Ferrari likes a graph. I don't think I've ever seen as many charts, illustrations and graphs at one sitting as during the 488 GTB's press conference.
I suppose the message was: this, the 458 Italia's replacement, may well be based ostensibly on the same architecture as its predecessor, but don’t think it’s a facelift. It should be duly noted, then, that there are lots of new things on the 488 GTB. About 85% of things, in fact. Chief among them is – gasp - a turbocharged engine. More graphs, and message number two: this is still very much a Ferrari motor. Duly noted? We’ll see.
The new engine is turbocharged because it’s smaller, leaner and more efficient this way. And, inevitably, more powerful. By a lot.
The unit, still with a flat-plane crankshaft, now displaces only 3.9 litres, rather than the 4.5 litres of its natural breathing predecessor, but its two IHI turbos, each with dual scrolls and many, many friction-reducing parts (I’ve seen the diagrams), spool up exceptionally quickly. When boosting, they make 661bhp, although now between 6200rpm to 8000rpm rather than the 9000rpm of the 488’s predecessor.
What really makes this engine a Ferrari engine, we’re told (yes, yes, we’ll see), is that the torque is artificially reduced at lower revs in lower gears. Only in seventh is full torque – 561lb ft – available, at 3000rpm.
It’d be faster if Ferrari let it all loose, all the time. But it would also sound a bit crummy, say its engineers. Unleash the full gamut of pounds-feet in every gear and the noise would be a constant burp rather than a Maranello-spec yelp.
I’m happy to believe everything else is Maranello-spec before I’ve even driven the car, because if you doubt the value of Ferrari’s limited-run project cars, the 488 GTB is the perfect case study.
The steering rack is from the 458 Speciale, so a bit quicker than the regular 458 Italia’s. Ditto the adjustable dampers and the tyre sizes. Brakes are exactly the same as LaFerrari’s and the 488 GTB has a new generation of the Speciale’s Side Slip Control called, imaginatively, SSC2.
SSC2 not only acts via the electronically controlled limited slip differential like SSC1 did but now also softens or firms the dampers subtly to give you an even more carefully metered dose of opposite lock should you want to look like a hero and are bold enough to keep the throttle pinned in a 661bhp supercar.
This is about to sound ridiculous, but keeping a 488 GTB’s throttle pinned is not a particularly frightening thing to do. Yes, this is a car with 34bhp more than a McLaren F1, which has an engine in its middle and which, when you turn stability control off, hands control of whether you continue forwards, sideways, or fall off backwards entirely over to you.
But on the experience we had at Maranello, all too briefly on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track and then in more depth out on Modenese hillside hairpins, the 488 GTB is among the most docile-handling mid-engined cars I’ve driven.
It has an astonishingly forgiving chassis, with hardly a hint of understeer early in a corner, and extremely fast but communicative steering, and when it breaks traction, which it does gladly, it adopts a hopelessly easily controlled attitude and then regains grip cleanly and communicatively.
In part this is, I’ve no doubt, because Ferrari’s chassis engineers are among the best in the business. But I have also begun to wonder if it’s because the engine is turbocharged.
I always thought that an instantly controllable, naturally aspirated engine, capable of giving, immediately, just the amount of power you asked for – and taking it away just as quickly – was key to exploiting the adjustability of a mid-engined car. You asked, you got. You un-asked, it was taken away, and so on the edge the car balanced.
But maybe, just maybe, a touch of lag and a healthy wedge of torque is actually more effective and easier. Maybe the on-throttle spool and the off-throttle hang softens the edges of the oversteer’s entry and exit. Certainly the slug of soft torque seems to make it easier to break away in the first instance.
So perhaps I need to unthink all I thought about turbos. Perhaps a turbocharged engine will liberate, not stifle, a Ferrari’s handling. Or perhaps it’s just that Ferrari’s chassis engineers are even cleverer than I thought.
Either way, if having an engine like this means getting a chassis like this, it’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make. Sacrifice? I’m afraid so, for the greater good. A moment’s reflection, dear reader, and grief.
Yes, the new Ferrari engine is a Ferrari engine, but not quite as we know it. It still sounds extremely good. It still responds very well. And, Lord knows, it delivers. But it is just a wee bit less tingly and exciting than those that have come before it.
If you like your engine in your car’s middle, the closest alternative that will still give you that instant hit, that breathtaking response, is Lamborghini’s Huracan. It’s fortunate, then, that the 488 GTB’s compensations are so intense elsewhere.
There are other improvements beyond the chassis, too. To my eyes the 488 is less pretty than a 458 but you cannot argue with the genuine downforce developed both front and rear (graphs, my friends, graphs).
This is the first series-production Ferrari to have active aerodynamics, via a rear diffuser that will sometimes stall itself, lessening downforce but also drag. The gearbox software has been revised so that the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, a thing of wonder before, is even more wonderful now. Those LaFerrari brakes are phenomenal and, it would seem, all but unburstable on this acquaintance.
And I should mention – because these things do matter - that the cabin is more habitable, with more storage cubbies, there is keyless start (though nowhere obvious to stow the fob) and the prices are only moderately increased.
The 488 GTB is, then, the archetypal supercar refined, honed, tweaked and… perfected? Not quite as perfect as the graphs would have you believe. But as close as it currently gets.
Price £183,974; Engine V8, 3902cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol; Power 661bhp at 6200-8000rpm; Torque 561lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox seven-speed dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1475kg; Top speed 205mph; 0-62mph 3.0sec; Economy 24.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 260g/km, 37%