REVIEW: Driving the Ferrari 488 is the coolest thing I've ever done

The Ferrari 488 GTB gives the Italian sports car maker a sensual new style. Photo: Simon Thomsen

There are two types of Ferraristi in the world: those who believe naturally-aspirated engines are the soul of the Prancing Horse, and those who embrace turbo as making the most of design brilliance emerging from Maranello.

I’m not a purist in that respect. Why head out to a video store for tradition’s sake, when you can get Netflix? And seriously, you’d be missing out big time.

Plenty of people are calling the 488 the best Ferrari ever. I’m not going to start a fight over that claim.

But when Ferrari’s much-loved 458 with its 425kW (570hp) V8 finally stood aside for the 488 with a turbo-charged V8, there were a few conniptions about giving the engine that tweak. Those with long memories, however, will recall the equally iconic F40 was a mid-engined turbo. It’s back to the future.

I’ve now driven two Ferraris with a turbo V8, the California T and now the 488, and loved them both for the slingshot capability the engine delivers. The 3902cc mid-engined 488 punched out 492kW (660hp), an 18% jump on the 458, with a maximum torque of 760Nm, up a whopping 41%, yet is a little kinder on the environment than its predecessor.

Ferrari 488

That power will whiplash you to 100km/h in 3 seconds and – if you can – 200km/h in just 8.3 seconds via the 7-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission, with full throttle 0.8 seconds after pushing the pedal to the metal.

Top speed is 330km/h.

More importantly, improved braking takes 8% less distance to pull up.

The 488 beat the 458 Speciale by half a second on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track and if you were paying attention the other week, the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 set a lap time of 2m 02.861s around Mt Panorama before going on to win the Bathurst 12 Hour ahead of Bentley Continentals, Audi R8s, McLaren 650s, Lamborghinis and a gurgle of different Porsches.

The 488 GTB (“Gran Turismo Berlinetta”) is an elegant 2-seat homage to Ferrari’s history. It has curves like Sophia Loren, sweeping out over the engine, and a nod to the 308 in the way the side of the car is the cut-in along the door to the engine intake.

It keeps the 458’s lineage too, and manages to be both angular and sensual at the same time, like a gently rolling but powerful swell. It’s a design that embodies Apple’s knack for containing what’s required within a sophisticated shell. Ferrari says design changes such as the blown rear spoiler and enlarged active rear diffuser give the car up to 50% more downforce than a 458.

The large front-end dual grille hints at the million-dollar-looks-and-priced LaFerrari, and also reminds me of a whale shark feeding off Ningaloo Reef. This is a car that wants to suck in as many of life’s pleasures as possible.

Even as a middle-aged father of two, you can’t help but feel cool in a Ferrari, and know you’re going to be noticed. No other brand stands out like a Ferrari, but in this instance, I love how the understated “grigio medio” exterior tones things down and allows me to scoot about Sydney as inconspicuously as anyone in a $500,000 car with a throbbing V8 throb can.

The interior is elegant and clean and if it wasn’t for the leather trim and stitching, you’d pretty much feel like you’re in a race car, although the surprising roominess is part of the pleasure.

At heart, the 488 is a luxe race car

The price starts at $470,000 (plus on-road costs), climbing to $625,000 if you add all the bells and whistles, which isn’t hard. And I know that at this price, you’re not short a quid, but most wealthy people I know still keep an eye on their cash and where it goes and the pricing on some of the Ferrari add-ons does raise an eyebrow.

Yes please to the $4,990 rear parking camera (the main thing you’ll see through the rear glass is the engine) and $2,550 front parking sensors (especially since they’re only $400 more than the embroidered floor mats), but skip the $2,100 “cavallino” (Ferrari horse) stitched into the headrest. Yes to the HELE (High Emotion Low Emissions) system, which promises to cut emissions in the city by up to 23%.

Apple CarPlay for $6,790? Well, what’s a few more grand between friends, although you already have bluetooth. Besides, turning up the sound system drowns out the engine – and where’s the fun in that? But if you want to, it has to be said the interior is impressively quiet with the windows up.

The grigio medio colour on my review car added around $21,000 to the bill.

So what’s it like to drive?

Brilliant and seductive, and just enough scary. This is an engine that feels like no tyres, even 20-inch Pirellis, are big enough to keep up with when it takes off. The 488 is as much wild brumby as Prancing Horse with exhilarating response all around. It can be pleasant around the city, but when in the right environment, opens up to challenge the driver and respond with alacrity. The engine is a Lorelei song that lures you in without realising just how close to danger you might be.

There’s enough tech in there, including the improved Side Slip Angle Control (SSC2) if you want to send $600,000 drifting with confidence as an amateur, to keep you safe, yet it’s a car that feels like it always has something more to give, just out of the reach of mere mortal drivers. Ferrari says you’ll get 12% more longitudinal acceleration out of corners using the SSC2, which now also controls the active dampers, assuming you’ve turned the “manettino” (little red lever) on the steering wheel to race or turned the traction control, F1-Trac, off altogether.

For the most part, it makes you feel like you’re cornering on fly paper, yet offers just enough hints about how fine the line of control really is.

I loved driving the 488 GTB, and loved how it made me feel. This is a car that fills you with adrenaline and a smile that lingers long after you’ve pressed the red button on the steering wheel to off and gone inside.

Ferrari Australia says that in recent years, the average age of its customers has dropped from over 50 to their mid-40s. Driving the 488, you can’t help feeling younger anyway. And way, way cooler.

* The Ferrari 488 GTB Business Insider drove came courtesy of Ferrari Australasia.

Here’s a look at it in detail.

The flared, sweeping rear flanks are incredibly sexy and focus your attention on the turbo-charged V8 in between them, under glass.

The front bonnet scoops set an arc line that continues the length of the car to the rear intake scallops

The 488's gently curving lines are reminiscent of the air flow off a plane wing

Lift the rear glass hood for a closer look at the 3902CC twin-turbo V8 engine

Look over your shoulder from the driver's seat and you're reminded you're riding a 492kW mid-engine rocket

Breath in deep: the air intake scallops sit over the rear wheel arches and pay tribute to the 308

For an extra $2700, you can have gold carbon-ceramic brakes

The interior is both roomy and comfortable even on longer drives

And those leather seats hold you snugly in place on fast, tight corners

You won't find too many interior distraction around the centre console

Everything you need is on the wheel, from engine start/stop to the manettino in the bottom right corner to set your driving mode, from wet for extra traction to everyday sport and race!

Watching the revs takes pride of place - there's a coloured led counter embedded in the top of the wheel to let you know when the 8000rpm red approaches.

There's a whole lot of different digital data you can customise on either side of the tachometer, from navigation to speed and tyre pressures as well as...

... your lap times!

The passenger display if nifty, but as a $7,350 custom add on, if my co-rider needs to know, they can lean over or ask me!

The gear options sit on the centre console - there are paddles on the wheel too - and the one button you really want to press is launch. You'll catapult down the road leaving behind a cloud of tyre smoke.

Ferrari has a nice way of reminding customers where there money went - a plate inside the storage area listing all the add-ons you bought to customise the car

The front boot - a 'froot'? - offers a third seat for small children if necessary...

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