There’s nothing quite like the rush of a turbocharged supercar. Ferrari’s F40 and 488 are separated by almost 30 years and their characters couldn’t be more different, yet the way they deliver their power is equally intoxicating
by RICHARD MEADEN | PHOTOGRAPHY by ASTON PARROT
4500rpm in third gear.
With the cast alloy throttle pedal pinned to its stop, this is the moment when the F40 grabs you by the lapels and reminds you why it’s still the boss of boost. If it’s been a while since you’ve driven one, or if you haven’t driven one before, you’ll have spent the considerable time it takes for the tacho needle to creep round the first half of the dial wondering whether the fearsome reputation is justified. Big mistake.
When the boost does arrive, it’s not switch-like. It’s more impressive than that. Where once there was calm, those IHI turbos deliver fury and wheelspin in an overwhelming wave of torque that twists the tarmac out from under the rear Pirellis like a bitumen rug. The initial effect is at once explosive, exhilarating, eye-widening and buttock-clenching, and it continues to grow in intensity until you run out of revs or, more likely, nerve.
The first time it happens you feel like you’ve swallowed your tongue, then the flood of adrenalin hits and you hoot, and I mean hoot, with giddy, manic laughter until your ribs hurt. Then, just as surely as night follows day, you relax your death grip of the steering wheel, wipe one sweaty palm and then the other on your jeans, put both hands back on the wheel and immediately steel yourself to repeat the process. Welcome to your addiction to that strongest of Class A automotive drugs.
Ferrari’s first relationship with turbocharging was much more than a flirtation. From fire-spitting F1 cars to 208 tax-dodger, glorious 288 GTO and legendary F40, forced induction was an all-consuming quest through the meat of the ’80s, even if the mainstream production models didn’t reflect this. That it’s the F40 that fused itself into turbo folklore as firmly as a melted piston is no surprise. It was conceived at the height of an era intoxicated by turbocharging’s steroidal effects. It looked like no Ferrari before it and it went like no Ferrari before it. Or since, as we’re in the process of reminding ourselves...
Once the boost has kicked in, one thing you come to terms with very swiftly is that 471bhp has never felt so fierce. Okay, so there’s a good chance Ferrari’s claimed power figures were a little shy of the mark. True also that a well-sorted F40 has never felt fitter than it does today, but still the bald figures are less than startling in 2016. Don’t be fooled. For starters there’s 426lb ft of torque at 4000rpm. Then there’s the fact an F40 weighs just 1100kg. When it comes to fast cars, fun and physics are one and the same. A fact underlined by a sub-4sec 0-60mph time and a 0-100mph time of 7.8sec, and this in the days before launch control and paddleshift gearboxes.
But even this does little to capture the essence of what it is to feel the accelerative force of a fully lit F40, for the process of being punched towards the horizon is as much defined by the lulls of off-boost lag as they are on-boost ballistics. Like a great orator, the F40 is a master of the dramatic pause. The wait for those turbine wheels to spool-up might cost precious time against the clock, but the anticipation that comes with building boost pressure is a winner every time.
On- or off-boost, the brittle, cammy zing of the 2.9-litre V8 is angry and industrial. Busy, no-nonsense and no-frills, this is a Ferrari from the days when the Old Man still had a hand in how things were done. There’s more than a pinch of Enzo’s curmudgeonly arrogance in its unflinching commitment to the hardest of hardcore performance.
If you’re not prepared to work at extracting that performance, don’t bother strapping yourself in. If you’re not feeling on your mettle, don’t embarrass yourself by provoking it. And if you are, be ready, for the questions come thick and fast. Are you serious? Do you have the skill and sensitivity? Can you summon courage yet retain sufficient clarity of thought? And, perhaps most crucially, do you have the awareness and self-control to know when you’ve pushed your luck far enough? Answer ‘yes’ to all of those and it will still be a wild ride, but one that’s intense and intoxicating. I think you can guess what’s likely to happen if you’re found wanting.
‘The F40 delivers a singular and searingly honest driving experience’
That’s why the F40 still stacks up, despite being profoundly flawed. The ride is terrible, the brakes adequate at best, the driving position kinked and contorted, the balance of torque and traction tipped almost suicidally in favour of the former, and the power delivery feels like you’re controlling the throttle via satellite. And yet it’s precisely because you have to make allowances and, ultimately, successfully pit yourself against the machine in order to form a bond with it that the F40 delivers such a singular and searingly honest driving experience.
By contrast it’s the flawlessness of the 488 that blows your mind. We tend to celebrate cars that are a challenge, but the way the 488 does what it does is genuinely breathtaking. It’s a fully rounded, three-dimensional car. Comfortable and civilised, refined, smooth, beautifully built and one of the easiest and most intuitive supercars to simply get in and drive. An occasion without the ordeal.
