Ferrari 488 GTB

Debut: 2015
Maker: Ferrari
Predecessor: 458 Italia

 Published on 18 Jul 2015 All rights reserved. 

It is difficult to imagine how Ferrari could improve on the mighty 458 Italia, especially the last Speciale edition. It was jaw-dropping sexy, lightning fast, razor sharp to handle yet comfortable to live with. In my opinion, the 458 was the most remarkable Ferrari in modern ages, one easily eclipsing the already incredible 430 Scuderia, F355 and F40. Even at this day it still beats newer rivals like McLaren 650S or Lamborghini Huracan. Does Ferrari really need to replace it? I doubt. Actually, I am a bit worry that its replacement might lose some of its magic, especially when I heard it would switch to turbocharging…

Yes, turbocharging is often the cause of troubles on many modern performance cars. The latest BMW M3/M4 and Renault Clio RS are victims of turbocharging as they have lost the razor sharp throttle response, linear power delivery and exciting sound of the past. The next generation Porsche 911 Carrera is likely to follow suit (fortunately the GT3 and RS remain normally aspirated). It goes without saying that manufacturers switch to turbocharging because they need to cut CO2 emission to satisfy new regulations, in particular the strictest ones mandated in European Union.

Emission, emission... not even Ferrari could escape

Under the latest EU regulations, the average fleet emissions of mass production manufacturers shall not exceed 130 g/km from 2016 and then 95 g/km from 2020. Medium size manufacturers which sell between 10,000 and 300,000 cars a year in EU, such as Porsche, shall have their average emissions reduced by 25% by 2016 and 45% by 2020 from the level of 2007. Niche manufacturers selling fewer than 10,000 units may propose their own reduction targets, but those should be consistent with the development of technology and subjected to the approval of European Commission, thus no way to avoid drastic reduction measures. Nevertheless, some are not influenced as much. Lamborghini, for example, is part of the Volkswagen group thus its high emission level may be offset by millions of fuel-sipping VWs, Skodas and Seats. No wonder it can keep using normally aspirated V10 and V12 engines. Ferrari is not so lucky. Although it is part of the FCA group, boss Sergio Marchionne is working to spin it off to raise capital. Once the IPO is completed, Ferrari will be seen as an independent car maker thus needs to take care of itself. It has 2 options to reduce emissions: electrification or turbocharging. The former is adopted on LaFerrari, while the latter is to be used on its production models, starting from California T and then 488 GTB.

The first thing you notice about the 488 GTB, even before seeing it, is its name. This is the first new model launched since the exit of Luca di Montezemolo, no wonder it reverts to the traditional nomenclature preferred by Enzo Ferrari – 488 is the cylinder capacity in c.c., while GTB stands for Grand Turismo Berlinetta. I love it.

Evolved styling, polished aero

Despite the new name, the 488 is unmistakably an evolution from the 458. It is not exactly a mid-life facelift, as some 85 percent of parts are new, but it is not a clean sheet development either, unlike the 458. This has to be predictable, because Ferrari’s V8 line always alternates between full redesign and heavy modification. Just like the relationship between 308 and 328, 348 and F355 or 360 and F430, the 488 shares much the same styling, (aluminum spaceframe) body structure and suspension with 458. Its windscreen, side glass and roof are carried over intact, while wheelbase is identical to its predecessor. Other dimensions are close to the old car's, though the rear track is widened by 40 mm to make room for turbos and intercoolers. The nose and tail are restyled mainly for improving aerodynamics and enhancing cooling to satisfy the hotter engine.

Visually, the biggest difference between the 488 and its predecessor is a pair of huge intakes opened at the rear fenders. Each of them is split half-half by a carbon-fiber flap. The air streams passing above and below the flap feed the engine intake and intercooler respectively. To pay homage to the classic 308 GTB, scalloped air channels are sculpted on the doors, though their XL size is a bit over the top. Is the new Ferrari still sexy? Yes, definitely, if not quite as pure as the 458 it replaces.

As you would expect, Ferrari improved its aerodynamics again. Its drag coefficient is lowered slightly from 0.330 to 0.324, while downforce is increased by 50 percent at 155 mph, amounting to 325 kg. I can't think of any other standard road cars generating as much downforce. For instance, the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS, even with racing style aero kits, needs 186 mph to produce the same downforce. Brilliantly, the Ferrari achieves that without using any visible wings. It goes without saying Maranello is still leading the sports car industry in aerodynamics.

So what did Ferrari modify? The front bonnet of 488 GTB now incorporates a pair of air channels to enhance downforce. The whole rear end has been redesigned, replacing the Italia’s centrally-mounted triple exhaust with 2 higher, side-mounted exhaust. Less aesthetically satisfying might be, they do make space for larger diffusers which help sucking the car to the ground. As in LaFerrari and 458 Speciale, active movable flaps are added to the diffusers to vary downforce according to speed. Finally, the new car introduces a patented aero design called "blown spoiler"
air stream coming from the roof enters a small intake at the base of rear screen and exits the tail through an outlet located just above the rear bumper. This generates downforce without needing to raise the rear spoiler, thus cuts drag compared with conventional spoilers.

