“You know, some of my clients say that this car is just too fast,” says Marc Soong, executive director of Autostrada Motore, the official distributor of Ferrari in the country. I think nothing of the statement as we unload the magnificent Ferrari 488 Spider from the flatbed truck and pull the tailored-to-fit felt cover off it. Because in the world of supercars, how can something be considered ‘too fast’?
The entire Top Gear Philippines team—12 people in all, including the video group and our intern—is out in full force for this cover shoot, and with good reason: It’s the first time we are featuring a red-blooded Ferrari as our cover car. Our playground is a privately owned ranch with its own set of tree-lined roads away from the public. Here, we can let the Prancing Horse loose. And we get two days to do what we want! But before that, Marc has to introduce all of us to the newest car in his stable.
Yes, I know Ferraris are damn quick, but too fast? Really? I was under the impression his clients want cars that can hit ludicrous speeds in world-record times. Supercars belong in the highest echelon of automotive engineering. They are at the peak of all things good in our car-crazy sphere. At this level, no expense is spared. Mad scientists are tasked to deliver the highest horsepower and torque figures, and the cars that take form on their drawing boards become the desktop wallpapers of young kids. (Do people even print posters anymore?)
And if these cars aren’t fast out of the box, I’ve even heard of dudes who strap twin-turbos to their V10 Lamborghinis, for crying out loud. There are some guys who live for extreme performance.
Anyway, I’m Marc’s first passenger as we maneuver through some dirt roads and find our way to the asphalt. The road is clear. He turns the manettino dial on the steering wheel to ‘Race’ mode, and before I can even react, he pins the go-pedal to the floor.
Now, for those of who have never experienced this kind of acceleration before, the feeling is very much like the launch of the Full Throttle roller coaster in Six Flags Magic Mountain. If you haven’t ridden that, then imagine yourself strapped to the nose of a Boeing 747 taking off. If you aren’t prepared for this kind of sensory onslaught, I swear to the gods of motor oil that the scenery will distort from the brute force of the acceleration. You will get tunnel vision, man.
Before I can even mouth the words “holy shit,” Marc is already on the carbon-ceramic brakes and slowing down from well over 180kph. On paper, the 488 Spider can go from zero to 100kph in 3 seconds. The dash from 100kph and beyond? Those stats tell a different story all together, and the verbal reactions to them might not be a good idea to print. Let’s just say it’s ridiculously fast.
We put a GoPro in the cockpit and Marc takes the team for taxi rides. All our facial reactions are immortalized on video. You can see this on our Facebook page, and it’s good for a few laughs. I can’t think of any other car that can make people react this way. You see, from the moment you look at the car in the metal, to when you slip into the super-low seats, to when you press the engine start button, to when you finally take off—each moment is an event. That’s the mystique of the Ferrari brand. It’s just magic. Even the most jaded motoring journalist will be smitten by a Ferrari. We all are for the entire duration of the two-day shoot.
The reason the 488 is such an important car in Ferrari’s history is that the engine has gone turbo. This is sacrilege for some of the tifosi, who thought there was no way this would ever happen. It is unthinkable for a Ferrari not to have its spine-tingling, naturally aspirated wail at full-open throttle. That soundtrack is part of the brand’s signature! The last of the naturally aspirated V12 and V8 models are being bought up as collector’s items now.
Yes, we will miss those engines, but times are changing. Emissions standards are tightening up. Even the great Ferrari has to adapt. But instead of viewing the 488 as an aberration, consider that the performance of the new-generation engines cannot be ignored or denied. There’s just so much wizardry that goes into engineering and building the twin-turbocharged V8 motor, and the figures are amazing for 3.9 liters of displacement.
There is zero turbo lag. Acceleration is brutal and instantaneous in any gear and from anywhere in the rev range. The best part is that Ferrari will still continue to manufacture cars in this day and age of super-strict emissions standards. The 488 passes with flying colors. It is a huge step in the direction toward cleaner motoring—without sacrificing performance. In fact, the gain over the older naturally aspirated V8 is already massive. What we have at our disposal is a jaw-dropping 660hp and 760Nm.
Marc opens his door, gets out, and motions for me take the driver seat. I’m scared, to be quite honest. I’ve driven my share of supercars, but the 488 is a mythical creature. And after what I have just experienced, I’m not sure what to do. I’d be happy to just pootle along—the road manners of the car are excellent, by the way, thanks to the damper settings, which can be selected for rough roads. But I’m sure Marc won’t approve. So, I decide to just let the 488 rip.
Except it doesn’t go as planned. Committed to flooring it, I completely forget we are still in manual mode, and I end up pegging the rev limiter in first gear! Dyahe, dude. Marc doesn’t mind too much and he switches the transmission to Drive for me. Game on! I can’t push the car as hard as he does, because once the speed begins to rise, I can’t contain my hysterical laughter. The feeling of the scenery blasting past—and how the tunnel vision effect happens—is just unreal.
Having the roof down amplifies the experience as the engine and exhaust notes ring toward the heavens. The guttural tone sounds great. It can be addictive, that’s for sure. This car is like having a thrill ride parked in your garage, ready any time you feel the need, or when the road opens up. I’m pretty sure the 488 is too much car for me and I will get into a lot of trouble with something this monstrous.
But make no mistake: It’s easy to handle. You don’t need to be a professional to take it to your own personal limits because there’s a host of traction and stability control programs that have been honed on a Formula 1 simulator.
Specific gear ratios combined with variable torque management deliver fast shifts. The side slip angle control system (SSC2) delivers longitudinal acceleration out of corners (think controllable power oversteer), while the SCM3 magnetorheological dampers give the driver a better feeling of control or comfort when required. Finally, a sophisticated electronic stability program provides ABS intervention in low-grip situations. If you have the balls, you can turn all these off with a flick of the manettino. We don’t even dare.
We end the two-day shoot by parking the 488 Spider at the center of a horse corral. We joke around by holding whips, pretending the Ferrari is a thoroughbred that needs to be broken in. Poignant, really, because this car truly is the fastest thing I have ever driven. It does beg the question: “What’s the next level to this?”
Trust us when we say the mad scientists in Maranello are probably already working on that. Surprise us, Ferrari. We expect nothing less from your storied factory.