The Ferrari 488 GTB is a practical car that one can take for a leisurely drive through the city

A three-hour plane ride and four hours by road is a long way to go to test drive a car. But when that car in question is a Ferrari, then it is all worthwhile. The destination was Chiang Rai, about 100km north of the popular Thai city of Chiang Mai and close to the Myanmar border.

The car in question was the Ferrari 488 GTB, which has a sexy cousin in the 488 Spider. The location was chosen partly for its quiet roads and spiralling mountain climbs, which gave the Ferrari an opportunity to show off its handling at fast speeds.

The 488’s shape takes inspiration from its predecessor, the 458 Italia, with a bit of the LaFerrari hypercar thrown in for good measure. Despite these obvious influences, the 488 has its own unique style, thanks to some major remodelling work.

Its bumper mid-section incorporates a pair of vertical struts similar to those connecting an F1 car’s front wing to its body, just one of the many angles where the car looks superb. Another great angle is from the back, with large and stunning tail lights and a sleek grille. Also at the rear, the split diffuser has been replaced by a full piece with an F1-inspired light in the centre. With the two large exhausts on each side of the diffuser’s centre section, there is no mistaking the 488’s supercar status.

Inside the cabin, the 488 is not very different from the 458. This means everything has been set up for minimal effort from the driver, as virtually all the controls are either on the steering wheel or close by. Like the 458, the 488’s steering wheel has a small lever that can be twisted to select one of five distinct driving modes.

Each mode changes the car’s throttle response, gear shift pattern, suspension settings, exhaust note and stability control behaviour. The Wet mode dials everything down, and Sport is the default setting for normal driving. Race, CT Off and ESC Off put the car in maximum performance mode with decreasing levels of protection from the car’s electronic stability control.

On the electronic driver display, along with the speedometer, you will find a lap timer, G-meter and a vehicle status monitor, which shows when parts of the car are at their optimum temperature. It looks very hi-tech and reminds you that this is a car designed to be raced, not just to look good cruising down Orchard Road.

Speed limits in Thailand are a bit more generous than in Singapore, so there was a chance to really open it up, getting up to speeds of almost 130kph, without breaking into a sweat. The drive was so assured that I could have taken both hands off the wheel and let the car take control. Carbon ceramic brakes deliver unbelievably quick stopping power.

All this muscle power comes via the new, twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 engine, which sits in the back of the car. It produces a beastly 660bhp power output and muscle-straining 760Nm of torque. Some diehard Ferrari fans have been critical of newer models such as the 488, which have been turbocharged rather than naturally aspirated.

My answer would be to push one above 100kph and feel the raw power available before you start complaining. It is like scoring the winning goal in a cup final, a feeling that will never lose its thrill and excitement. By the way, it makes the century sprint in just three seconds, although it actually feels faster in real life. And looking at the stats will also make you think twice about turbocharged engines. The 488’s engine produces 90bhp and 220Nm of torque more than the 458 Italia’s 4.5-litre naturally aspirated engine. Case dismissed.

From its eye-catching shape to low baritone growl, there is no mistaking this is a Ferrari. What has changed, however, is that the Prancing Horse has been tamed a little, as this is one of the most driveable Ferraris I have ever been in.

Gone are the days of jumping into the cockpit only to be intimidated by all the knobs and dials. Gone too is that unwieldy feeling that if you lose the slightest bit of concentration, the Ferrari will veer off the road and kill you.

Driveable and practical are not two words you would normally find in a Ferrari review, but times have changed under its new owners. Speaking of practicality, the car even has a decent-sized boot and glove compartment, as well as a small parcel shelf behind the seats for a bit of extra luggage. The result is a Ferrari you can drive around the city every day in comfort and luxury and, sometimes, at speed.

FERRARI 488 GTB
$995,000 excluding
COE Engine: 3,902cc, V8, twin turbocharged
Power/torque: 660bhp/760Nm
Fuel consumption: 11.4L/100km
0 to 100kph: Three seconds
Top speed: 330kph

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

This article appeared in Issue 774 (April 10) of The Edge Singapore.