There comes a time in every photoshoot when light is fading and there’s a mad scramble to beat the sunset and capture the golden light. It doesn’t seem to matter that the photographer and I have each had two decades to get our schedule organized around the arc of the sun. Every time, however, we find ourselves scurrying to a location, hurriedly cleaning alloys or setting up lights. By sunset, we’ve usually been on the road for at least 12 hours, have probably not eaten (or eaten poorly at best), consumed too little water and tempers are fraying. Okay, the photographer is probably the most relaxed person you’ll ever meet, so it’s my temper that’s in shreds.
Today is no different, but I don’t mind one little bit. In fact, I actually encourage our mad location scramble. Today, I’ve got a Ferrari 488 GTB in which to scramble. With an hour before sunset we’ve found a location that Thomas suggests is okay but it’s too early to begin shooting. With the 488 dissipating heat behind me, I suggest we could scout around for another half an hour and still make it back here if we don’t strike gold. The bait is taken.
Cars such as the Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo have richly deserved reputations for their cross-country pace. But dramatic advances in tyre technology and stability control systems have made cars such as the Ferrari 488 and McLaren 650S the undisputed princes of real-world pace (in the dry at least). Much like a wonder of the world, the 488’s performance really needs to be experienced before you can grasp its magnitude. Sure, you can read about the stats – which are mind blowing and which well get to in a moment – but when the twin-turbocharged V8 is fully lit and compressing the distance to the horizon with uncomfortable ferocity, crazy on-paper numbers don’t mean much. Instead, the stats are replaced by a sense of weightlessness, exhilaration and a little fear. And while the speed is all encompassing and requires complete concentration, the Ferrari doesn’t feel too big for these empty country roads, nor does it feel like it’s running away from you.
Despite the switch to forced induction, the Ferrari’s V8 still dominates proceedings, but the 488’s performance armoury is complete and operates in perfect harmony. The seven- speed gearbox ensures that not a single kilowatt or Newton metre of the engine’s controlled ferocity is wasted. With a nod to the PDK in Porsche’s 911 GT3 RS, the 488’s dual clutch is the best of its type, and therefore, the best gearbox in the world. There’s zero interruption to the engine’s outrageous power delivery, but the linearity of the V8’s swelling power mimics that of a naturally aspirated engine so that there is an ebb and flow to how the Ferrari delivers it performance.
And the performance is truly massive. With 492kW delivered at 8000rpm and 760Nm at 3000rpm, the reach of the 3902cc V8 is incredible. Like that of the California T, the 488 GTB’s torque peak is attained in seventh gear, with incrementally smaller lumps of Newton metres available as you drop down through the gearbox.
The engine still requires revs to delivers its best (as all Ferrari engines should), but the 488’s V8 does sound and feel more overtly turbocharged than that of the Cali T. Perhaps it’s the placement of the engine over your shoulder, but you’re more aware of the spooling turbos in the 488 than the front- engined California, and the mid-range shove is on another plain. And yet, just like that in the naturally aspirated 458 Italia, the 488’s engine encourages you to hold onto gears until the shift lights quick-march across the top of the steering wheel. It treads a near-perfect middle ground between the serrated brilliance of the 458 Italia and the more obviously turbocharged likes of the McLaren 650S and Porsche 911 Turbo.
The 488’s outputs exceed those of the Ferrari Enzo, though the Enzo used a naturally aspirated 6.0-litre V12 to achieve its 485kW and 660Nm. But in little over a decade, the march of performance has been extraordinary. Today’s entry-level Ferrari supercar is faster and more powerful than the brand’s rangetopping hypercar one generation removed.
The Enzo was good for a 3.7-second 0-100km/h sprint while the 488 eats up the same benchmark in three flat. Beyond the increasingly out-dated 0-100km/h stat, the 488 continues to pile on speed at a rate that most quick cars struggle to match from 50- lOOkm/h. To 200km/h the 488 takes just 8.3 seconds – two seconds quicker than the Enzo or a current Porsche 911 Turbo S.
Even around Ferrari’s hallowed Fiorano circuit, the new car shows the Enzo a clean pair of hooves with a 1:23 lap time – 1.9 seconds faster than the Enzo. Perhaps even more significant, the 488 GTB is half a second quicker than the track-focused 458 Speciale (a car that we revere).
Only the Enzo’s 350km/h top speed claws back some pride for the older generation. Given the vmax boasting that took place on Italian supercar spec sheets during the 1970s and early 1980s, the ‘330km/h-plus’ claim for the GTB seems demure. Given the way that the 488 storms beyond 250km/h without pausing for breath, we’re certain that the ‘plus’ is a significant number but it probably wouldn’t be enough to give the 488 a clean- sweep over the Enzo.
