Hollis Johnson

... a slot for the key fob.

Hollis Johnson

The seats are Ferrari-branded and racing-derived -- but exceptionally comfortable! They were a real standout feature of the 488.

Hollis Johnson

Not a polo pony -- this horse chases other supercars, not a little ball.

Hollis Johnson

Lightweight pedals, and you might notice that there's no clutch. It's been a long time since a Ferrari had one of those on the floor. The transmissions are all now F1-type units; the 488's a seven-speed setup.

Hollis Johnson

OK, so it's basically friggin' gorgeous! I couldn't stop looking at it. I might have drooled once or twice. But at some point, you gotta stop lookin' and start drivin'.

Hollis Johnson

Let's switch the manettino into 'Sport' mode. (We won't be turning off the traction control or the electronic stability control.) But bear in mind that 'Race' (Ferrari's stock-ticker symbol, by the way, after it went public in 2015) is where you want to be to get the full 488 experience.

Hollis Johnson

The paddle shifters -- in carbon fibre, natch -- are impeccable. You can rip through the gears with ease.

Hollis Johnson

And rip through them I did. As with all Ferraris, there's a learning curve, but the 488 is remarkably easy to drive, in any of its modes, from docile cruising to spirited motoring. Heck, in 'Sport' with Auto engaged on the transmission, a relaxing road trip might be in order. The steering is also perfectly balanced: not too quick, but never slow.

Hollis Johnson

Many, many Ferrari fans were worried that a turbo V8 would mean two things: the end of that amazing, wild, screaming engine note, and the dreaded turbo-lag. I'm here to tell you that the turbo doesn't lag, though Ferrari acknowledges that it is routed to the rear wheels a nanosecond or something slower than in the 458. And the engine sounds less maniacal than the 458's, but you can now hear the sweet high-pitched whistle of the turbos, which never gets old. The Ferrari orchestra has added a new instrument.

Hollis Johnson

Brilliant in a straight line, brilliant in the curves, just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Fast and tight, the 488 fills you with confidence and makes you a better person. It's a worthy successor to the 458. There, I said it. I have a new die-behind-the-wheel car.

Hollis Johnson

What a machine! No one thought Ferrari could top the 458. Too much compromise in going to a turbo V8, even if the horsepower pop was massive. The doubters were wrong. So, so wrong. The dawn of the new era for Ferrari is bright. Bright red.

Hollis Johnson

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