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.