Dusk on a narrow strip of country road isn’t the place to verify the Ferrari’s top speed, but the 488 eats up the challenge of the topography as readily as a top-shelf hot hatch might. Never has such performance been so readily deployable.
The sun is sinking fast, we’re not striking location gold and the photographer is calling a set of staccato pace notes. “Wait, wait, no, no good, go, go, go!” It’s a point-and-shoot drive with no flow, but the Ferrari responds to his calls with such speed that it feels like the information isn’t being filtered through me, and yet I’m still right at the centre of the action.
“Like the Speciale, it combines the best of the analogue and digital worlds”
And that’s probably the 488 GTB’s greatest achievement. Like the Speciale, it combines the best of the analogue and digital worlds. The car is laden with tech, and the ESC and Side Slip Control (SSC) are probably the best examples of the analogue and digital worlds working in harmony. Having debuted on the already legendary 458 Speciale, SSC is now into its second generation here on the 488. Stay on top of the car with fast but smooth inputs and SSC and ESC will allow the Ferrari to move around both under power and on trailing throttle. Get clumsy with a panicked or inexperience stab of lock, or unsettle the car by abruptly jumping from the throttle to the brake, and the systems will guide you with a firmer hand. And in further testimony to the linearity of the engine’s power deliver, it’s only after the ESC has softened the throttle that you find any hint of lag.
It used to be that safety systems were calibrated to the lowest common denominator, and to have any fun, the experienced driver would have to fly solo. For me, I’d rarely move the 488’s manettino from its Race or CT off positions unless I was showboating on a track. If I were after a lap time, however, Race or CT off would be the modes for me.
On these roads, Race is the default and I’ve knocked the suspension back to bumpy road mode. In general, the 488 feels more tense than the 458 Italia but I’d never call it harsh, even around Sydney’s urban jungle. In bumpy road mode (I love the honesty of this setting), the body control remains superb. There’s more movement, sure, but there’s no fear of grounding the nose into compressions. And the extra travel of the suspension gives you a better chance to judge how hard the chassis is working and where you are inside the grip envelope. SSC is constantly juggling damper response to balance understeer and oversteer.
Like all modern Ferraris, the GTB’s steering is lightning quick and takes a few corners of acclimatisation. I’ve always found Ferrari steering wheels to be a size too big, but I’m sure this helps calm the rate of response and after a few kilometres, you begin wishing that every car had response like this. Despite the dizzying speed of the 488 GTB, the chassis always feels calm and gives yjou time to make minor adjustments even if the torque has overwhelmed the rear grip and you’ve got a mid-engined car tripping into oversteer.
The sun has set and it’s time to pack up and go in search of food before we begin our three-hour commute back to Sydney. With the tension and pressure taken out of the day, it’s a chance to assess the Ferrari’s more mundane talents. The ease with which a 492kW, $600,000 (with options) supercar slinks across the Blue Mountains and back to Sydney is almost as impressive as what happens when you hold the throttle pedal all the way down. Despite the hour, Sydney’s Friday-night traffic is still heaving but if it were not for its looks, the Ferrari would slip through without a fuss.
It’s nearly midnight when the bug-splattered Ferrari is tucked up in bed and I can do the same. All day, I’ve tried not to compare the 488 to the 458 Speciale as it’s an unfair comparison to both cars. A hardcore version of the 488 will surely come with more grip from sticky tyres and more power from an engine that feels completely unstressed as it delivers nearly 500kW. If that car can make a similar leap from the GTB as the 458 Speciale did from the Italia, it will likely be the greatest performance car the world has ever seen. But right now, the 488 GTB feels like more than enough. In terms of outright performance, accessibility to that performance and general usability, the 488 GTB moves the goal posts to another held. Though it doesn’t crackle with excitement like the Speciale, the poise and agility of the new car are unmatched. I’m a card-carrying member of the NA Preservation Society, but the switch to turbocharging hasn’t ruined the 488 GTB. And that is enough to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
Engine: 3902cc V8, dohc, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 492kW @ 8000rpm
Torque: 760Nm @ 3000rpm (in seventh gear)
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive, E-Diff3, Fl-Trac, SSC2
Front suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels: 20 x 9.0-inch front, 20 x 11.0-inch rear
Tyres: 245/35 ZR20 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear
0-100km/h: 3.0sec (claimed)
Top speed: 330km/h+ (claimed)
Basic price: $469,988