IT WOULD not, unusually, be an exaggeration for me to say that the Ferrari 488 GTB has changed my life.
And not merely because it’s the fastest thing I’ve ever driven. It’s also the car that ushered me into a coffee addiction, gave me one of the greatest hours I’ve ever enjoyed, inspired a life change for my whole family, and managed to both depress and disappoint me in a way few inanimate objects could.
It is, in short, a profoundly powerful car, in ways that even its ferocious numbers cannot fully represent.
Someone asked me, while chuckling at the absurdity of the question, whether ‘488’ referred to the number of kilowatts, but it doesn’t, because it’s not a big enough figure. The GTB’s smallish 3.9-litre V8 (488cc per cylinder, hence the name) actually makes 492kW, and 760Nm, thanks to Ferrari’s fearsome foray into turbocharging. It’s disappointing that you’re forced to swap the angelic opera diva sounds of old for the whistle and whine of a turbine, but on the plus side is speed. So much speed.
The Ferrari 458, which was surely on the fastest-ever list of anyone lucky enough to drive one, could smash the 0-200km/h test in 10.4sec, but the 488 gets there in a jaw-clenching, temple-thudding, laugh-out-loud 8.3.
A Porsche 911 Turbo is actually slightly quicker off the line, hitting 100km/h a tenth quicker at 2.9sec, but the 488 then simply eats it alive, the Porsche taking 9.9sec to touch 200.
Nothing I’ve ever driven comes close to the mid-range wallop of the gorgeous GTB (true, it’s not as pretty as a 458, and yet I never tire of staring at it). It turns short straights into “how did I get here?” gasps of panic and keeps your mouth almost permanently dry.
All this I knew after driving the 488 at its Maranello launch last year. On that very day I was convinced by a born-again Caffeinestian to give coffee, which I’ve always loathed, one more try, in Ferrari’s own restaurant, because everything from there must be great. And it was. I spent the rest of that golden afternoon trying more coffees at cafes scattered along the incredible Futa Pass as we were hurled through space by this truly super car. I couldn’t work out if I was feeling my first caffeine high, or if it was just the car and the road, but I was ecstatic either way.
This golden Italian glow, warmed from within by even more great coffees, hung over me for days as I explored more of this stunning country, to the point where I returned home to tell my family we were moving there, for at least six months. And buying a coffee machine, stat.
You can imagine, then, how powerfully I was looking forward to picking up the first 488 to lob in Australia from the Ferrari dealer in Sydney, and how ball-kicking a blow it was for this stunning red creation to break down on me within 10 minutes of firing it up.
The first warning was a flashing screen in front of
me declaring “Manettino failure”, but being wellversed in the arts of Italian electronics, I wasn’t overly concerned. I assumed it would probably just go away when next I started the car. Sadly, after picking up snapper Wielecki and noticing that his door wouldn’t open, we quickly experienced an array of failures and flashing lights – the air-con packed it in, along with the power windows and the indicators – before one quite pressing screen flashed up warning of electrical failure and advised strongly that we “go to dealer”.
Being an optimist, I hoped this would simply require a software reboot of some kind, and a nice coffee in the dealership. Sadly there were only lots of pursed lips and awkward phone calls, and it was a whole week before we were back to collect the 488 again.
While I was disappointed on the day, it’s fair to say my levels of bubbling rage were somewhat tepid compared to how I might have felt if this was my very own brand-new Ferrari that I’d just paid $593,910 for (nerds will have noted that the base price is only $469,988, but our car had a few options, including red ‘Special Paint’ at $22,000, a rear parking camera at $4990 and a carbonfibre front spoiler, which you could hardly turn down at just $13,950).
Frankly I’d even be furious (though less surprised) if I picked up a new Jeep and it did that. When I made this point, someone at Ferrari pointed out that their cars come with a ‘general maintenance program’, which means all your services, spare parts and engine oil are covered for seven years. I can’t begin to tell you how chuffed that response would make me as an owner.
