Though it may result in fewer parking lot fistfights, the turbocharged versus naturally aspirated argument is as tribal as Mustang versus Camaro. There's a line in the sand, and the "no replacement" faction doesn't take kindly to defectors. The rev counter in the new 488 GTB is those purists' greatest fear: a 10,000-rpm readout with a red dash at eight grand, a full 1000 rpm earlier than the outgoing, all-motor 458 Italia. Ferrari, a company that hangs its Borsalino on engine craft, ditching heady atmospheric V8s in favor of smaller, forced-induction lumps? Maybe there'll be some action in the parking lot after all.
Here's the thing, though: Some of the greatest Ferraris featured forced induction. Cars like the F40 and the car to which it owes its existence, the 1984–1987 288 GTO. The Gran Turismo Omologato nameplate is just as steeped in Ferrari lore as wailing, naturally aspirated eights and twelves. And so, in evaluating the 488 GTB, we decided to bring along a 1985 288 GTO for context: Has Ferrari lost the thread or simply come full circle?
While the GTO wasn't Maranello's first boosted mid-engine road car, it's the first one you should care about. Back in 1982, in the midst of F1's dalliance with turbocharging, Ferrari bolted a turbo to its home-market 208 GTB, upgrading an emasculated 2.0-liter V8 from a pathetic 153 hp to a respectable 217 hp. It's worth acknowledging the correlation between the 208 GTB Turbo and today's 488. But for the purpose of this exercise, we trotted out the one with 394 hp and a nasty streak. Sorry for skipping to the good stuff.
And, oh, is this stuff good. Most vintage supercars, old Lamborghinis and such, are fascinating, absorbing machines to drive. But by modern standards, they're junk. There are no disappointments with the GTO; you make no excuses for its age. You drive it, abuse it like a new car. And then you get out wondering how it must have felt in 1985 to experience something so brutally rapid as its 189-mph top speed.
Instead of the contemporary 308's steel body, the GTO wore a coat of fiberglass (like the very first 308s) over a steel space frame, with a Kevlar front hood and a rear firewall fashioned from Kevlar, Nomex, and aluminum honeycomb. The swollen fenders augmented the 308's prettiness with much-needed muscle, and four under-bumper driving lamps gave it its own visage. The bizarre mirrors could double as nine irons, and three cooling slots behind each rear wheel provided a neat visual connection to the Sixties 250 GTO Group 3 racing car, the first to wear the GTO badge.
Hanging way down below the bumper line, the exposed transmission was the biggest clue to this car's uniqueness. The 308 GTB's engine was mounted transversely, but the GTO's ran north–south. Better for plumbing the turbos and more practical for swapping gear ratios in the heat of competition.
The F40 that followed, sensational as it was and still is to drive, was a bit of a sham. All dressed up with nowhere to race. The comparatively demure-looking 288 was the real deal, a road car that existed only to homologate its tarmac-racing (no, not rallying) counterpart. The GTO's engine displacement even shrank from 2927 cc to 2855 cc to fit under the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile's regulations. And while the planned road-racing bit of the Group B series was canned before the car turned a wheel in anger, Ferrari did manage to make 272 road-car customers very happy indeed—and it inadvertently created a new subgenre of supercars in the process.
Though its exterior is 2.9 inches longer than the 308's and a massive 8.2 inches wider, the GTO's interior seems absurdly small. Bathed in light from the huge expanses of glass, it's almost lavish next to the F40's string door pulls and kit-car felt dash, but still feels spartan and cheaply finished. And then there's the ergonomics: steering wheel pointing skyward like a satellite dish, the pedals so far offset, there's no finding a natural driving position.The 2.9-liter V8 is menacingly gruff at idle, the clutch and dogleg manual shift, stiff. Grab at the wheel to pull away, and the total lack of assistance is a shock to your servo-weaned arms. Did I really just say you could drive this like a modern supercar?
Crank up the pace, though, and the years fall away. Forget the 5.0-second 0–60-mph time Phil Hill recorded in R&T's August 1984 test, which seems slow today. From the driving seat, on boost, it's incredibly fast, even when judged against modern machinery. But that acceleration kick is bookended by turbo lag at lower revs and a slow but satisfying shift at the top end. The transition to boost is less brutal, more manageable than in an F40, but still resolutely savage. Technology available at the time meant delivering big power from a relatively small V8 couldn't feel any other way.
Now it can. Crack open the throttle of the new 488 GTB and it lunges forward with stomach-churning ferocity and almost no hesitation between right-footing and hotfooting. If driving the GTO is like being towed behind a Bugatti Veyron with a stretch of bungee cord, in the 488, you're upgraded to a gooseneck hitch. It wouldn't be true to say there's zero lag—that'll come within the next five years when Ferrari starts electrically spooling its turbochargers. But the delay between asking for power and full boost is so small that on a graph Ferrari showed, the 488 is making the next gearchange while a McLaren 650S is still waiting for the torque tsunami.
The 488 GTB's 3.9-liter engine shares its aluminum block, but little else, with the California T. The heads, pistons, crank, and rods are new, and the turbo technology goes much further in eliminating off-boost torpor. The California T minimizes lag with twin-scroll turbos and expensive, three-piece, equal-length exhaust manifolds. But the 488's turbines—made, like those on the GTO, by IHI—feature ball bearings and titanium-aluminum compressor wheels for reduced friction. An abradable seal between the wheel and the housing maximizes efficiency.
