A Ride in the Turbocharged Ferrari 488 GTB

Toys

February 11, 2016 | BY Andre Lam

Switching to turbocharging is something of a paradigm shift for the house of the prancing horse. Andre Lam witnesses its latest convert, the Ferrari 488 GTB, from Maranello in Italy.

Of all the marques in the automotive kingdom, Ferrari is perhaps the most well known and respected. Its continuous participation in Formula One racing has forged a solid identity amongst the top echelon of cars today. So consistent is this identity that we can spot it a mile away because it looks red, sexy, elegant—and not just because one can actually hear it from a mile away.

That characteristic Ferrari war cry came from its high revving normal aspirated V8 or V12, something Ferrari has championed for the better part of 70 years. Well, all of that is about to change because Ferrari is not immune to environmental concerns. Every manufacturer needs to shoulder this responsibility and Ferrari has been among the early adopters of turbocharging and downsizing its current engines. Thankfully this has the effect of reducing carbon emissions and fuel consumption while allowing Ferrari to raise power levels to even greater levels than previously thought possible.

In the past, Ferrari has resorted to turbocharging its road-going sportscars a grand total of two times, first in 1980 with the little-known 208 GTB (for tax cheating purposes) and later in 1987 with the F40 hypercar. Mostly, Ferrari’s turbocharging efforts stayed on the race track in its Formula One cars. Ferrari had long resisted using it in its road-going sportscars, but it appears that the stars are in alignment and we will see the future Ferrari range adopting turbocharged engines.

Meddling with the recipe of its mid-engine V8 model is the most arduous task for Ferrari because even more than the V12 models, this mid-engine V8 model defines the marque the most. The old V8 engine was both the heart and soul of the Ferrari 458 Italia literally and figuratively. The new power unit offers a quantum leap in power, now towering 100hp over the previous 570hp of the 458 Italia. 

It is so powerful that it slingshots the new Ferrari 488 GTB to 100km/h in a scant 3.0sec and rockets past 200km/h in 8.3sec to reach a mind-boggling 330km/h. It is also cleaner, emitting 260g of CO2 each kilometre, and seems to be sipping fuel at just 11.4L every 100km. Who would not be impressed by this level of performance?

However, controversy comes from the characteristics of the turbocharger itself. Unlike normally aspirated engines which draw a constant air supply from the atmosphere, turbocharged engines depend on a small turbine to spool up and force air into the engine. As it takes a little time to reach full pressure, it always feels like it is gathering itself up when you really demand the power, otherwise known in these circles as turbo-lag. For a Ferrari, there is a double whammy, the sound of the exhaust is irreversibly altered by having the two turbochargers in the path of the escaping exhaust gases. 

This made the engineers at Ferrari doubly determined to harness the positive side of turbocharging technology and reducing its downside. Ferrari found an elaborate way of reducing the turbo-lag by using sophisticated electronics to tailor the quantity and rate at which power is delivered, and in the process managed to make its turbocharged V8 feel almost like a regular V8 in power delivery. So, kudos to the marque!

Rather less successful was its restitution of the famous Ferrari wail because while it might be on par with its competitors, it pales in comparison with the previous 458 Italia and 458 Speciale. Of course, that is a selfish consideration because your neighbours will most certainly appreciate it. It will be sorely missed on the open roads where it has been replaced by a more subdued baritone roar, but that is the way things are going these days.

In mitigation, the 488 GTB unleashes a phenomenal swath of controlled fury with poise and precision worthy of the brand. The entire engine-chassis package comes together magically on the track where the massive power is delivered effectively through the excellent double-clutch gearbox and superlative Michelin Super Sport tyres.

Not too long ago, having over 400hp in such a car was to tread where only trained professionals dared. Today with 670hp, the 488 GTB takes it in its stride. Without all-wheel drive like its competitors, Ferrari has to employ some very clever electronics to work its voodoo and keep the 488 GTB on an even keel when faced with the stampede of 670 furious Italian ponies. Never before has so much power been harnessed with such finesse and delivered with such devastating potency.

There is no single component that is the magic bullet here, rather it is the perfect melding of the entire package of oily-bits, tech-bytes and eye-candy that delivers the goods. Preconceived notions about turbo cars will continue to cloud opinions, but for once I did not come away frustrated having driven a turbocharged supercar. Clearly Ferrari has done the impossible. 

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