Blessedly, that’s not something I’ll ever have to worry about and I was determined to put this setback behind me and enjoy quite possibly the only three days I’ll ever get to spend in one of Ferrari’s greatest.
Our plan, gremlins willing, was to head for the nearest thing to Italy we could find, the Hunter Valley in NSW, which every April hosts a festa called A Little Bit of Italy in Broke. Yes, the name of the town is an omen we should have spotted.
Unfortunately, the 488 is so time-bendingly fast that we got there a month early and missed out on festivities including Porchetta Carving, the slightly pornographic-sounding Hot Olive Demonstration and the Spaghetti Throwing Competition, which must be hilarious and sounds about as genuinely Italian as Domino’s Pizza. To be fair, these are the more unusual events; most of the others involve eating and drinking Italian specialties in copious quantities, which sounds excellent.
Getting there, of course, was more than half the fun, and it was instantly surprising how comfortable this potent car felt chugging through woeful Sydney traffic over shockingly broken and beaten road surfaces. Just put the transmission in auto, give the huge carbonfibre shift paddles a rest – the self-shifting mode is smooth – and you can make slow and pleasant progress when you have to, with a not at all unreasonable ride, a nice sound system and classily decked out, bordello-spec interior.
Even more surprising is how good the storage space is, with a front-boot big enough for a photographer’s considerable kit and sufficient room behind the seats to store a non-stylish man’s overnight bag.
Mention must also be made of how much fun it is to reverse this car, even without the world’s most expensive rear camera, because it’s a chance to look over your shoulder at a thing of beauty – the engine (surrounded in our case by another $13,242 worth of optional carbonfibre).
Out on the open road – my own personal favourite stretch of the stuff, the Old Pacific Highway near Brooklyn – I very quickly rediscover the intimidatory
There are very few sounds more disturbing than the graunching of carbonfibre being sheared off the undercarriage of a supercar’s nose (although Justin Bieber is one of them).
I was surprised to learn that the 488 GTB doesn’t come with a lift kit for its groundsniffing nose, but then impressed to find that it doesn’t really need one. The previous Ferrari 458 was not a fan of the speed humps and angled intersections that litter the rugged suburb where I live, but the new model feels much more at home.
Where you really notice the difference, though, is on the open road, where a sudden, unseen bump or dip can cause that graunching to be amplified by the addition of significant speed. Every Lamborghini I’ve taken on the Old Pacific Highway has done this to me, as did the 458, but the 488 didn’t bottom out once.
Its greatest design failing, however, is the fuel-filler neck, which is so fiddly (at least with Aussie bowsers) that the first time we tried to fill up we gave up in despair after just $20. It took some serious fiddling to find an angle at which you can fill the car at any kind of pace, or anywhere near the top of the tank.
Sure, it’s something you’d get used to, but who designs things that way in the first place?
Oh, yes, Italians.
We were exceedingly curious about what kind of disaster had caused our 488 GTB to have so many and varied electrical failures all at once, and at first no one seemed to be entirely sure, or perhaps entirely keen to explain.
Eventually, though, when we pressed for an answer, an official Ferrari edict was issued: “A high-powered jet washer resulted in water ingress into the externally sourced digital rear camera, which caused an electrical fault. The rear camera was replaced with no further fault.”
So we seem to have been the victims of freakish bad luck. Again.
Perhaps it’s time we left the precious metal alone for a while.
power of this machine, as does Wielecki, who I’ve never heard swear so much, or so loud. On stretches of switchbacks I know intensely well, and have driven in other supercars, I find I’m scaring myself with how fast we are entering corners.
There are moments where you question whether the Ferrari’s brakes are up to pulling up all of that energy, but then you have to wonder how any brakes could be up to this kind of acceleration. It’s up to you and your right foot to restrict how much is being asked of them, and of you.
This might make the 488 sound dangerous, or too fast, particularly in a country that talked about banning performance cars once the Falcon GT-HO managed to hit 100km/h slightly slower than this thing hits 200.
