There was a point, not so long ago, when Ferrari risked becoming a caricature of itself. Lately, though, the legendary Italian marque has not only avoided that pitfall — it’s blown by it at around 200 MPH.
The lineup is sexier, more beautiful and faster than ever, the reputation and exclusivity safely restored. Along with record profits — even though barely 8,000 models emerged from the factory in Maranello last year.
This month, the brand celebrates its 70th anniversary with various happenings around the world, and we thought up our own way to join in: by taking the $250,000, 660-horsepower Ferrari 488 GTB on an epic New England road trip from Maine to New York via Vermont and back again.
The 488 GTB is a sizzling tribute to Ferrari’s great road cars of the last 70 years. The name itself (GTB stands for "Gran Turismo Berlinetta”) as well as the razor-sharp looks defined by scalloped side air intakes are an homage to the 308 GTB, Ferrari’s similarly eight-cylindered beauty of 40 years ago, which you may know for its associations with a certain mustachioed detective.
The best Ferraris have always derived their mechanics and technology from the Scuderia Ferrari race cars, all the way up to Formula One; 20 years ago, they were the first to use F1-style paddle shifters in a road car, since copied by every marque with even a pretension to sportiness. Refining those track features to make the car driveable at legal speeds has proved more of a challenge, but with the 488 GTB, Ferrari has nailed it. The “manettino" switch on the steering wheel that controls drive mode no longer just looks cool — it can also tame the beast when you’re stuck in traffic or picking up your kid from school.
On our 750-mile journey, we encountered all variety of road and driving condition. On older models, the car would have been champing at the bit everywhere but the highway, leaving you exhausted from the sheer effort of reigning it in. In Sport mode, the 488 GTB responded perfectly to “spirited” driving — nothing that compelled the New England constabulary to pursue us across state lines, but enough to rocket us forward at the press of a pedal before settling back into a more civilized state as we eased off, with the best-sounding engine in the business hitting its high notes all along the way.
Ferrari tells us it boils down to “extreme power exploitable and controllable to an unprecedented level even by less expert drivers.” Translation: you no longer need to take a driving course just to get there in one piece.
They’ve also made the 488 GTB much more comfortable. We fully expected to emerge from the first leg of the trip, through the mountain passes of Vermont, with shaking hands, white knuckles, cramped joints and a bad back (along with the enormous grin that always accompanies a cruise in a prancing horse, of course). This time, however, we had even more to smile about, thanks to the 488’s being true to the Gran Turismo (grand touring) spirit that even a ride with this much power should be cozy over long distances.
Ferrari has always made the most visceral sports cars, and while there is more competition than ever these days from the likes of McLaren and Lamborghini, there’s still nothing to rival a Ferrari for luxury, power, style and speed.
Ferrari 488 GTB (3 images)
The 488 GTB is a car that no doubt would have impressed Steve McQueen. One of the marque’s most famous devotees, he owned a fleet of Ferraris over the years that included a 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso, a 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder and a 275 GTB/4 Scaglietti. Ferrari lost sight of that lineage for a while, but cars like the 488 GTB — while in no way lacking in avant-garde design — have stronger ties to the great Ferraris of the past.
And as we ripped, roared, coasted and cornered our way around some of the most scenic roads in New England, the 488 GTB performing with a grace and authority backed by those 660 horses, it was hard not to feel a kinship with the King of Cool. Which is to say: we probably looked like the exact brand of self-satisfied sybarite you’d expect to find behind the wheel of a Ferrari.
Then, McQueen always looked pretty smug from the cockpit as well.