In its leading role as a $350,000 Italian supercar, the Ferrari 488 GTB had already acted up a storm. Racing up and down a harborside pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn at night. Sending onlookers into selfie spasms in Manhattan, as though Taylor Swift might extend an ankle from its limbo-low doors. Hitting its marks in horse country north of the city, galloping like only a prancing pony from Maranello can.
Only one command performance remained in order for the Ferrari to prove itself: A track test at the Monticello Motor Club, with cameras capturing the 488 GTB's every emotive howl, high-speed blast, and action-movie drift.
I’d already driven the convertible 488 Spider in Italy, where I simultaneously mourned the loss of its amazing predecessor—the 458 Italia—and succumbed to the 488’s newfound charms. Now it was the 488 coupe’s turn, including a blast to 171 mph on Monticello’s long straightaway—my new personal high on this thrilling 4.1-mile road course in the Catskills. The previous top speed? That would be 168 mph...in a 458 Italia.
Yes, the 488 raises Ferrari’s berlinetta bar in most measurable ways: beauty, power, acceleration, braking, handling, aerodynamic efficiency. Looks may be the shallowest part of the supercar equation, but just try and gaze at the Ferrari’s hubba-hubba curves without melting. When people ask why anyone would spend $249,150 on a sports car—or $358,000, after a six-figure options spree like my tester had been through—the Ferrari answers eloquently just by sitting at the curb. The Ferrari's looks serve a practical purpose, too; the active diffuser, slender dual-height front splitter, and signature “blown spoiler"—which funnels air over the deck and out the rear— boost downforce by 50 percent.
As sports car fans know, this Ferrari pounds another turbocharged nail in the coffin of naturally aspirated engines, even engines as brilliant as the 9,000-rpm opera star in the departed 458 Italia and 458 Speciale. When Ferrari can squeeze 661 horsepower out of just 3.9 liters of twin-turbo V8—99 more than the Italia—with an incredible 40 percent torque bump and reduced fuel consumption and pollution, it’s basically game over. Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes, BMW, and others are reaching the same conclusion: Either turbocharge or supercharge your cars, or watch your competitors blow past like juiced Lance Armstrongs.
The first clue to Ferrari’s new world order is a slight (and, we hope, temporary) taming of its traditional shrieking engine and exhaust sound. The 488’s rich, husky bark still turns heads at the track. But even Ferrari calls it a baritone, versus the carmaker's traditional tenors. That means less scale-chasing as well: The 8,000-rpm redline is still relatively high, but the torque is all on the D.L., and the Ferrari loses interest and urge above 7,000 rpm. Inexplicably as ever, tilting the Ferrari’s steering wheel blocks the view of any tachometer number between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. Apologies take the form of tracer lights along the wheel’s carbon-fiber upper rim that cue the pilot in to the approaching redline.
What the 488 engine lacks in vocal and rev range, it makes up for in sheer force, including a 2.9-second sprint to 60 mph. Throttle response is ridiculous—nay, instantaneous; there's less lag than turbocharged rivals like the McLaren 650S and the Mercedes-AMG GT S, thanks in part to the 488’s ball-bearing turbos, titanium-aluminum compressor wheels, and friction-reducing abradable seals. On the street, the Ferrari responds to commands seemingly at the speed of thought. Eyeball a curve, spot a gap in traffic, and the Ferrari is already calculating the proper vector and sprinting ahead.
At Monticello, it’s the kind of absolute power that corrupts absolutely, as I gun the Ferrari past roll-caged Miatas and other helplessly overmatched rides. A better match comes from track member Jim Scheckter’s racing Porsche Cayman, a ringer with a 3.8-liter, 420-horsepower 911 engine. Frolicking behind the Cayman, I realize Scheckter isn’t going to make this easy. With its GT3 RSR suspension and racing slicks, the lightweight Porsche clearly has the advantage in cornering grip over the Ferrari with its civilian-issue Michelin Pilot Sports. But finally, I sneak close enough to the Cayman to press the Ferrari’s 240-horsepower advantage and slingshot past on the long straightaway. Every mash of the throttle shoves me into the seat like a nerd being stuffed into a school locker.
Satisfied and perspiring after several laps, I hand the Ferrari’s wheel to Monticello’s Chris Duplessis. He’s a crazy-talented rally driver and championship winner who took his first rally lessons at age 12 at Team O’Neil in New Hampshire.
I’ve already experienced the latest addition to the Ferrari’s dossier of Formula 1-bred technology: Side slip control, which debuted on the 488 and has spread to the remarkable GTC4Lusso. As you dial up the performance stakes through the Ferrari’s steering-wheel manettino switch, this system gives skilled drivers more and more freedom to slide the car, while still sending as much power to rear wheels as you can handle. Ferrari claims the 488 GTB can send about 130 more horsepower to the pavement at any given moment than the old 458.
Duplessis, naturally, promptly clicks the switch right to maximum attack and shuts off both traction and stability systems. Within minutes, he’s executing the kind of lurid slides in the Ferrari that would make Ken Block weep with delight. Not to mention myself. But it’s not all tire-smoking hoonery: Duplessi flatly declares that the Ferrari’s steering feels purer and more connected than even the McLaren P1’s.
Speed, soul, sex appeal, sensation: The 488 GTB does it all. In the way that Muhammad Ali proclaimed himself the greatest and then backed up the boast, the 488 GTB won’t shy from any fight or comparison. Bring on any contender, from Europe or elsewhere—hell, bring on the great white hope of Dearborn, the Ford GT—and the Ferrari will knock it on the canvas. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to rumble with the new supercar champ: the Ferrari 488 GTB.