Naza Italia’s invitation to potter about Chiang Rai in the old-ish 488 GTB yielded unsurprising results. And in the tradition of raw journalistic integrity this non-partisan magazine has always stood for, we’ll kick off with some hard truisms.
You already know this car wins you the unending admiration of any salaried sod. The only places it will look plebeian are the parking lots bordering Monaco’s most glamorous piazzas. And come off it, boys. There’s no sensible need to discuss power figures. It’s a Ferrari—designed to make potato mash of skinbags who can’t hold a power slide even with the magic of Side Slip Control.
Propped up by the dampers and steering of the 458 Speciale—the last Montezemolo Ferrari—and ceramic brakes from a LaFerrari, those of you who dream moistly of F1 glory will have all the tech you’ll ever need to play out your Vettel fantasies. And if you don’t fetishise about being Sebastian on his best day, the 488 rolls over broken tarmac so supply, I’m convinced this should be the only source of penis envy instead of horsepower ratings. Don’t worry though, the comfort doesn’t sabotage anything. While gear changes are hardly Lamborghini histrionic, downshifting is still a riveting sinfonia of pops and bangs.
The civility, however, can end quite abruptly. This car reminds me of those unexplained pet maulings. You know how some rich people keep tame bears and tigers in their backyards, then parade them to little children and their unfit parents during weekend barbecues? Suddenly out of nowhere their exotic cuddly poos leap to sever an unguarded jugular, ruining the party and straining friendships. The owners always feign surprise, claiming, “He’s never, ever, ever, ever, done that before.”
Likewise, you’re sitting at the red light, fiddling with the infernal radio controls behind the wheel, discussing succession plans with a father who doesn’t feel you’re ready for kingship. Your patience runs thin, the light turns green, you floor the gas pedal, and in two seconds, you’ve planted this very beautiful car into some shrubbery. And with it your hopes of running an empire.
But otherwise, still the car for elite dentists, A-list politicians and self-appointed captains of industry. Plus every nondescript tycoon in between. It can boulevard crawl, or carry you long haul. It can drag-strip brawl or attack corners with unrelenting gall. (I apologise for the bad rhymes and cheesy alliteration, but you get the idea). Whatever stage of life you’re at, this car has enough revs in any gear to meet you there. Just reach out for those long column-mounted paddles (instinctive to use when you’re in opposite lock) and blip the gears up and down, bend after bend, over gravel or bitumen.
Now this test drive was organised in Chiang Rai. It takes an entire day of stupid travelling to get there, the roads are dusty and drab, the scenery is unspectacular, and I spent all my seat time ambling behind the designated police escort, as per instructions. Life is mellow and uncomplicated in the north of Thailand, with a lack of Joneses to contend with. So the irony hits like the million plus ringgit in duties and taxes buyers will pay, but one instantly realises nobody needs a Ferrari to be content. And then as you hand back the keys, it dawns upon you why every man does.
It is embarrassingly conspicuous, like the unmistakable signs of mid-life crises: finding religion, training for a marathon, rising blood pressure. Not to mention the constant temptation to drive like an entitled bum-orifice because it sounds so good to whip that hand-built engine, which you will undoubtedly do, even when fetching bread and eggs.
Yet a Ferrari in your driveway also represents freedom, adrenaline, passion, beauty and wildness—prerequisites that make any man a good one. Daily life is a quagmire of meetings, memos and Google Hangout calls, where the name of the game is efficiency and punctuality. But on the occasions that you’re not harnessed to a plow, on the hours that you don’t need to be sensitive, safe, and manageable… you can drive a red Ferrari.
At once ferocious, explosive and clever, the 488 touches you in profound ways. Because what man doesn’t pine for greater heights or faster speeds? It is coded in our DNA to provoke danger until it turns around and tries to bite off our heads. And saving our necks at the precipice paints the most genuine of smiles. Turbocharged to perfection, the torrent of horsepower that engages with you—quivering through the seat, booming in your ears, pushing you to steer with your eyes—responds straightaway to these requests/provocations. And those of us lucky enough to test cars of this potential know first hand how hypnotic the experience can be.
Heck, it even hypnotises at standstill. How could you not fawn over it day and night? Its pure curves and delicate lines, contoured to wrap around race-car tech that takes you from zero to 100km/h in three seconds. Even the un-spiritual trinity of Clarkson, May and Hammond agree that there’s a soul in each Ferrari that gears and cogs and pistons can’t account for. You could stretch out in your plush SUV, fill its boot space with everything but the kitchen sink, and wade through KL’s flash floods without a second thought. But the look on your face would be exactly the same as if you were brushing your teeth or sitting through another season of The Walking Dead.
It’s not so much a tug-of-war between McScrooge or McSplurge, because life is less a series of problems to be solved than it is an adventure to be lived. Ever jump off a really high ledge into a pool below? I’m talking heights that make your knees quiver. Everyone floating below is shouting for you to take the plunge, not because you need to prove your cojones, but how else will you know the thrill of freedom? My advice is to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war because every man needs to be the hero of his own story, with a damsel or two to rescue. Yes, there are other ways to rediscover and celebrate your manhood. But none like driving a Ferrari hard and fast.
With twin-scroll turbines made of lightweight titanium-aluminium, the 488’s are lighter, reducing inertia by 50%. And since they spin on ball bearings, power loss due to friction is reduced by 30%.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. With extensive exhaust and inlet sound tuning, the 488 sounds absolutely mighty. And while it isn’t representative of the engine’s proper nature, it certainly influences the driver’s perception of performance.
The engine management system produces a slightly different torque curve for each of the seven gears. The maximum 560lb-ft is available from 3,000rpm in seventh gear, helping deliver a two-second improvement in Fiorano lap times over the 458 model that it replaces.
The rear diffuser comes from an F1-style drag reduction system, and lights up a DRS logo on the dash when in operation. It adds up to 50% in vertical load over the outgoing 458, with a maximum downforce of 716lb generated at 250km/h.
SIDE SLIP CONTROL
Integrating the 488’s magnetorheological shocks, an ECU reads yaw, roll and pitch data to stiffen the front if oversteer is detected. Likewise, it softens the front and stiffens the rear in understeer conditions to get the car to rotate in a controlled manner. All in all, a claimed 12% improvement in longitudinal acceleration.
Come on… I would never have the heart to ignore our car-geeks. So let it be known, the 488 GTB is powered by a 3,902cc twin-turbo V8 from the F154 engine family. Governed by a Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch F1 gearbox, it weighs 1,475kg, with a 0-100 km/h in three seconds, a 0-200km/h in 8.3 seconds, and a 330 km/h top speed.