x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The air bag: What kind of note will Ferrari’s downsized engines strike?

Kevin Hackett wonders how Ferrari's more efficient engines might affect driving enjoyment.

The new California T’s engine is smaller but more powerful. Courtesy Ferrari
The new California T’s engine is smaller but more powerful. Courtesy Ferrari

Many years ago, I wrote for a car magazine in the United States and had a monthly opinion column in which I was free to rant and rave about whatever I wanted. It was a wonderful way to blow off some steam and get certain things off my chest with impunity – and, one particular month, I voiced the opinion that it was perhaps high time that car manufacturers made their engines more efficient by making them smaller, yet retaining their existing outputs and performance figures via forced induction. The turbocharger and supercharger both had roles to play, I reasoned, in making performance cars more environmentally and socially ­acceptable.

The main problem with writing for that magazine, however, was that nobody read it, so my ramblings were little more than a case of me talking to myself. But, when it came to downsizing engines and keeping them powerful, for once I seem to have been onto something. These days, almost everyone’s doing it.

For proof that the benefits of forced induction outweigh the negatives traditionally associated with it, you need only look at the V8 engine in the accompanying photograph. That work of art is what resides under the bonnet of Ferrari’s new California T and, nestled within its plumbing, are two turbochargers. The engine itself is of a smaller capacity than the six-year-old outgoing model’s (3.85L compared to 4.3L), but it’s both more powerful – producing an extra 70hp – and more efficient, having dropped its carbon emissions by a sixth to 250 grams per kilometre. It drinks less, too.

So, more power and more efficiency – what’s not to like? Well, a couple of things. Firstly, there’s still the issue of turbo lag, which is the time between a driver flooring the throttle and the engine responding in kind. Manufacturers have all but eradicated it but lag does still raise its ugly head from time to time and there’s no denying it, a naturally aspirated engine just feels a bit more natural.

The other issue is noise, because a turbocharger is driven by an engine’s exhaust, spinning at many thousands of revolutions per minute, forcing air back into the combustion chambers and giving that all important boost. This results in not only a characteristic whistling sound from the turbos, but also a muffling of what an engine might otherwise sound like at full chat. And performance cars are about sound almost as much as they are about speed.

Again, carmakers are finding ways around these problems and are actually faking the way their engines sound by using extremely clever electronics and exhaust systems. We’ll find out how Ferrari’s epic-sounding V8 has been affected in a couple of weeks when we publish the first-drive road test, but it’s obvious that turbocharging hasn’t brought many problems to the Prancing Horse, because it’s emerged that the Cali won’t be the last of its kind.

Ferrari does have previous form with forced-induction road cars, despite what you might think. Back in the 1970s and 80s, the 308 and 328 were both fitted with small-block V8s that were turbocharged, as a way to get around Italy’s punitive taxation system. The awe-inspiring 288 GTO was twin-turbo’d, as was the F40 – and let’s not forget the F1 cars. So there’s plenty of experience to go on and, by the looks of things, the midlife refresh for the 458 Italia will inherit the California T’s lump, albeit in a different state of tune. Car magazine in the UK has gone so far as saying that it will be boosted to around 670hp – about 70hp up on the recent 458 Speciale and almost the same power as a Lamborghini Aventador – excellent news on all counts, you’ll no doubt agree.

However, it will still need to sound like a Ferrari V8. The California, being more of a GT car, can get away with being a bit quieter, but much of the 458’s magic is wrapped up in its unique exhaust note. Rest assured, a team of engineers will have sussed out how to retain that wonderful yelp, but, more than that, we can also be assured that these wonderful cars still have a future thanks to engine downsizing and turbocharging – who’d have thought?


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