Ferrari’s V8 mid-engined bloodline began in 1975 with the 308 GTB. I’ve lost count of the number of Ferrari fans I’ve met over the years for whom this was their entry point, a fascination fostered by the car’s prominence in Eighties US television behemoth Magnum PI. Those square-eyed kids are now running big companies – plenty in Silicon Valley – and they’re buying big-money toys, Ferraris among them. Never underestimate the power of pop culture.
The 308 has morphed across seven subsequent generations, reflecting the vast technological changes that have occurred in the past 45 years. Its power output is just one barometer: the original’s 255bhp was pretty good back in the day, but puny compared to the 488 GTB’s 661bhp. But even that is no longer enough. The latest evolution, the F8 Tributo, makes an enormous 710bhp. That’s some sort of inflation right there.
As is the Ferrari way, the new car builds on the ultimate version of the previous model, in this case the extraordinary 488 Pista. Ferrari’s limited series cars are always deliberately hardcore affairs, arguably too much for some tastes. So the F8 takes the Pista’s intense dynamic focus and adds greater refinement and on-board comfort. It’s also a bridge to the next phase in Ferrari’s ever-evolving design language, although the company’s Centro Stile design department has clearly been rehearsing on Ferrari’s SP one-offs (the most exclusive model line of all – the one wherein you get to design your own Ferrari). As for the Tributo name, well Ferrari’s 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 is a multiple award-winner so they’ve modestly decided to pay tribute to themselves with this new car. It’s not all ego, though; a new downsized V6 is in the pipeline, so this might well be the V8’s last hurrah.
This latest bi-turbo unit really is something: it produces 710bhp at 8,000rpm, 568lb ft of torque and borrows much of its hardware from the 488 Challenge racing car. Ferrari is the absolute master of internal combustion and the moving parts in this engine are lighter, stronger and more efficient.
The redesigned exhaust manifold is 9.7kg lighter than the 488’s, it’s made of race-spec Inconel, it’s cleaner and up to 5dB louder. On the F8 Tributo, you effectively get more from – and for – less. Amazing.
Is it beautiful? After a fashion. Ferraris are clearly much more technical-looking cars these days, but rather than be cowed by the demands of the aerodynamics guys, the company’s design team takes inspiration from it. So while ducts, slashes and intakes eat into the car’s curves, it’s all very artfully done. It’s also a riot of detail: there are brake cooling intakes at the top of the headlight apertures, the blown rear spoiler has been reworked and its turning vanes increase downforce without adding drag and the underbody now features vortex generators. Yep, even the underside of this car looks cool. A lightweight rear screen made of a material called Lexan harks back to the epochal, late Eighties Ferrari F40.
Power, as Boris Johnson knows all too well, is nothing without control. A 710bhp, twin-turbo V8 is all well and good, but you’ve got to channel it to the road properly, make it accessible to as wide a spectrum of drivers as possible. To which end, the F8 uses the sort of software firepower that really is the stuff of Silicon Valley. Lord knows how many billion lines of code this thing is running, but the effect is voodoo. Ferrari has now reached v6.1 of its SSC (Side Slip Control) programme and newly integrated it with the "Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer".
A lozenge-like switch on the steering wheel – a Manettino, in Ferrari parlance – gives the driver various chassis control options. Select "race" mode and even novices can get a taste of what it feels like to balance a powerful supercar on the edge of adhesion. If you know what you’re doing, it’s hilarious fun. If you don’t, just let the electronics do their thing to deliver a corner exit speed that’s truly ballistic. In fact it’s ballistic everywhere, the engine’s geometry calibrated so that there’s monumental shove and zero lag, in pretty much every gear, from any speed. Like all contemporary Ferraris, its steering feels hyperactive to begin with, but it gets better as you learn to be more precise with your inputs. The F8 also rides beautifully, its gearbox is ultra-fast but still feels engaging and its brakes are immense. It is a genuinely incredible thing to drive.
Inside, the F8 Tributo feels beautifully well made and the driving position is fabulous, although the pedals are a little too close together – nothing that a pair of Berluti driving shoes won’t solve. The dash architecture is the now familiar Ferrari mix of swoops, vents and scoops. The main display keeps the rev counter front and centre, with supplementary screens either side for engine and chassis info, and audio and sat nav. The new generation, F1-inspired, multifunction steering wheel is similarly easier to use now; the indicator buttons actually do what they’re supposed to and you are less likely to trigger the wipers when you want, say, full beam. You might fancy the carbon fibre wheel with the LED strip lights inset at the top and the air vents have been redesigned and also look particularly good in carbon fibre. A central bridge houses transmission controls and looks great (even better in, yes, carbon fibre). It’s an expensive material and Ferrari knows how to charge for it: tick all the boxes on the options list for a full carbon cabin and it will add – wait for it – $41,417 to the F8 Tributo’s $251,538 list price. Hell, a smoking kit costs $415, which is kinda pricey for an ash-tray. And it’s not even made of carbon fibre.
Of course, griping about the cost is academic. Most owners add an average of $55,000 to the price of their new Ferrari and if you venture down the company’s Tailor-Made rabbit hole you’ll be deep into six figures before you know it. These cars are entertainment, emotional as well as financial investments, objects that deliver a dividend without even turning a wheel. But they’re also major engineering achievements and with the F8 Tributo never has it been so easy to access the very specific high-performance thrill that is driving a Ferrari. It's a Magnum opus, you might say.