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Road tripping in a Ferrari 488 GTB: Worth the wait

Although we usually pay for our own travel expenses, for this trip, Ferrari provided a night’s accommodation in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Video edited by Jennifer Hahn.

LAKEVILLE, Conn.—Anyone lucky enough to be shopping for a mid-engined supercar in 2017 has quite the array of possibilities before them. There’s the Lamborghini Huracán, now also available with just rear-wheel drive. McLaren has its new 720S, the follow-up to the sublime 650S we were so smitten with.

But the 800-pound gorilla in the supercar market is Ferrari. It might not have been the first Italian company to stick a powerful engine behind the cockpit and wrap it all up in a pretty shape, but 70 years of heritage on and off the racetrack have imbued the brand with unimpeachable credentials. Now that we’ve finally had a chance to test its 488 GTB, a 661-horsepower (493kW) V8-powered sculpture on wheels, was it worth the wait?

After several attempts to secure a shiny 488 from Ferrari’s press fleet, the call finally came early in July. Ferrari had a car for us, with one catch: we had to drive it from its New Jersey headquarters to Lime Rock Park in Connecticut—which would be playing host to the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship—and back. It wasn’t a hard choice to make, even taking into account the midnight train we’d need to get back to DC. While at Lime Rock, we’d get a chance to spend some time with the Scuderia Corsa team, currently battling for the championship in IMSA’s GTD class—which you can read about in the accompanying article.

I must confess, I was a little apprehensive when we arrived in New Jersey. Driving someone else’s supercar is quite a responsibility. There’s the hefty price tag; a 488 GTB starts at $245,000, but once the options list got involved the car we drove tipped the scales at $346,739. Then there’s the nature of the drive. New York has some very scenic parkways, ideal you’d think for this kind of vehicle, with its flowing turns and good sight lines.

But last year’s Focus RS drive earned me a speeding ticket on one such road, an occasion that taught me two valuable lessons: a brightly colored car will stand out like a sore thumb to the highway patrol, and the parkway speed limits are much lower than you think (or the flow of traffic suggests).

And finally, there was the car itself. The 488 has received rave reviews, but often in the context of its behavior on track. For road trips, surely the front-engined California T, 812 Superfast, or FF would be more suitable; those cars are meant to eat the miles, and this one is meant to eat lap times. Denied a chance to strut its stuff on a circuit, could the mid-engined 488 shine while doing mundane things like drive along at the speed limit, carrying two people and their luggage in some degree of comfort?

As it turned out, I needn’t have been worried.

Buy the engine, get the car for free?

Back in the olden days, people used to say that Mr. Ferrari would sell you an engine and you’d get the rest of the car for free. While that hasn’t been the case for some time, let’s start with a look at that engine. It’s one that has caused a little controversy.

Ferrari is not immune to trends in the wider auto industry, particularly the move to downsized, forced-induction engines. Turbochargers currently offer the best route to a compact, powerful engine with acceptable economy and emissions characteristics, and so the old 458’s 4.4L, naturally aspirated V8—with its 9,000rpm red line and the mechanical symphony that resulted—is gone. In its place is a 90-degree, 3.9L twin-turbo V8 that’s closely related to the engine in the California T and, minus two cylinders, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. (Each cylinder has a volume of 488ml, hence the car’s name.) It features direct gasoline injection and variable valve timing while using a flat-plane crankshaft. The turbochargers are a twin-scroll, water-cooled design supplied by IHI, the same company that provided the blowers for the legendary 288 GTO and F40.

Enlarge / Why have art on your walls when you can have exhaust manifolds?

Elle Cayabyab Gitlin

So despite a loss of 597ml—1.2 pints here in America—the F154 CB (as it’s known) produces a lot more power than the engine it replaces: 660hp vs. 562hp (419kW). While statistics like the amount of power an engine makes for a given volume are usually meaningless outside of bench racing at the water cooler (or an Internet forum), the 448’s engine generates 170hp/L, something that Ferrari says makes it the highest specific output engine it has ever built. The 448 will probably keep that title until the company soups it up some more for the inevitable hardcore version that usually arrives halfway through a Ferrari supercar’s product cycle.

Going the forced-induction route has delivered even greater benefits with regard to the engine’s torque. With 561lb-ft (760Nm) available, the 488 has a hefty 40-percent more torque than the old car. What’s more, it makes all that torque at just 3,000rpm, a huge contrast to the old naturally aspirated V8, which needed 6,000rpm on the tachometer before it hit 398lb-ft (540Nm).

However, as with the California T, you only get the full amount of torque in seventh gear. In the lower gear ratios, the gearbox employs what Ferrari calls “Variable Torque Management.” Boost pressure is reduced, depending upon the selected gear, giving one torque curve for first through third, then steadily increasing curves in the next gears, topping out at about 516lb-ft (700Nm). (For a graphical illustration, check out this slide at Pistonheads.)

As we’ll see, Ferrari’s variable torque management is just one example of how the company uses electronics and algorithms to help the driver out, whether that be in outright performance or the more subjective qualities like drivability and predictable handling.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

This article was reblogged from Ars Technica.

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