The reluctant turbo

488 GTB is Ferrari's first midship turbo in nearly 30 years - and probably its finest

  • Specs

  • FERRARI 488 GTB

    Price: $995,000 without COE

    Engine: 3,902cc 32-valve V8 twin-turbocharged

    Transmission: Sevenspeed dual-clutch with paddle shift

    Power: 670bhp at 8,000rpm

    Torque: 760Nm at 3,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 3.0 seconds

    Top speed: 330kmh

    Fuel consumption: 11.4 litres/100km

    Agent: Ital Auto

I attended the launch of the Ferrari 488 GTB last week with excitement as well as a tinge of trepidation. After all, a turbocharged midengined Ferrari is a pretty rare thing - nonexistent since the 1987 F40 supercar.

But is turbocharging in a sports car all that big a deal, especially since McLaren, Bugatti and Porsche have long embraced the concept?

What can a turbo do that a normally aspirated unit cannot? Well, normally aspirated engines cannot make significantly more power without more displacement and more fuel consumption (and more CO2).

Ferrari was already near its limits, with the 570bhp F458 delivering 127bhp per litre of displacement. But with turbocharging, the 488 delivers 670bhp or 172bhp per litre. And yet, the car is more efficient, supposedly requiring 11.4 litres of fuel per 100km, compared with 13.3 for the 458.

Pumping out a hundred more horses from 3.9 litres with forced induction is fairly straightforward. It is more challenging to reduce power lag and to deliver the throttle response and spine-chilling battle cry of a non-turbo V8 at high revs.

Ferrari has largely achieved this, with super lightweight turbochargers with low friction bearings. It also shaped the torque curve in first, second and third gears to resemble that of a powerful normally aspirated engine.

The new engine is convincingly linear, although it spins up to 8,000rpm, short of the 458's hair-raising peak of 9,000rpm.

Ferrari also culled torque at low rpm to reduce strain on the car's traction and stability control systems. Even so, the car has 760Nm at its disposal from 3,000rpm, allowing it to hit 100kmh in three seconds - 0.4 seconds quicker than the 458. It blazes past 200kmh in an amazing 8.3 seconds.

The car's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a revised version of the one found in the 458. Shift times have been shaved and rapid multiple downshifts are now possible ahead of a corner, complementing the work of carbon ceramic brakes.

In Race mode, the shift program is also really good at reading a driver's style to deliver perfect shift points during hard driving.

More importantly, it has gained a small measure of refinement in Sport and Wet modes for smoother progress in town. 

The entire package comes together magically on the track, where the 488's massive power is transmitted to the tarmac via Michelin Super Sport tyres. These rubbers offer not just superb grip but remarkable longevity as well (lasting up to 50 per cent longer than other high-performance tyres).

The 488 GTB is blessed with an aerodynamic package that maintains its clean looks but pins it to the ground with a downforce in excess of 200kg at 200kmh. Together with the latest Side Slip Control 2 and F1-Trac stability system, the car allows practically anyone who can afford the 488 to drive it like a race driver.

It was not too long ago that anything that had more than 400bhp in the tail was considered a "widow-maker". But even with 670bhp, the 488 GTB possesses even greater stability than the F430, which had much less power.

How will purist followers of the Prancing Horse - a marque which used to champion normally aspirated engines - respond to the 488?

Actually, it is not going to be an issue because the car hardly feels like a turbo. And the leap in performance that it packs is simply phenomenal.

Couple that with the car's excellent chassis system and you have a worthy replacement to the 458 - even if the iconic Ferrari wail has been pared down now.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'The reluctant turbo'. Print Edition | Subscribe