Fer­rari 488 GTB vs. McLaren 650S

Fer­rari 488 GTB vs. McLaren 650S

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Contents - Words by JV Co­layco Pho­tog­ra­phy by Ian Mag­banua

No one ex­pected a turbo’d Fer­rari to be this good. It has si­lenced crit­ics

Un­less you’re one of the for­tu­nate few to be given a new sports car upon pass­ing your driv­ing exam, the normal Filipino per­for­mance-car en­thu­si­ast be­gins with a much hum­bler ride. If you work hard, you’ll prob­a­bly move up to a proper per­for­mance car. And with many more late hours at the of­fice and—let’s be hon­est—a whole lot of luck, you could end up with a cov­eted Euro­pean icon.

One’s par­tic­u­lar route up the per­for­mance totem pole can vary and me­an­der, and only a select few are able to make it to the very top. But whichever way you go, ei­ther for real or only in your dreams, that sum­mit al­most al­ways ends in Italy—and al­most al­ways with Fer­rari.

The 488 GTB is suc­ces­sor to the now-leg­endary 458 Italia. On pa­per, it’s ex­ceed­ingly alike the McLaren 650S. Both are mid-en­gined coupes with tur­bocharged flat-plane V8s of sim­i­lar dis­place­ment. Both sport dual-clutch trans­mis­sions and have highly con­fig­urable driv­e­trains and sus­pen­sions, managed by so­phis­ti­cated elec­tron­ics. Fi­nally, both are designed to offer ev­ery­day us­abil­ity, while be­ing among the fastest things on four wheels that money can buy.

And yet they are also sur­pris­ingly dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter and phi­los­o­phy. Un­like the 650S, the 488 uses alu­minum for its body, and more traditional mag­netic dampers and roll bars for its sus­pen­sion. Ev­ery­thing is in­te­grated un­der the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of the Side Slip Con­trol sys­tem, which co­or­di­nates pow­er­train, sus­pen­sion, and elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial to en­sure the car goes around cor­ners as quickly as pos­si­ble while also flattering the driver.

What’s re­ally strik­ing about the 488— aside from the fact that it’s crazy, stupid, swear-like-a-sailor-and-gig­gle­like-a-school­girl fast—is how easy it is to get com­fort­able with. All the key con­trols for driv­ing in­put—steer­ing, throt­tle, brakes, and trans­mis­sion—are ei­ther very light or have an im­me­di­acy of re­sponse that is so in­tu­itive. The tiller’s con­trol lay­out is a head scratcher at first, but once ac­cli­ma­tized, you be­gin to won­der why more car­mak­ers haven’t adopted a sim­i­lar setup.

This is the first time a mi­dengined Fer­rari has em­ployed forced in­duc­tion since the F40. Since the in­dus­try’s rekin­dled love af­fair with the tur­bocharger, car­mak­ers have bent over back­wards to hype their lat­est tech promis­ing to elim­i­nate turbo lag. None of them have nailed it like Fer­rari. Okay, so this V8 doesn’t quite have the scalpelsharp throt­tle re­sponse of nor­mally aspi­rated per­for­mance en­gines, but in the real world, this is the clos­est to ze­ro­lag we’ve got­ten. And it still sounds as a Fer­rari should—the folks at Maranello know how to tune an ex­haust note bet­ter than all the rest.

Fab­u­lous tech and as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance aside, the 488 feels like a liv­ing, breath­ing thing. Whether trundling along at boule­vard cruising speeds or blast­ing down the high­way, the car sim­ply feels alive in a way that, clichéd as it may be, has al­ways been the hall­mark of ev­ery Fer­rari.

The 650S is a tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vel. But does it have what it takes to beat the 488?

McLaren’s road-car business is much younger, kick­ing off with the ul­tra-ex­clu­sive McLaren F1. Many still con­sider it the great­est, purest su­per­car ever made; in fact, it could be ar­gued that it was the first hy­per­car, be­fore the term was even in­vented. But it wasn’t un­til 2011 that McLaren launched its first mass-pro­duced road car, the MP4- 12C. Closely re­lated to it is the suc­ceed­ing 650S, much more so than the 488 is to the Italia.

