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First drive: 488 lures more Ferrari first-timers

Horse play: The 488 range is surprising Ferrari with the number of new customers attracted to the near half million dollar model, but after hitting the race track at Estoril, we are not so surprised.

488 attracts more newcomers than ever before to mid-engined V8 Ferrari range

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Ferrari logo14 Apr 2016

By DANIEL GARDNER

FERRARI'S popular 488 GTB super coupe and 488 Spider drop-top continue to lure established prancing horse customers, but the new model is attracting a greater proportion of newcomers to the brand than any mid-engined V8 Ferrari before it.

While 70 per cent of the Italian car-maker's traditional entry point – the California and California T – is sold to Ferrari newbies, more unusually, 61 per cent of 488 sales have also been to customers that are new to the brand.

At the launch of Pirelli's new P Zero in Portugal, we put the 488 GTB to the test at the demanding Estoril circuit to find out what all the fuss is about, but speaking to GoAuto, Ferrari Australasia president and CEO Herbert Appleroth explained that it was more than just the way the model negotiates a track that was creating such a demand.

“Over 70 per cent of people who purchased the California and California T are new to Ferrari,” he said. “Traditionally, our V8 sportscars (mid-engined), that number is dominated by people who are repurchasing. They go from 355, 360, 430 etcetera, but interestingly 61 per cent of 488 orders have been to new-to-Ferrari people. That's not normal.” Part of Ferarri's traditional entry point is price, with a California T representing one of the brand's most affordable models to date at $409,888 before on-road costs, but Mr Appleroth explained that the changing automotive landscape was allowing more new customers to step up to the 488's $469,998 asking price.

“There are a lot of new people entering the Ferrari world even with our V8 sportscar, which has traditionally been our loyalist product. That shows the real dynamic of the marketplace. There are so many people entering this market at this price point.” In Australia, Ferrari distribution was taken over by the Italian head office from local importer European Automotive Imports – part of Ateco Automotive – in 2013 and Mr Appleroth said the factory presence was partly to thank for growing demand of all models.

“Having a Ferrari factory presence here, we have dramatically increased the engagement with our clients and the amount of engagement with people who are new to Ferrari, meaning far greater new prospects from our network. We are talking to a lot of new people.” Mr Appleroth also sited a strong economy with significant local wealth as another reason for the greater numbers of new faces opting for more expensive models.

“Economically, it's certainly a good marketplace right now and that all comes down to confidence. The fundamentals of the economy are still strong no matter what you read in the papers.” But disposable wealth and brand confidence are only part of the picture said Mr Appleroth, with resale value completing the case for customers.

“The residual value of a Ferrari, which is unlike any other car in this market is also a determining factor why people come to Ferrari,” he said.

“There's the brand, but secondly when you know your investment is so solid compared to other options in the market, why wouldn't you go for a Ferrari?” With all those critical order justifications in mind, GoAuto hit the track in the new 488 GTB to sample the essential feature of any Ferrari – how it tackles the track.

During the launch of the 2016 Pirelli P Zero in Portugal, we took the opportunity to test Ferrari's newest model at the esteemed Estoril ex-Formula One race track, to see how the 488 stacks up against its rivals in a supercar's natural unbridled habitat.

Pirelli had assembled some of the most exotic and capable supercars available on the market, but despite the prestigious company, the Rosso Red Ferrari oozed Italian charm and static appeal like only a Ferrari can.

For the event, the iconic Italian tyre-maker had shooed the 488 in new P Zero rubber with the optional and conspicuous coloured sidewall, which shouts the Pirelli brand and Formula One connection in contrasting yellow.

The performance-focused tyres were not an unfair advantage retrofitted for the track outing, but are one of 60 Pirelli products specifically tailored and homologated for individual vehicle models – the 488 represents just one.

Estoril's raceway near Lisbon provides the perfect environment for a high-powered mid-engined sportscar with its variety of both tight and long turns, combined with relatively short straights, where hefty torque and strong acceleration is an advantage.

From the first blast out of the pits it was clear the Ferrari's engine downsize from 4.5-litres in the 458 Italia to just 3.9-litre has not coralled the 488's performance, thanks to a brace of turbochargers that boost power to 492kW and 760Nm of torque.

With all gearshift, throttle and suspension settings set to their most aggressive the Ferrari feels so alive you would almost believe it had a soul.

Steering the Italian steer out of turn one and winding up the turbos produced a mighty surge of torque, firing the 488 at turn two with electrifying, almost uncomfortable acceleration and without the slightest hint of lag.

A snatch at the right-hand shift paddle smashed second gear into mesh with savage urgency allowing the fierce acceleration to continue virtually uninterrupted, and the next corner arrives before you barely have time to calculate what is going on.

Thankfully, the 488 has such an intuitive chassis, beautifully balanced weight-distribution and steering that it can be piloted at speed almost subconsciously. From the first turn you can sense immediately that the V8 is located right behind your head, and the Ferrari turns into corners with a hunger for G-force unlike almost anything else that you can register for the road.

With such a potent powerplant, the tail can be provoked to do its own thing, but with the application of neutral power in corners, the two-seater tracks amazingly accurately and grip feels boundless. Understeer is non-existent.

The 488 negotiates a circuit one of two ways either exactly where you want it to go, or sideways.

Despite a number of laps executed with a variety of different approaches, we could not get the Ferrari to break a sweat. The Pirelli P Zero rubber can handle an immense amount of heat without going off, as can the carbon-ceramic brakes.

It doesn't matter how aggressively you drive a car on public roads because, within the confines of the law, a set of the ultralight carbon brakes simply cannot be appreciated, but on a punishing circuit like Estoril, the high-tech arrangement is a sensation.

Scrubbing 240km/h at the end of the finish straight would doubtless push humble iron rotors into the terrifying realm of fade, but the incredible material of the 488 brakes withstood friction like the belly of a space shuttle on re-entry. The smell is quite intoxicating too.

With virtually all the boxes checked, the 488 GTB is an extremely well rounded and feisty car that honours the Ferrari mid-ship mantra admirably, but we have not yet addressed the model's most contentious feature.

Historically, the presence of a turbocharger in an exhaust system changes the character and pitch of an engine's report and the more muffled sound is not conducive with Ferrari's signature raw howling soundtrack.

But aural purists need not worry because the 488 sounds every bit like a Ferrari. Inside the cabin, the induction note is so deep that you feel you may well be ingested, while outside the sound is unmistakable.

Despite being in the presence of some other serious supercar company, we could always pick out the V8 bark over the other voices.

Our time with the Ferrari was a reminder that, on public roads, supercars are caged beasts, but if you ever have the chance to leave the stable door ajar, the Ferrari will bolt for the hills. It is a huge relief that not only has turbocharging not hampered the 488 GTB, it has taken the prancing horse into a new realm of possibilities.

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