04 June 2014 - 12:00
Get ready for the turbocharged Ferrari 458
Ferrari has promised us a thoroughly refreshed version of the 458 next year. And they're being entirely open that it'll get a turbo.
The refresh is in line with the company's long-term plan, as reiterated by Fiat Group boss Sergio Marchionne just last month. Each main model gets a four-year life, then a refresh to take it onward for another four years. This has been the strategy for the past several years. Marchionne called these intermediate models "M" for modified (remember the 512M, 456M and 575M Maranello). But most have actually been sold under other names. Like when the California became the California T.
In fact the thing's a bit late: the 458 Italia was actually announced nearer to five years ago, at the 2009 Frankfurt show, But Ferrari has been going flat-out with new cars lately, finishing the 458 Speciale, LaFerrari and California T.
Anyway, what do we expect from the 458M, or whatever it's called? (We do have an idea for the name, as I'll explain in a bit, but it's no more than pure guesswork.)
Carrying on with the naturally aspirated engine wasn't an option. Ferrari's powertrain director Vittorio Dini told me recently that that heavenly, crazy and wild V8 in the 458 Speciale - with its 9000rpm, 14-to-one CR, and 451kW from just 4.5 litres - is the final epic goodbye howl of the firm's naturally aspirated V8 line.
Why? Because Ferrari must steadily reduce its CO2 average. Maranello doesn't have to meet the same CO2 targets as Fiat or Ford of course. It gets special small-manufacturer exemptions. But the threat is that if it doesn't show a downward trend, the exemption will get pulled. The 1999 360 Modena rated 415g/km. The 458 Speciale is down to 275g/km, and the new car has to be lower again.
CEO Amedeo Felisa, himself an engineer, told me, on the day we drove the California T, that turbocharging is the way to do it for 'the next model' (i.e. the 458 successor) too. The electric hybrid system on the LaFerrari would add even more efficiency than turbos, but it's too expensive and heavy and complicated.
He said it with the expression of a man who had been massively stressed delivering LaFerrari - notwithstanding its brilliance - and wouldn't be doing it again soon. "It was as hard as we ever imagined it would be." Felisa added that another hybrid Ferrari wouldn't happen until there is a major breakthrough in battery performance, and he said that's at least five years away.
I asked why they ended up with a capacity of 3855cc for the California T's turbo V8. He said it's under four litres, which is important for tax reasons in some countries. I observed it's some way under 4000cc, and he smiled and said, "Yes we can go higher." I'm taking that to mean the 458 successor's engine will be very close to 4.0 litres in capacity.
So, some pure guesswork about the name, because I'm too lazy to keep typing '458 successor'. Let's call it 408T shall we? Ever since the 2.0-litre V6 206 Dino, many of the two-seat mid-engine Ferrari GT sports car have been named by that logic: capacity for the first two digits, cylinders for the last. There were even two mid-engine prototypes called 408 in 1987, designed by Mauro Forghieri just before he left to design Lamborghini's F1 engine.
Felisa is adamant the new generation of turbo engines won't actually have dramatically new characteristics. They will feel like the N/A engines they replace, he stresses. So the new engine in the 408T (see how that trips off the tongue?) will be related to the one in the California T, but rev higher, as well as being bigger. Those two things both point to more power: together they point to a lot more power.
The California T has 417kW. The Speciale has already taken the 458 family over 448kW, so the 408T will probably go towards the McLaren 650S's 484kW. The California T has complex exhaust manifolding to preserve the Ferrari flat-crank V8 aural timbre. In the 408 it will have to be louder than that. The Cali T also has an unusual boost map that constrains low-rev torque in the low gears. This gives the impression of quick response, and encourages you to rev high to get the full performance. The same technique will suit the 408T too.
But the California T has small blowers to cut lag. They restrict the exhaust at high revs, which is why the red-line is 7500rpm. The only way to get higher revs, says Dini, is bigger turbos, and they give some low-rev lag. But it's likely that's the way the 408 will go, to mimic the 458's high-revving character. The new engine will also get a dry sump, whereas the Cali is wet-sump, so there are many differences.
The 408T's basic structure, in aluminium, will not change greatly from the 458's. But the design and aero will be developed. The California, remember, had a complete reskin bar the roof. The changes to the mid-engined car will be less drastic, because the 458 already meets Ferrari's current styling memes.
What will change the looks is the need for new cooling, because there will need to be extra intakes and outlets for the turbos' intercoolers. Plus it will need extra engine bay draught, to stop the red-hot blower housings from causing meltdown in their surroundings. Ferrari won't want a repeat of the embarrassing and costly fires that beset early 458s.
Overall weight should drop a little: the new turbo V8 family is slightly more compact and lighter than the old naturally aspirated engines, and the Speciale's shell shows how Ferrari's ceaseless refinement of its many aluminium alloys keeps shaving off a few kilos here and there.
So it'll be faster. But I asked Felisa how much the straight-line performance war could go on. "For sure we are reaching the end of that road," he answered. He then surprised me with a pretty major shift in philosophy. "We need a more complex measure. Even for the Fiorano lap time, we are at a limit."
And so he said a Nurburgring test was more appropriate. Gulp. Ferrari has always shied away from that measure - we suspected because the Italians didn't want direct comparisons with Porsches and the rest who quote a 'Ring lap time so freely.
Felisa elaborated by saying it wasn't just the lap time that mattered, but the feelings and sensations. The stuff you can't actually measure. By way of explanation, he added that when they developed the FF, its distinctive silhouette meant they couldn't drive it on their local roads because the disguise would be blown. So they used Alfa Romeo's photographer-proof track at Balocco. "Then at the end we got it back to our own mountain roads, we had to do the setup all over again. We are of our place."
So whatever engine tech they use on the 408T, and however much they test it at Der 'Ring, the thing should feel pretty mega when it's hooning up and down the hills south of Maranello.