McLaren in­tro­duced car­bon-fiber con­struc­tion to F1 cars al­most four decades ago, so it’s only fit­ting that it’s the first to em­ploy this tech­nol­ogy in mass-pro­duced road cars. The ‘mono­cell’ forms the core of the 650S body, mak­ing it ex­tremely strong and light. The 650S also fea­tures Proac­tive Chas­sis Con­trol, an ac­tive sus­pen­sion that uses in­ter­linked hy­draulics to con­trol roll with­out the use of traditional anti-roll bars. It in­stan­ta­neously ad­justs damp­ing de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, as other ac­tive-sus­pen­sion set­ups do, but its party piece is it also al­lows a level of ride com­fort be­yond those of con­ven­tional sys­tems.

You sit in one of the most driver­fo­cused en­vi­ron­ments of any mod­ern road car. The 650S seems to shrinkwrap it­self around you, in a way that makes it so much eas­ier to es­ti­mate its ex­trem­i­ties and place it pre­cisely on the road or cor­ner apex. The im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion of get­ting into the Fer­rari after driv­ing the McLaren is that the former feels like a much big­ger car— partly be­cause the in­te­rior is roomier, but also be­cause the Ital­ian’s frontal area feels a lot larger.

The 650S does the trundling-around­town thing well. Ride qual­ity in Com­fort mode ri­vals those of many sports sedans over all but the bump­i­est roads, and is bet­ter than the al­ready eye-open­ing ride of the 488. But there’s a slug­gish­ness to the McLaren’s re­sponses that proves this is a car designed for per­for­mance first, and the daily drive sec­ond. Steer­ing is slower and heav­ier, throt­tle travel is longer, and the gear­box feels a half­sec­ond tardier, ver­sus the 488.

On the open road, however, the 650S comes back into its own. Its steer­ing brims with feed­back—much more so than the Fer­rari’s, which seems to have con­sciously given up tac­til­ity and feel for pre­ci­sion and quick­ness. And that car­bon tub is no gim­mick: There’s a much stronger sense of so­lid­ity and struc­tural rigid­ity that be­lie the car’s nim­ble­ness and lithe re­flexes.

Power de­liv­ery is down­right old­school compared with the 488’ s vir­tu­ally lag-free re­ac­tions and creamy lin­ear­ity. Leave the trans­mis­sion to shift on its own in the most ag­gres­sive Track set­ting, and the 650S is very good at keeping you in the meaty part of the power­band, de­spite its gear­box feel­ing a full gen­er­a­tion older than its ri­val’s. But opt­ing to shift gears your­self re­veals that this is a car that can still catch you off­boost if you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion. Hav­ing said that, there’s a fre­netic rush at the 650S’s top end that’s even more ur­gent than that in the 488.

‘The McLaren’s joys are not nearly as ac­ces­si­ble’

The 650S is a tech­ni­cal tour de force: Of­fer­ing hy­per­car tech­nol­ogy at a su­per­car price, it takes the fight right to Fer­rari and the rest of the su­per­car es­tab­lish­ment.

The 488 GTB, too, is an en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel, not only for its stag­ger­ing per­for­mance, but even more so for how Maranello has dis­tilled the essence of what a su­per­car must feel like and drive like into its cars. Fer­rari has a peer­less grasp of what po­ten­tial cus­tomers ex­pect: sound and the­ater, per­for­mance and ex­cite­ment, in a pack­age that can be used to pick up the wife and cruise the high street in style and com­fort.

The McLaren’s joys are not nearly as ac­ces­si­ble; you need to spend time with it to fully ap­pre­ci­ate and en­joy all it has to offer. Bru­tally fast in a straight line, and spook­ily pre­cise as it carves a tight cor­ner with vir­tu­ally no hint of body roll, the 650S lacks the ex­u­ber­ance and ex­tro­vert joie de­vivre of the 488. It would rather sit in the cor­ner and cal­cu­late the most ef­fi­cient way through an S-curve for you, whereas the 488 grabs its driver’s hand and shouts, “Let’s go, let’s do this! Sei­mag­nifico!”

My per­sonal choice would be the 650S. But that prob­a­bly says more about me and my per­sonal pri­or­i­ties than it does about the Mac or the Fer­rari. And if some­one else said—as most peo­ple gen­er­ally seem to— that he pre­ferred the Ital­ian car, I would com­pletely un­der­stand.

Oh, what a won­der­ful time to be an en­thu­si­ast.

You’re bound to turn heads wher­ever you go

One look and you know it’s a Fer­rari

The 650S feels more of an event than the 488

The Mac ou­t­ex­otics the Pranc­ing Horse

Two of the very fastest stock cars on our roads to­day

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