Ferrari celebrates its mid-engined V8 sports car heritage with a heavily revised and more powerful version of the 488 GTB

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The Ferrari F8 Tributo is billed as a replacement for the 488 GTB, Ferrari’s ‘entry-level’ mid-engined supercar, but in reality it’s a very heavy facelift of that model. Claimed to mix some of the grunt, grip and ‘gorblimey’ of the 488 Pista with the everyday civility of the 488 GTB, it could just be the greatest all-rounder of the current super sports car crop.

The 'Tributo' name? That’s a nod to the car featuring the most powerful V8 engine so far in a series-production Ferrari and as a celebration of the past 40-odd years of the firm’s mid-engined V8-powered berlinettas. Oh, and it could also be a ‘tribute’ to the pure internal combustion V8 before it’s given the hybridisation treatment, although nobody at Ferrari is willing to admit that. So there you go.

At low revs there’s a baritone blare that gives way to a hard-edged metallic mid-range through the operatic top end howl. This is an engine that has you rifling up and down gears just to hear the constant change in note

So, what do we have? Well, compared to the 488 GTB, the F8 Tributo delivers an extra 50bhp and a 10% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency, plus it weighs 30kg less - all of which gives credence to the claim that it's faster and more agile than its predecessor.

You could take up all of the space in this review just talking about the engine itself, such are the changes. Based on the twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre unit used in the 488 Pista, the F8 Tributo's V8 packs 710bhp at 8000rpm and 568lb ft (a very modest increase of 7lb ft over the 488 GTB) at 3250rpm. Air is now fed inside using the intake plumbing from the 488 Challenge race car, with the external intakes now housed either side of the rear spoiler for a shorter route to the redesigned plenums (available in either crackle red or carbonfibre, naturally). There are new valves and springs that work on a revised camshaft profile, plus the cylinder heads and pistons have been strengthened to cope with the increased loads.

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Carried over from the 488 Pista are the titanium conrods, crankshaft and flywheel that help reduce inertia by 17%. Finally, there’s a new exhaust system that both improves gas flow and meets ever stricter noise legislation. That said, the inclusion of petrol particulate filters has also removed some of the exhaust’s natural bombast. To counter this, Ferrari's engineers have created the Hot Tube Resonator, a pipe that runs from just downstream of one of the turbochargers, up through the C-pillar and to the bulkhead just behind the driver, where it delivers ‘natural’ augmented sound.

Aerodynamics also play their part in the higher power output, the enhancement in cooling airflow into the plenum resulting in a 15deg C drop in intake temperatures. Of course, most of the aerodynamic work has been aimed at boosting downforce without any increase in drag. To this end, the F8 Tributo adopts a similar S-duct layout as the 488 Pista, with air channelled in through the bumper and out over the bonnet, helping to deliver 15% of the F8’s overall downforce improvement. There’s also a new ‘blown’ rear spoiler that contributes 25% of the gain, while works in harmony with a revised rear diffuser (20%) that uses the now-familiar trio of adaptive flaps that are controlled automatically depending on a variety of factors including speed, load and yaw. Using lessons learned from both the 488 Pista and the 488 Challenge, the radiators housed in the nose have been repackaged, allowing the introduction of new front diffusers that deliver 25% of the aero gains, while in the middle of the underbody are vortex generators that conjure up the final 15%.

With increased straight-line pace and improved aerodynamics comes the requirement for enhanced handling, which in the case of a Ferrari means even more sophisticated control systems. For starters, we’re now onto version 6.1 of the firm’s Side Slip Control (SSC), which allows every greater oversteer before seamlessly intervening to save tyres and blushes. This system now works with the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer (FDE), which debuts its latest ‘Plus’ (FDE+) upgrade on the F8 Tributo. Essentially a very fancy torque vectoring and stability control system, it very subtly massages the brakes on the exit of corners for an even faster exit. Crucially, it now features a wider bandwidth, being able to operate in both Race and CT-off modes. Ferrari reckons the combination of SSC and FDE+ allows you to exit corners 6% faster than the 488 GTB, which is incremental to say the least. Spring and damper rates are, with some minor tweaking, pretty much the same as the 488 GTB’s.

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The final piece of the performance increase puzzle is the reduction in weight. By using those titanium engine components, a Lexan rear screen, lighter front and rear bumpers and carbonfibre rear spoiler 30kg has been shaved from the 488 GTB’s kerb weight, meaning the F8 Tributo tips the scales at 1435kg. Opt for the 488 Pista-style carbonfibre wheels (which you’ll be able to do once the 488 Pista orders have been fulfilled) and you can lop a further 10kg from the overall figure.

How does the F8 Tributo evolve Ferrari's styling?

Before you even so much as grab the door handle, you’ll need to take a moment to take in the F8 Tributo’s exterior, styled not by Pinninfarina but Ferrari's in-house Centro Stile studio. The firm's ever-increasing push to kneel at the altar of aerodynamics means the F8 Tributo isn’t an elegant car in the traditional sense, but there’s something very appealing about its overt visual aggression. The roof and doors are carried over from the 488 GTB, but everything else is new, with almost every scooped, scalloped, vented and vortexed surface having been penned with the single-minded pursuit of performance.