Turbocharged V8 that pretends to be atmospheric

The highlight is the 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8, of course. As usual, Ferrari’s V8 runs dry-sump lubrication to lower center of gravity and flat-plane crankshaft to enable higher revs. It also employs full variable cam phasing, direct injection and ion current sensing knock control like its predecessor. However, the similarity ends there. Derived from the F154 family that started life in California T, this engine shares cylinder block with the latter, whereas cylinder heads, pistons, con-rods, camshafts, intake system, exhaust and turbos are all bespoke. It keeps the 86.5 mm bore of its sister (vs 94 mm in 458) while increasing stroke by 1 mm to 83 mm (vs 81 mm in 458), resulting in a swept volume of 3902 c.c. The bore/stroke dimensions are much less “oversquare” than the past but this is usual for turbocharged motors. Note that the new engine has lost titanium connecting rods, a feature used by every generation of Ferrari V8 since F355. It doesn’t need them because the turbocharged engine is not as high-revving anyway. While its predecessor was good for 9000 rpm, the 488 engine gives up revving beyond 8000 rpm. This inevitably robs it some thrills, especially aurally.

On the plus side, it is a lot more powerful than the old naturally aspirated unit. Maximum power is 670 horsepower at 8000 rpm, a full 100 ponies more than before and even eclipses the last Enzo supercar! Expectedly, the maximum torque is even more impressive, lifting from 398 lbft / 6000 rpm to 560 lbft / 3000 rpm, or an increase of 40 percent at half the rev! Thanks must go to a pair of IHI twin-scroll turbochargers. They are larger than the ones used on California T so that they can boost at most 1.5 bar instead of 1.3 bar. Meanwhile, they are also faster to spool up as their turbines are now made of titanium-aluminum alloy (50% lighter), and their shafts are mounted on ball bearings. In a typical response test, Ferrari found the turbo takes 0.8 second to respond to throttle input, compared with 1.1 second in the case of California T. Of course, it is no match with the 458 Italia’s 0.6 second, but the gap is narrower than expected, very close to “lag-free”.

Ferrari found most turbocharged motors fail to impress keen drivers because their torque curves are simply too flat. As peak torque arrives early, there is no reward to squeeze the engine to sky-high rpm. To address this issue, the ECU on 488 deliberately limits the torque output at lower revs to replicate the characteristic of naturally aspirated motors. At the first 3 gears, the torque curve rises linearly across the rev like a larger NA engine. It keeps rising until 6250 rpm, where it peaks at a regulated 516 lbft. In this way, it encourages you to chase higher rpm and make use of the lightning gearshifts of its Getrag 7-speed twin-clutch transmission.

Now you might ask, isn’t it a waste of turbocharging then? Well, even though the torque curve is artificially suppressed, it is still easily stronger than that of 458 at any rev. Moreover, at higher gears the limitation is progressively reduced. The higher the gear, the faster the torque curve rises at low revs and the more they look like typical turbocharged curves. However, those curves still rise steadily, if at a slower rate, from 1750 rpm to the peak at 6250 rpm / 516 lbft. Only at top gear the curve is completely flat from 3000 to 6000 rpm, where the full 560 lbft is released. Thanks to this variable torque management, the Ferrari V8 feels closer to an NA engine, albeit with superior punch and reduced emission. The latter is rated at 260 grams per km, down 15% from 458 Italia or 5.5% from Speciale. It might be modest, but think of that extra 100 horsepower and 40 percent more torque simultaneously and you have to admit only turbocharging can deliver.

Turbochargers tend to suppress exhaust note and downgrade sound quality. Ferrari avoids this by employing unusually long, equal-length exhaust manifolds to amplify the harmonics before the gas reaches the turbos. It also employs a freer, louder muffler, reduces sound insulation and even cuts holes in the firewall to let the engine sound penetrating into the cabin. We shall see whether it works later.

Rest of the package: built on the strength of Speciale

The rest of the car is developed from the Speciale. Its Getrag 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox is carried over, just fitted with longer ratios to match the torquey engine. Gearshift is significantly faster than that of 458 Italia as a result, i.e. upshift and downshift are 30% and 40% faster respectively. The aluminum spaceframe chassis is mostly unchanged except a new rear subframe to carry the wider engine. The new engine accompanied with intercoolers is 16 kg heavier, so the car’s front-to-rear balance is marginally worsen by half a percentage point to 41.5:58.5. On the plus side, the new engine’s center of gravity drops by 5 mm. Thanks to some weight reduction elsewhere in the chassis and body shell, the whole car weighs 10 kg less than its direct predecessor.