Personally, I think it’s fantastic.
Surely a supercar with figures like this should feel a bit scary, a bit beyond the average driver. And surely owning one should be a journey of joyful discovery in which you gradually push towards the edges of your supercar’s abilities, without ever reaching them. While the Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracan are both great driver’s cars, they do feel a bit safe, like anyone could pilot them and look good, and there’s no doubt allwheel drive helps with that.
The 488 is cut from different cloth; probably the stuff they make race suits out of.
One of Thomas’s most oft-repeated questions – second only to “Why can’t they just hide the turbo whistle somehow?” – is “How is all this power getting to the ground through just two tyres?” I translated this, through the hints his giant eyes are giving me, as “Why aren’t we dead yet?”
The answer is SSC2 (Side Slip Control 2), a piece of software I’m very glad to say offers no glitches, one that adapts the dampers every millisecond to counteract any hint of understeer or oversteer and works in concert with F1-Trac and a brilliant E-diff to get as much of that prolific power as possible to the ground at any given moment.
Yes, the rear end will squirm if you’re even approaching silly in the wet, but in the dry it really is remarkably planted and well behaved, although you can see from how much the traction-control light flashes, at even the slightest provocation, that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make you feel so confident.
Because you do, after a few hours of retraining your brain, feel certain that you can attack roads in the most aggressive fashion, cackling with disbelief-induced madness all the while.
That feeling of confidence is helped by an unbelievably taught and perfectly balanced midengined chassis and fabulous steering. While the 458 suffered from steering that was so pointy you could use it for acupuncture, the new 488 has muscled up just enough to be a perfect balance of race-car sharp and road-car talkative.
On our way back from the Hunter Valley, after
enjoying a modest amount of amazing Barbera Italian red at Margan Wines (we can also recommend the food at their restaurant) and a hundredweight of not-hot olives at Whispering Brook, we take the Putty Road, and I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed the winding first third of it quite so much.
Once tuned into the ridiculous potential of the 488, there’s a sense that you can just trace the solid white line on the inside of any corner with your hands, in one long and easy sweep, choose whatever speed you like and find yourself simply flying through the bends. And trusting in the brakes and your own restraint to keep you on the black part.
All the while you get to enjoy that low-down Ferrari bark and burble and the new whoosh and whine as the revs rise, and the rushing paddle shifts, and the change lights on the top of your carbon steering wheel, and the view of the air intakes in your wing mirrors, and a dozen other things that make driving a Ferrari such a special experience.
At the end of the day, though, and having gone through such a confidence-sapping mechanical moment, would you buy one, or would the old clichés about Italians and reliability get in your ear?
Frankly, I’d have one anyway (although I’d happily settle for a 458) because it’s that unpredictability, that acceptance of the possibility of chaos and almost a relishing in the air of anarchy that makes the Italians so fascinating. Let’s not forget that they ruled the world for 500 years, invented plumbing, then decided to pack it all in and play soccer and shout at each other instead.
It’s this inherent madness that makes a car like the new 488 so special. It doesn’t need to be as aggressive and thrusting as it is, it could be more sane and still be incredible, it could be just one second faster than a 458 and we’d still love it. But two is better. A nice round 100 horsepower on top of the 458’s figures makes more sense than 50, at least if you’re an Italian engineer.
And it’s for all those reasons that I can’t wait to move to Italy, where, should I ever get to drive a Ferrari again, I know I will be cheered and applauded in the streets, as opposed to in Sydney, where one bloke took the trouble to compare my wit to that of a truck. At least that’s what I think he said.
@wheelsaustralia 95 Model Ferrari 488 GTB Engine 3904cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo Max power 492kW @ 8000rpm Max torque 760Nm @ 3000rpm Transmission 7-speed dual clutch Weight 1475kg 0-100 3.0sec (claimed) Fuel economy 11.4L/100km Price $469,988 On sale Now