It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the moments leading up to borrowing a £250,000, 660-horsepower Ferrari are mostly dominated by nerves and anxiety. There is a dose of excitement in there too, of course, and nostalgic flashbacks to sitting in a Ferrari as a seven-year-old in shorts, beaming from ear to ear.
But stooping down into the hard seat for the first time and adjusting to a car just inches off the ground, and with a seating position forcing your legs to stretch out ahead, is a daunting occasion.
Nod along like an autonomous robot to everything the PR man is telling you about the security tracker, the traction control and optimum tyre temperatures. Fumble nervously for a moment when you’re told to open the window but can’t find the button; then just sit and think carefully about how best to pilot the car across damp and unfamiliar roads.
The 488 is mid-engined, 200+mph supercar which you are convinced will try to scare the life out of you at every opportunity.
So you can imagine our surprise when, just a day later, we are driving the 488 with the same confidence we have with our own car. We spent most of the weekend with the Manettino switch on the steering wheel in ‘Race’ mode instead of ‘Sport’, dialling back the traction and stability controls, and relying more on our instincts and Ferrari’s second-generation Side Slip Angle Control system.
Essentially witchcraft, SSC2 detects when the rear of the car is sliding under acceleration; it then sets a target angle of slip which it deems safe to reach given the car’s current trajectory. If the driver adjusts the steering and accelerator accordingly to safely maintain, extend or end the slide, the system steps back and lets you get on with it. However, be too greedy with your right foot and the electronics intervene in milliseconds to protect your car, wallet and ego.
But it is not just the systems which help you and the car feel at one. As with all modern Ferraris, the steering is outrageously direct, the seating position is good, and even with ‘Bumpy Road’ mode switched on the suspension communicates the road surface to your fingers with absolute clarity.
That communication channel which begins at the tyres and ends at your fingertips is sublime, as if the car is hardwired deep into your brain, into your subconscious where a gigabit fibre cable is feeding your neural network with every undulation, every change in camber, every rotation of wheelspin and exactly what the carbon-ceramic brakes (straight from the £1m LaFerrari hypercar, no less) are doing.
Add this telepathy to the 488’s sublime balance and this quarter-million-pound Ferrari becomes no more intimidating than a hot hatch costing a tenth of the price and with a third of the power.
Seriously. The car is almost spookily predictable and we found ourselves regularly accelerating hard in second or third gear before the tyres had warmed up, instinctively adjusting the steering and working with the SSC2 system to keep everything in check as the huge central rev needle charged to the 8,000rpm limiter.
In hindsight, the computers were probably doing the lion’s share of work here, but from behind the wheel the 488 is telling you you’re the one in control. It flatters you.
Just don’t mistake this ease with a lack of drama. The twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 might not sing quite like its non-turbo predecessors, but the soundtrack still has the trademark Ferrari ‘bwaaarr‘ as the exhaust valves open and the theatrics are turned up to 11. Gears are engaged, spun to the limiter and spat out with alarming ferocity, the optional LEDs on the steering wheel flashing when the next cog is needed; pull the right paddle and as the ‘click’ reaches your ears the clutch slams back in and the rev dial is already climbing again.
Clever torque mapping means the 488 doesn’t deliver the full 560lb-ft until seventh gear. Torque is the same in gears one, two and three, then gears four, five and six each have their own map.
This helps to hide any turbocharging characteristics and instead makes the car work progressively through the rev range, rather than dumping all of its power into the rear tyres halfway around the dial. You can still tell when it comes on boost, when the turbos are fully awake, but the lag you get in most turbocharged cars further down the rev range is harder to spot.
The soundtrack is more obviously from a turbo car. The engine whooshes as you accelerate, sucking air in and forcing it back out when you lift off the pedal. The banshee wail of previous V8 Ferraris is sadly absent but it still sounds fantastic in a mechanical, industrial sort of way, if a little less operatic than its predecessor, the 458.
Even everyday stuff is something the 488 manages surprisingly well. Forward visibility is superb thanks to the huge windscreen and narrow A pillars. The mirrors are well positioned for checking blind spots, but reversing without a camera (an optional extra not fitted here) is tricky.
The front opens to reveal a deep storage space capable of swallowing two large backpacks and a laptop bag. Alternatively, Ferrari sells a five-piece leather luggage set where two slip behind the seats and two wheeled cabin bags and a holdall fit in the front.
Fuel economy is better than before thanks to the turbocharging, but varies massively depending on how you drive. Over 600 miles of mixed driving our maths suggests around 15 miles per gallon (the car’s trip computer doesn’t actually tell you the real figure). But an afternoon of spirited demo drives with friends saw this fall to, well…about four. Ferrari states 17mpg in town and up to 34 on the motorway.
The computer claimed it could manage comfortably over 300 miles of seventh-gear motorway cruising, but this can fall alarmingly quickly in traffic. At one point a quarter-tank was good for 120 miles of 70mph, but 20 minutes of stop-start traffic caused this to fall to the terrifying “—“, prompting an emergency pitstop.
– Thank you to Joe Macari Performance Cars for allowing IBTimes UK access to its showroom.
In the 488 Ferrari has built the complete supercar experience. Big, low, loud, red, fast and expensive. Jaw’s dropped everywhere we went; people pointed, waved, gave thumbs-up and beeped their horns (politely, honest…). We stopped to let wide-eyed kids jump in and have their photos taken; we chatted with their dads about fuel economy. The 488’s interior made us feel like a fighter pilot, while its exterior made our inner child want to Blu-Tack it to the bedroom wall every time we clambered out.
For all their technological achievements and ever-improving lap times, supercars appeal to our inner child as much as our inner racing driver. Their presence alone makes our heart beat a little faster, whether we are driving, riding shotgun or straining for a better look as one passes by. The mid-engined, V8 Ferrari has always represented the pinnacle of this and the 488 GTB continues that legacy with aplomb.