The focus is equally evident inside: the low-slung driving position helps place you squarely at the centre of the action, while there’s the familiar cowled rev-counter flanked by the TFT dials and new, smaller-diameter steering wheel that houses all the major controls within a finger or thumb stretch. The deep and wide windscreen gives a great view forward, while the minimalist layout of the dashboard reinforces the sense of lightness. That’s not to say this is some stripped-out special; the acres of soft leather and artful slivers of carbonfibre mean this is an interior that exudes class.

How does the F8 Tributo perform on road and track?

Press the wheel-mounted red starter button and the V8 yelps into life before settling to an urgent idle. Pull the right-hand paddle to catch first in the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, squeeze the throttle and you’re away – quickly, because this thing is fast. Gasp then laugh at absurdity of it all fast. Ferrari claims the 0-62mph sprint takes 2.9sec, which is basically hypercar-quick. And it feels it. Name any mainstream McLaren model and the F8 Tributo feels like it has it covered.

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Like the 488 Pista and 488 GTB, the F8 Tributo benefits from the clever Variable Boost Management system that ramps up torque gradually and naturally so there’s simply no turbo lag, just instant, savage response to your right foot, the car accelerating precisely as much as you ask for. No matter what the revs or what the gear it just goes, punching with real violence and revving quickly and freely all the way to the 8000rpm cut-out. So well integrated are the turbochargers that it doesn’t feel like there’s forced induction at work here, instead like a naturally aspirated unit with huge reserves of torque and an insatiable appetite for revs.

This impression of warp-drive acceleration is enhanced by the gearbox, which delivers upshifts so quick and smooth that they're close to seamless. Downshifts are even more entertaining, thanks to a quick blip of the throttle and the explosive cracks and pops from the exhausts.

Speaking of noise, the V8 still lacks the operatic quality we expect from a Ferrari; there’s not the same tingly and fizzing raw appeal as the old naturally aspirated unit of the 458. But those days are long gone, and this is the new reality, so we just have to deal with it. At low revs there’s a baritone blare that gives way to a hard-edged metallic mid-range through the operatic top end howl. This is an engine that has you rifling up and down gears just to hear the constant change in note. That Hot Tube helps here, channelling more of the noise inside, although its proximity to the turbocharger means a little more whistle and wastegate chatter.

Yet Maranello’s neatest trick is to have developed a chassis that makes such volcanic performance accessible. Much of the suspension and many of the control systems are either carried over or improved 488 Pista and 488 GTB hardware, meaning the F8 Tributo benefits from a rare balance and approachability through the corners. This is still a 710bhp mid-engined Ferrari, so respect is needed, but its ability to reward from the first turn of the wheel is arguably unrivalled in this sector.

As we’ve come to expect from Ferrari, the steering is extremely quick, but not to the point of nervousness. No more than a quarter turn of lock is needed to aim the F8 Tributo through most bends. So alert and grippy is the front end that you can pick your line with laser-guided precision, the car rotating quickly yet progressively, allowing you to feel the cornering loads build equally across the axles. This then gives you confidence to lean on the increasingly excellent Slide Slip Control and start edging the tail out a little, even on the road. The systems will intervene if you’re spiky with your inputs, but be smooth and the SSC works with you to deliver effortless and natural oversteer. So approachable is the F8 Tributo that it quickly gives you the confidence to wave ciao to the stability control so that you can fully revel in its poise, balance and adjustability.

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It’s this expressiveness that’s at the heart of the F8 Tributo’s appeal, and it's something it shares with both the 488 GTB and the 488 Pista. While many supercars only unlock their secrets at maximum attack, the F8 Tributo gives you options at saner speeds, allowing to enjoy more of its talents for more of the time. There’s a natural feeling transparency on offer here that makes you feel like you’re getting the most from the car, even though deep down you know it’s the brilliance of Ferrari’s chassis engineers making you look good. There’s still danger lurking - this is a 710bhp mid-engined Ferrari after all - but so faithfully does the F8 Tributo telegraph its intentions that you won’t be able to say you didn’t get fair warning.

Arguably, the F8 Tributo’s real party trick is combining near-488 Pista performance, precision and playfulness with everyday usability. The adaptive dampers’ Bumpy Road setting brings a real plushness to the ride, while at a cruise the exhaust note is a distant blare. There’s all the usual infotainment options (although the standard sat-nav is hopeless, plus soft leather for the seats and thick carpet for the floors). You could - and would - use the F8 Tributo every day, even if Ferrari’s people reckon most owners only take to the road on high days and holidays.

How does the F8 Tributo compare to its main rivals?

If you’ve got £200k burning a hole in the pocket of your tailored trousers, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t consider an F8 Tributo. The McLaren 720S might be a fraction faster and Lamborghini Huracán has that engine, but neither can match the extraordinary exploitability of the Ferrari's performance and handling. No it’s not quite as razor-sharp and raucous as the 488 Pista, but then it’s not meant to be; there’ll no doubt be a limited run Special Series of the F8 Tributo in due course for those who need those few extra percent of aggression.

The turbocharged engine is still far from perfect, but it’s colossal performance and response can’t be argued with, while the seven-speed twin-clutcher is magnificent. Then there’s the subtle but worthwhile upgrades to the brakes and an interior that’s even more habitable; there’s not even somewhere to put the keyless entry fob.

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This may or may not be the last hurrah for the pure internal combustion V8 powered mid-engined Ferrari, but either way, you should fill your boots now. Until there’s a hardcore Special Series version, that is. And an Aperta version of both.

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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

Ferrari F8 Tributo 2019-2022 First drives