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Oman motoring: Ferrari 488 GTB review

Alvin Thomas finds that the Ferrari 488 GTB is the perfect supercar, and one that delivers the kind of driving thrills we dream about.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this, ladies and gentlemen, is the all-new Ferrari 488 GTB from the humble stables of Maranello, Italy. So, is it fast? It is mind-bogglingly fast. Is it good-looking? Yes, better than Emma Watson (seriously!). Is it expensive? Yes, very. Does it handle corners well? If you have the courage to smash the pedal to the metal in a RO105,000 supercar, yes. Will people stare at you? Nope, they would wish they were you. And finally, the big question: is it a proper Ferrari? Well… that’s what I’m here to find out.

You see, while we were all busy ogling the Italian marque’s 458 Italia supercar, which I have to point out was my favourite car of all time, the boffins and designers at Maranello were busy rationalising and future-proofing their company – you know, with the whole ice-cap melting situation and all.

Their answer? Turbochargers.

Yes, folks. What you’re looking at here is a turbocharged Ferrari supercar, the first since the Ferrari F40 from 1987. So it really has got some big shoes to fill. That isn’t made any easier by the fact that the 488’s predecessor – the 458 Italia – was actually an engineering marvel. An instant classic, if I may call it.

And with competitors such as McLaren, Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz breathing down Ferrari’s neck, the task has just become all the more arduous.

The 488 GTB draws first blood from its ilk in terms of looks. I think that this has to be the prettiest-looking Ferrari that has ever been made. Granted, with its wedge-shaped and gaping intakes, the 488 GTB looks much like 458 Italia, but with a facelift. However, that is where the similarities end.

While the dimensions of the 488 remain fairly similar to that of its predecessor, the gaping air intakes in the rear make the car look ever wider than the 458 Italia.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as it adds copious amounts of character to the supercar. In contrast (if placed side-by-side), I would say that the 458 Italia looks a tad too wishy-washy.

The curves on the car – through no fault of their own – appeal to the five-year-old in me. It’s everything I want my car to be: it has the flared arches, colossal alloys, a blacked-out roof, a rear diffuser and, most of all, massive dual-exhausts shooting out through the bodywork.

To me, this is perfection only the Italians can attain. No part of the 488 looks mechanical or machine-made: if this car were to be personified, it would be Margot Robbie… on stilts.

Now, let us move on to that new twin-turbocharged engine. Displacing a total of 3.9-litres with its eight cylinders, the new engine pumps out (almost effortlessly) a mammoth 661hp and 760Nm of torque. That’s a colossal 98hp and 220Nm of torque more than its predecessor.

Oh, and if you were wondering, the engine screams all the way to 8000rpm. Gone are the days when the engine screamed up to 9000rpm but the general tone of the engine upon hard acceleration is still symphonious. That said, it is more of a baritone grunt and turbo-swishing sounds as opposed to the characteristic wail we have all grown to love.

All the power is sent to the rear wheels through an adept seven-speed dual-clutch “F1” transmission. The gearbox also manages to feel like a traditional automatic without all the jerks and judders associated with dual-clutch systems. The shifts, as expected, are instantaneous, and the throttle response is lightning-fast.

All this still means that 100kph is achieved from a standstill in a mere three seconds. Three seconds! This is very much attainable, too, especially if you use “Launch” control while setting off – even if the temperature is beyond, say, 40 degrees Celsius. Do keep in mind that this process is quite terrifying, though.

The acceleration, however, is only the start. The handling is beyond words. The chassis is stiff and is very well tuned. The car comes alive in corners and is ready to switch direction in an instant. The fact that the 488 GTB comes with a fixed top only adds to the liveliness of the car.

There’s plenty of grip from the tyres (245/35 front and 305/30 rear), and the “F1” traction control system is brilliant in coping with goons and noobs behind the wheel – even in highly slippery conditions.

But the “Sport”and “Race” modes should be good enough for normal city driving. “Race” mode allows you to slip into corners gracefully and without any drama but without giving you the option to look silly by going into a spin.

I, however, decided to go in without any safety systems to get a feel the car in its primal mode. This takes away traction and stability control systems, and you should note that this must not be done without supervision and proper training (both of which I have).

Now, the car becomes a very different beast altogether: even the slightest amount of throttle will induce a boot full of oversteer in a corner. It is incredibly fun if you know how to hold a drift. The car also remains planted at all times, which gives you confidence at all times.

The direct steering, which also provides ample feedback (hallelujah) makes it easy to orchestrate some of the most dramatic slides. You can easily chuck the car into a corner and hold your line by countering the drift using the steering. I have to confess: it is the most fun (legally) I have had in a car in a really long time.

Stopping power comes from the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes that can snap your neck if you use the full stopping power from them. They do make loud squealing noises, though, when cold. That can get a tad annoying.

The only real car that can rival the 488 GTB in corners would be the Nissan GT-R, but even that starts to jitter after the 200kph mark. Aside from that, I have also heard that the new GT-R falls prey to understeer, as engineers have tuned the car for comfort this time around.

Mind you, I do not mean to imply that the 488 GTB is purely tuned for the track. The car maintains its civility on the roads thanks to its brilliant adaptive suspension, which soaks up bumps effortlessly. No longer does the car feel like it is hopping around on road imperfections.

Sitting in the car, I realise that the interior feels unlike that of most supercars (the compact experience of my Lotus Elise test drive came to mind). Every nook and cranny is wrapped in genuine Italian leather and most panels are soft to the touch.

As with most Ferraris, the driver is the centre of focus in the 488. The steering wheel plays host to an abundance of buttons – the indicator switches, the engine “Start/Stop” button, the suspension settings, the wiper settings and even the headlight switches. It may seem a bit overwhelming and much overkill at first, but after having driven Ferraris for a while now, I have found it a blessing to have all these controls within my fingertips.

Apart from that, the sport-bucket seats are very comfy and offer excellent bolstering (as expected) and there’s adequate space to store small luggage behind your seats. There’s a “boot” up front, but that’s a storage unit for your spare wheel. You would have to keep that aside if you really wanted to store a few bags in it.

Overall, the 488 GTB is a very well-sorted supercar. There are really only a few cars (McLaren 650S, Lamborghini Huracan, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and Porsche 911 Turbo) that can rival the 488 GTB in terms of sheer performance, but even then, it is very evident the engineers have used their decades of experience to create something truly superior and awe-inspiring here.

What we may very well have here is the perfect supercar. And you know what? To me, it is. 

Ferrari 488 GTB Specifications

Ferrari 488 GTB Features