The steering rack is carried over from the 458. It keeps the super-quick ratio of 2.0 turns lock to lock, and its servo remains hydraulic. The suspension basics remain unchanged, too, but the 3rd generation magnetorheological adaptive dampers promise to react faster. To deal with higher performance, both the front and rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires get 10 mm wider, although they might not be as sticky as the Cup 2 tires on Speciale. The Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes are derived from LaFerrari. They measure the same size as before (398 mm front and 360 mm rear), but the new materials warm up faster and new calipers improve cooling, so Ferrari claims braking distance is shortened by 9 percent.

As in the case of Speciale, traction and stability is managed by F1-Trac and SSC (Side Slip Control), but the latter is now the second generation. It not only alters the electronic active differential and traction control but also firms up or softens the suspension damping to control power slide more accurately. Overall, Ferrari said the new car achieves 12 percent faster acceleration out of corners and with 13 percent less body roll.

On the Road

Get on board, you will find a familiar environment. Yes, the main instrument gets a second display and there are more storage cubbies, but the design and architecture are just the same. Forward and lateral visibility remains excellent for a super sports car.

Push the start button, it is a relief to hear the turbocharged V8 starts with a gruff snarl typical to Ferrari’s flat-crank V8s. Its pitch is lower, bassier, but the exhaust note is just as loud in normal driving. The throttle response is quick. Prod the throttle and you will see the rev rises and falls immediately. It is almost, if not exactly, as sharp as the 458’s. If you have never driven the old car or the equally mighty F12, you might be hard pressed to tell if it is a naturally aspirated motor. Driving at legal speed through the first 3 gears, the power delivery is remarkably linear. Turbo lag? What turbo lag? It makes a McLaren 650S feels laggy, almost like an on-off switch.

The ride quality feels even better than its predecessor. It glides over broken pavement without much complaint, and soaks up bumps on mountain roads with ease, maintaining excellent composure. The easy going manner of 458 is retained. The hydraulic steering remains super quick, incisive and communicative, but it gains a little bit more weight to feel more confident to handle the extra power. Despite a lot more torque to cope with, the twin-clutch transmission shifts even faster without losing smoothness. It is a work of wonder. Ditto the phenomenal braking.

Out on open roads and start pushing it, the 488 responds with violent thrust and acceleration that is a whole level up from the 458. Thanks to the superior torque, it gathers speed in a mind blowing manner. There is no doubt that it can sprint from rest to 60 mph under 3 seconds, 124 mph in 8.3 ticks and ultimately reach 205 mph – Subjectively it feels even faster! Maybe forthcoming road tests could prove. When it accelerates, the noise gets increasingly frenetic across the rev, and every corner is accompanied with turbo whooshes and exhaust crackles. However, as you stretch the twin-turbo V8 closer to its 8000 rpm redline, it is also obvious that it is not quite as sensational as a 458 howling at 9000 rpm. It might be the best sounding turbo engine we have ever heard, but not good enough to replicate Maranello’s best atmospheric engines. What a pity.

That said, the absolute performance is more than enough to compensate for the slight loss of emotion. The 488 is not only fast on straight but equally capable in bends. Its best time in Fiorano is 1 min 23 sec, i.e. two seconds faster than 458 Italia or half a second quicker than Speciale – the latter is a lightweight track special fitted with semi-slick tires, remember.

Despite of much stronger power, the new car is not fearsome to handle in any means. In fact, its chassis is as razor sharp as Speciale. Perhaps a bit more forgiving at the limit. Its traction and balance are phenomenal. When its power overwhelms rear tire grip, it breaks lose in a more progressive manner. The softer throttle response of turbo seems to smoothen the transient response of oversteer and make it easier to control. For sure the SSC2 guarantees that it slips beautifully, but even with traction control switched off you will find a superb inherent balance. Meanwhile, the stronger low to mid-range torque gives you more options to induce oversteer anytime, anywhere. This car is both sharper and calmer than 458 Italia. Very close to 458 Speciale for precision and feel, but more friendly on roads.

However, the 488’s power and performance are probably too much for the road. Yes, they don’t come at the expense of drivability or emission, but they are hard to exploit on public roads. The beauty of 458 is that it feels right at the limit for road use, no matter the sharp handling, lightning acceleration or crazy sound. As I said from the beginning of this review, even today I don’t think it needs to be replaced. The 488 is undoubtedly a better car, but it doesn’t come close to 458 as a masterpiece. Its existence is not driven by art and emotion but by emission and the threats of McLaren 650S. This will make it a bit less memorable from the perspective of history.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features

Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
0-124 mph (sec)
0-150 mph (sec)
488 GTB
Mid-engined, RWD
Aluminum spaceframe
Mainly aluminum
4568 / 1952 / 1213 mm
2650 mm
V8, 90-degree
3902 cc
DOHC 32 valves, DVVT
670 hp / 6200-8000 rpm
560 lbft / 3000 rpm
7-speed twin-clutch
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
F: 245/35ZR20
R: 305/30ZR20
1475 kg (1370 kg dry)
205 mph (c)
2.9 (c) / 3.0* / 2.8**
5.9* / 5.5**
8.3 (c) / 8.1**

Performance tested by: *Autocar, **Quattroruote

AutoZine Rating

488 GTB

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