2016 Ferrari 488 GTB first drive review: Mid-engine magic

Quiet hands. A race instructor friend of mine harps on them all the time.

If you want to go fast around a track, you need smooth, steady steering inputs to keep the suspension settled and keep the car on its intended path. Saw at the wheel and you are losing precious time.

If you are driving the Ferrari 488 GTB, you need quiet hands.

As part of Monterey Car Week, I have the opportunity to drive Ferrari’s rear-mid-engine, V-8-powered super sports car. I’ve driven supercars before, but nothing like this.

Starting out at the Casa Ferrari outpost on Highway 1 in Carmel Highlands, I have two hours to play with this exquisite machine, and I’m already tense because I wasted a few minutes standing in the wrong line when I arrived.

After a quick introduction to the car, I hop in and immediately realize this car is different. There is no center stack, much of the interior trim is carbon fiber, the seats are sculpted, but large enough for bigger backsides, and the suede-covered, flat-bottom steering wheel is like no other. 

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The steering wheel is the control center for this car. It has buttons and switches for the turn signals, ignition, headlights, windshield wipers, and a setting that loosens up the shocks for rough roads. There is also a drive mode selector that is highlighted by wet, sport, and race modes. Basically, all of the controls you need are within a thumb’s reach. Along the top of the steering wheel is a row of LED shift lights that blink in sequence from left to right. These lights couldn’t be any more obvious, so if you miss a shift of the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, it’s on you.

Familiarized with the layout, I head out south on Highway 1. It’s time to find out what this car can do. Well, maybe not yet.

Within a quarter mile, an onlooker urges me to goose it as I approach the first tight turn. I’m not ready for that yet. I can already feel that this steering is razor sharp and the suspension translates every steering input into immediate response. I’m also not quite sure about how the twin-turbocharged 3.9-liter V-8 is going to deliver its 661 horsepower. It would not be a good idea to wreck this car a couple minutes after picking it up.

I want to start pushing this thing, but I soon get stuck behind a Mitsubishi Eclipse slathered in that godawful Mystichrome paint that’s supposed to change colors but usually looks green or purple. His cheap tack-on rear spoiler wobbles with each bump he hits as he toddles along on this beautiful coastal road. I’m annoyed, but I realize that his dawdling is giving me a chance to get comfortable with this car.

I’ve been on the road for a few miles now and I realize that I have no idea how fast I’m going. There’s one gauge in this car. It’s a big, off-yellow tach front and center, its 8, 9, and 10 readings letting me know this car revs to ridiculously high rpm. To the right of the tach is actually some semblance of an infotainment screen, complete with a navigation system. To the right is the basic trip computer information, and along the bottom of this screen, right next to the miles driven, is a small digital speed readout. If you have to ask how fast you are going in this car, you can’t afford the ticket, or, for that matter, the car.

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