The result is 660 hp at 8000 rpm, up from the California T's 552 hp and the 562 hp produced by the outgoing 458 Italia. Impressive, but look at the torque: The Italia phoned it in below 6000 rpm, where its 398-lb-ft peak was achieved. The 488 makes 41 percent more twist at half the crank speed. And it transforms the way this 488 drives.
Where once you needed second gear for switchbacks, now third or even fourth will do. Instead of dropping two cogs to wake the motor for that impromptu overtake, you can do it with one. Or none. And all that despite the engine's full 561 lb-ft of torque being available only in seventh gear. As on the California T, Ferrari has tailored boost curves for each gear. So in seventh, you get a torque curve as tall and wide as possible for freeway passing. In the lower ratios, boost is artificially restricted at low revs to avoid the dull blare so many blown engines emit and to mimic the character of a naturally aspirated engine, encouraging you to chase the redline.
Drive a 488 as hard as you dare, then tell me it's not exciting enough. I'll look you straight in your dead eyes and call you a liar. This thing is every bit as intoxicating as the 288, and the increased responsiveness only makes it more engaging. Waiting an eternity to spool up and then being hurled forward like you've been rear-ended by a semi is base-level fun, but it also removes the connection between man and machine. And when you're slithering sideways through an epically fast left-hander at Fiorano, deep into fifth gear and wondering whether to feed in another inch of throttle, that relationship is kind of handy.
Still, something nags. It isn't that this engine sounds less sexy than the 458's (true). Or that design director Flavio Manzoni's revised bodywork trades delicacy for drama as it cleverly integrates the blow-through rear spoiler, active diffuser, and double-height front splitter that help improve downforce by 50 percent.
No, it's more a philosophical musing. Every time engineers opened their mouths during the technical briefing, it was to explain how they've minimized unwanted side effects of turbocharging, to explain the lengths they went to make this feel like a naturally aspirated engine. The 3.9-liter is incredible, but is it what Ferrari would've built if CO2 targets hadn't forced its hand? Did any of them really want artificial aspiration over natural? No one is saying, but I'm convinced the answer is no.
Later, Matteo Lanzavecchia, head of vehicle testing and development, told me to look at it another way. "If we'd stayed with a naturally aspirated engine, we might have pushed to 610 hp, but there's no way we could have delivered 660 hp, and certainly not this much torque. Even without the pressure to meet emissions targets, we would have had to switch to turbocharging to meet our performance goals."
Those goals include beating the track-focused 458 Speciale's 1:23.5 Fiorano lap time, which the 488 GTB does by a half second, making it two seconds quicker than the base 458 Italia. Acceleration to 62 mph requires the same 3.0 seconds as the Speciale, but when the GTB hits 124 mph at the 8.3-second mark, the Speciale is almost a second adrift. The Italia can't get out of the 10s.
At a claimed 3252 pounds, the 488 is 22 pounds lighter than the Italia but 177 pounds heavier than the Speciale. The tires, downgraded from the track car's supersticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cups to regular Pilot Sports, sacrifice some outright grip for better wet- and cold-weather performance. There's a little more understeer than in the Speciale, but a little less than in the regular 458. More steering precision and a touch more weight, too. The carbon-ceramic brakes, lifted from the LaFerrari, feel fantastically strong and progressive underfoot. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission upshifts 30 percent faster, downshifts 40 percent faster, and now accepts commands for multiple downshifts. I miss three pedals as much as the next guy, but this is an astonishingly good transmission.
Dynamically, though, the biggest change between the 458 series and this 488 is the magnetorheological dampers. They're now looped into the second-generation stability-control system. No mid-engine car with this much power has any right making it so easy to drive far beyond the tires' natural limits. The compliance of the GTB—arguably the single greatest trait of any modern Ferrari—is staggering. Whatever the road, however bad the surface, you know you can keep the hammer down and make every single horse count. That never comes at the expense of body control—the 488 GTB's stiffer springs and revised shocks clamp down on rock and roll harder than John Lithgow in Footloose.
Predictably, the GTO can't get near the 488's body control or its precision. But if there's one thing that really dates the 288, it's the steering, because it's finger-tingling spectacular. Short on kickback but big on the richly textural feedback that reminds you how sanitized most modern assisted systems are. It's one of the reasons why, despite having driven most of the landmark supercars from the Miura to the McLaren P1, I can't think of many past masters I've wanted in my garage more than this GTO.
Sadly, unless you're a shipping magnate, that 288 ownership boat has sailed. For several years, GTOs were vaguely attainable, in that 30-year fixed-mortgage kind of way. Now, they're north of $2 million, making the new $245,000 488 GTB something of a bargain.
I have to admit, I missed extracting those last 1000 revs on track, and the noise that accompanied it. And I suspect Speciale values will go stratospheric in coming years as it takes its place as the last of a pure breed. On balance, though, the 488 is so much better than the car it replaces. Faster and more flattering and talented over a much broader spectrum, it's more fun more of the time. When the 288 and F40 died, so did the turbocharged Ferrari, left to look like a curio, a technical dead end. But, even at 8000 rpm, the 488 GTB proves it is anything but.