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 so 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. We adored the car. Here are its best features.
Photos by Hollis Johnson, unless otherwise credited.
THE COLOUR: The colour is new: 'Rosso Corsa Metallizzato,' which is Ferrari red with what appears to be a touch of orange. It's a A$16,500 option.
The 488 isn't a major departure from the 458, seen here. But Ferrari's in-house designers made a few tweaks.
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.
The main design challenge related to the new 3.9-litre turbocharged V8, which required some additional ducting and space for the twin turbos.
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.
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.
HOOD SCOOPS: 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.
THE REAR END: 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.
THE GLORIOUS NEW ENGINE: 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.
The twin-turbo V8 cranks out 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.
THE BRAKES: Big Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes all the way around keep a car with a 205-mph top speed under control. They are astonishingly effective.
THE DETAILS: The car knows its name, and there's no lack of carbon fibre, topstitching, and supple red and black leather.
THE INSTRUMENT PANEL: It 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.
THE STEERING WHEEL: The Ferrari 'Prancing Stallion' is 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.
THE TRANSMISSION: 'R' for reverse, 'Auto' to switch off the full manual mode on the dual-clutch gearbox, and 'PS' ('Partenza Sportiva'), a performance-start mode that prevents wheelspin on quick launches.
THE SEATS: Ferrari-branded and racing-derived -- but exceptionally comfortable! They were a real standout feature of the 488.
THE PADDLE SHIFTERS: In carbon fibre, natch -- are impeccable. You can rip through the gears with ease.
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