First some words on the 488 after 2500 miles on all sorts of roads, speeds and driving conditions. The first thing that took me by suprise is just how different the GTB feels from the Spider I borrowed. I am not certain of the actual changes but the Spider is clearly biased as a softer, less focused drive. The GTB feels more rigid, more precise, has more steering weight and just more feel globally. Much to my pleasure then, I have discovered that it is a different level in terms of all round driver appeal.
Secondly and without doubt, leaving emotional considerations to one side, this car is objectively the best I have ever owned. As a piece of engineering, a reference standard, a state of the art datum point on the evolution of the motor car, this thing is just so brilliantly executed and realised. The lag-free motor and its out and out power and flexibility, the gearbox, the damping, the body control, ride comfort, stability, chassis, the amount of confidence it inspires, the torque out of bends, it is a truly gobsmacking bit of kit.
Let's talk about sensations. From the moment you pull away the 488 enthusiastically massages the pleasure centres. Everything just feels so damm expensive and sophisticated. It seems to do everything so beautifully and with a sense of extreme quality. You find yourself backing off and just zoning in on the exquisite feelings pulsing up from it's dampers (I've not done that since an elise !) or the mesmeric, melliflous way in which it just downshifts, blips and floats toward a T-junction. As a pure road car that honours comfort and compliance as well as precision performance, for me it's simply outstanding and incredibly well judged. The turbo motor is also mighty and superbly executed. After every redlined upchange the instantaneous injection of torque has you snapping forward in your seat and your eyes widened a few millimetres. It accelerates in a viscous, thrusting, inexhaustive manner which gives the sense that it is never short on power no matter what the gear or situation. It's turbocharging but without the nasties. The way it gathers speed is utterly relentless but more 'efficient' in character rather than 'dramatic', in part due to the traction and chassis stability as well as the slightly slightly shortened limiter but when you are travelling across country this has big benefits and is perhaps one of the reasons why it is so rapid A to B. You can apply enormous levels of power with impunity across all sorts of road surfaces. A seasoned F12 driver has quite a few less things to focus on ! And the biggest surpise ? That has to be the sonics. Yes, despite what you may have read on the internet, out in the real wild world, the 488 has a big bold boisterous voice and to my ears equally as effective as a 458 just with a different tonality and character. Just about everyone on the trip, including myself, was suprised at just how good it sounded, especially from another vehicle.
The F12 was a scary, larger than life Beelzebub. Absolutely enthralling under certain conditions and quite possibly the best engine that's ever been put in any road car. Whilst it is ultimately capable of a slightly bigger adrenalin hit and is quite a bit more challenging to drive (mainly in terms of slowing the thing down and getting to the apex) the 488 is just better car overall with all the main elements like the gearbox and damping progressed onward another half generation. The supposed 'Grand Touring' F12 ironically only really shone when it was fully lit, and back in the UK or under regular driving conditions it's highly strung character, hard damping and large, slighty deadened experience at slower speeds frustrated. The 488 on the other hand carries off all roles with aplomb. It's agile, feelsome and fun just trundling down to the shops. On the motorway it cruises incredibly comfortably and is never nervous or unhappy to sit at a modest continuous speed. Show it a fast mountain road though and such is the torque and the brilliance of the chassis that it is devastatingly rapid even when just short shifting at 1 or 2 gears higher than normal. It simply has to be one the very quickest cars point to point, the composure and calmness, the agility and delicacy, the confidence it inspires, it is genuinely another level to anything else I have ever experienced. It simply loves bumps and rougher roads as well. Down in the Alps I was welcoming and enthused everytime we happened upon some more challenging tarmac, the 488 soaks it all up with exemplary body control and suppleness and resolves the road into another stream of delicious sensations for you the driver. Like a Lotus, the 488 exudes even an even greater feeling of calmness and control when a few undulations are thrown into the mix.
Looking at my road trip as a whole, perhaps most accomplished and brilliant of all with the 488 GTB is the way it manages to shine so brightly in all areas, all at the same time. Whilst it is super stable and refined in a straight line on a motorway, on a fast twisty run you never yearn for the turn in to be any sharper. In a similar way the ride quality sometimes takes your breath away and is the sort of comfort level you might get from a German executive saloon, yet go hell for leather on a technical Alpine road and you never once yearn for another stiffer setting on the mannetino. I really don't know how they blend this type of perfection together and I've only really experienced it on lighter cars before like Lotuses and the new Alpine A110 but I tell you it's like a form of witchcraft how they create this incredible chassis balance that seems to nail every single scenario.
So for me, all of this means that the 488 just fits in my life so well. My days of wringing out every last gram of bhp, grip and braking potential from a near race prepared RS porsche are well and truly over. They were enormous fun those times but I like to have more options these days and the 488 gives you just that. The breadth of performance, the operating window is so wideband that you can concentrate and put in effort as much or as little as you choose, yet still remain at the head of a pack of extremely fast cars. And when you get to all the stuff in between, the villages, the motorways, the long straights, the nighttime crawl back to the hotel, the car is still eminently enjoyable.
Negatives ? Well, a slightly higher redline would be better no question and the sound is great but in an ideal world it could have a little more mechanical authenticity to it but a quick look on Youtube tells me that a Novitech will indeed fix that. I actually like the dash layout but it's still a little clunky, a lot faster processing than in the F12 for sure and the standard stereo is also now listenable too, but the menus and bluetooth aren't as modern and speedy as the current systems you find in German cars.
You could say from the sidelines that the 488 has perhaps not been as unanimously loved as the 458 was. Some people have mourned the loss of the 458's edginess and criticised the 488 for chasing the Mclaren way of doing things with a little too much refinement. The blown engine has perhaps received even more criticism. Really though, I just don't get it. You need to really own and use these cars to properly understand them. Time moves on and for me I wouldn't trade the Turbo motor for anything in a month of Sundays. Same goes for the sophistication of the chassis and the refinement. In fact the instant any gear thrust is a big part of the character and USP of this car. The fact that it is turbocharged makes the 488 something different to those that have gone before. This is a new thing, a new V8, a car that you drive in a different way. It's one of the primary reasons why the 488 is so thrilling, so flexible and useable. If you really have to have NA then go get an F12 in any case, the motor in that car makes a 458 lump look and sound like something you'd find attached to the side of a garden strimmer ! I can fully understand how some people would prefer a rawer, sharper and less cosseted experience and there are a whole range of Performantes, Speciales, GT3's and LT's for those pundits but for my current needs and lifestyle a beautifully judged compliant everyday luxurious road car is just about perfect.
So in summary, I suppose I didn't expect to be this impressed. This car was the only natural progression from my F12 which I had done to death so it was on the cards in any case but now after 2500 miles I have to say that in my book, the 488 is an absolute masterpiece. All of this of course, before you've even begun to talk about the way you always look back at it, the way other people respond to it, the way it makes you feel everytime you climb onboard. The love is strong with this one. Not just a special car but a staunch companion for normal driving as well.