Of course that ensures it’ll never garner the hero status of the F40, nor should it, for the 488 was never intended to be the wild child of the family. Just don’t let that trick you into thinking the 488 is in any way soft. Yes, it has pliancy to go with the pin-sharp responses, and yes, you can press the button marked ‘A’ and let the car change gear itself. You can let the E-diff and stability control nanny you in ‘Wet’ mode so you barely feel the tail shimmy, even as you squeeze into the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8’s huge reserves of torque while the tyres are still cold. Your surroundings and the soundtrack might be a lot more exotic, but, in terms of driving effort, a 488 is as taxing as an Audi A3 when running in its mildest settings.
‘Imagine the F40’s power delivery with all the gaps filled in and that’s the 488’
Such is the muscularity of the motor, you can give the throttle a modest squeeze in 5th, and, were it not for the gear indicator, you’d swear the car was in 3rd. If there’s a downside, it’s the fact you can make outrageous progress without needing to do much in the way of paddle-flapping, but, unlike in the F40, should you wish to work up and down the gears you can do so instantly. At which point you enter a realm of increasingly head-spinning acceleration, the F40’s dramatic pause exchanged for a deranged attack on the middle distance. It’s never less than breathtaking and sometimes a little unsettling as longitudinal g-force gathers you up and holds you in your seat.
As you work your way into the more extreme manettino modes, the 488 gives you increasingly vivid reminders that although it can be there to help you, it also gives you the option to take control. If you do, it pays to heed the warnings, for cars of this potency are not to be messed with. Such instant torque makes massive demands on the tyres and, without the discreet flattery of the supremely judged stability control, you can light up the 488’s rears on part throttle. Being a turbo, more revs equal more boost, which if you’re not careful leads to even more wheelspin.
April showers and an F40 are a fearsome combination, but turn the driver aids off in the 488 and you’re consumed by the exact same clammy heart-in-mouth feeling, knowing every input you make to throttle and steering is absolutely critical. Of course, the big difference between the F40 and 488 is you don’t have a choice in the F40, but it’s a vivid reminder that big boost and damp roads are as spiky a combination as they ever were. It’s also a head-scrambling demonstration of how, thanks to advances in electronics, the 488 spans the extremes of day-to-day docility and day-of-days ferocity.
The F40 is an icon with good reason. Tricky, demanding and at times downright scary, it feels like a car built by engineers clawing their way up a precipitous learning curve. Too committed to head back down into the comfort zone of natural aspiration, but too far from the summit to clearly see their objective. That the crudity and violence of the F40’s delivery was and remains the essence of its appeal is as irrational as it is reassuring.
In many respects you couldn’t find a more different car than the 488. So clearly the work of a team of engineers at the top of their game, it feels like they embarked on their journey armed with all the answers when the F40 development team hadn’t even been furnished with all the questions. Of course the two cars set out to achieve very different objectives, but somehow that makes the 488 even more freakish. A car so user-friendly literally anyone could drive it safely in its mildest mode, yet one that will make your palms sweat and your heart pound in time-honoured turbocharged fashion.
Work your way through the manettino’s five modes and you gradually peel back the layers of the 488’s ability, upping the tempo with each click. Such is the seamlessness with which each and every critical dynamic element of the car ups its game that you’re treated to a building feeling of urgency, immediacy and aggression. There are no rough edges, things just get sharper, harder, steelier. Everything is in harmony, with no one element dominating. The gearbox is exceptional, the brakes firm and as progressive at low speed as they are emphatic at high speed. The steering response and damping both share the same tight control and clarity, the chassis mirroring this with exceptional agility and an abundance of grip to lean on.
Imagine the F40’s power delivery with all the gaps filled in and that’s the 488. It’s there under your right foot at all times, ready to respond to the smallest increase in pedal pressure. That’s not to say it’s on a hair-trigger but, where the F40 has yawning moments of turbo lag followed by the impression eight sticks of Semtex have just gone off in the combustion chambers, the 488 responds with a solid wall of shove accompanied by a deep, purposeful engine note overlaid with the muffled hiss of the turbos force-feeding the cylinders.
Engine V8, 3902cc, twin-turbo
Power 661bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque 560lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive, E-Diff3, F1-Trac, SSC2
Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels 9 x 20in front, 11 x 20in rear
Tyres 245/35 ZR20 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear
0-62mph 3.0sec (claimed)
Top speed 205mph+ (claimed)
Basic price £183,964
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Engine V8, 2936cc, twin-turbo
Power 471bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 426lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Ventilated iron discs,
330mm front and rear
Wheels 8 x 17in front, 13 x 17in rear
Tyres 245/40 ZR17 front, 335/35 ZR17 rear
0-62mph 4.1sec (claimed)
Top speed 201mph (claimed)
Price when new £193,000 (in 1987)
Value today c£850,000