Take a test drive in Ferrari's new 488 GTB

As someone who's had the good fortune of riding in some of the best Ferraris of all time — from a 250 GTO to a LaFerrari — I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the automaker's new 488 GTB.

After all, this was a turbo-engine vehicle coming from a company made famous for its supercars' naturally aspirated roar and howl. And in photos, the 488's hulking side vents looked out of proportion to its otherwise classic grace.

I was wrong.

After spending a day with the 488 GTB, recently named Car of the Year by Robb Report magazine, I can say two things: It is a vision to look at, and a full-body blood-rush to drive.

The surprises start when you turn on the engine. Much has been made about Ferrari switching to turbos, causing many aficionados to worry that the "whoosh" of a turbocharger would kill the Ferrari engine sound so many buyers crave.

But as soon as you press the start button (there is no ignition key to turn), the 488 rumbles to life with a satisfying growl and roar. When you power out of a stoplight, kicking through the gears in rapid-fire succession, the engine sound behind your head is unmistakable Ferrari. There is also none of the dreaded "turbo lag" that you get with other turbo-powered sports cars.

The 488, in fact, racks up better performance numbers than its celebrated nonturbo predecessor, the 458. It goes from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat, can put out 660 horsepower (compared with the 562 horsepower for the 458), and is lighter, longer and wider — making it more agile on the track.

The new 488 delivers all that at up to 20 mpg, more than 15 percent more fuel efficient than the 458. (Not that anyone who drives a Ferrari cares about pump prices.)

Yet to me, what makes the 488 GTB stand apart is its balance — not just on the road but in the driver's seat. Taking fast turns, ripping out of a stoplight, braking sharply along a corner and accelerating from a 60-mph start all feel effortless — and even graceful — in the 488. It is power and finesse combined.

Ferrari’s new 488 GTB.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Ferrari’s new 488 GTB.

In the driver's seat, the 488 feels comforting and intuitive. Unlike some Ferraris of the past, anyone can get in the 488 and drive to the store with just a 30-second primer. The paddle shifters, dials, turn signals, window controls, radio dials and suspension settings are all right where you would expect them to be and easy to use.

But when you punch the accelerator, this easy-going cruiser instantly becomes a race car. Speed comes easily in the 488 — too easily, I discovered, when coming around a corner to find a vigilant patrol car (I was still within the speed limit ... barely).

It's like a tuxedoed James Bond who transforms into a human weapon with the flash of a villain's gun. The beauty and beast coexist as one seamless machine rather than battling opposites. It's your daily driver to get groceries during the week and the racetrack ringer on the weekends.

Not that the 488 is perfect. If you want to buy one, the starting price is $245,000, and it can easily top $300,000 with amenities. Even if you have the $300,000, you'll have to hold on; the current waiting list for the 488 is about two years.

But for those with the money and time, the 488 GTB is not just another Ferrari. It's better.

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