As the L-plated Prius in front meanders up to a stop sign, I begin to wonder — out loud — about the wisdom of testing an Italian supercar in the middle of a big city.

It feels a little like walking a cheetah on a leash, or riding dressage on Black Caviar.

The latest Maranello masterpiece, the Ferrari 488GTB, has just arrived in Australia and CarsGuide is first to snaffle the keys. We'd rather have driven it straight to a racetrack — preferably one with kilometre-long straights and flowing high-speed corners — but it doesn't pay to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially a prancing one.

In the metal, the 488 is a handsome beast indeed, from the millimetres-off-the-ground front end with its massive air intakes to the muscular haunches wrapped around fat rear tyres.

It's a more chiselled look than its predecessor, the 458, with bonnet creases and sharp edges on the classic flowing Ferrari flanks.

Inside, the layout is familiar to Ferrari fans, with red leather, carbon-fibre highlights, a red starter button, gear-change paddles, a toggle-switch to select drive settings and even a series of red lights to warn of the approaching rev limit. The F1-style, flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in leather and carbon-fibre makes you feel a little like Sebastien Vettel.

The leather embossed and stitched sport seats grip tightly, support snugly and have to be manually adjusted — a surprise on a circa-$470,000 sports car.

It's an insane experience and if you're not careful, the 488 will make you lose your mind a little. 

It all looks — and smells — as a supercar cockpit should although it's no masterpiece of ergonomics. The push-button indicators in lieu of the normal stalk aren't intuitive and the push-button selector for reverse takes some getting used to.

The instrument panel still has the big, bold-as-brass centre tacho with a digital gear selection readout. It is now flanked by two screens that house all the trip computer, satnav and infotainment readouts. It all works well and looks suitably upmarket.

But perhaps the most impressive bit of eye candy is reflected in the rear view mirror.

When you're stopped at the traffic lights, you can gaze longingly through the glass cover at the glorious turbocharged V8 mounted just behind your backside.

The outputs of this new-age twin turbo are astonishing: 492kW of power and 760Nm of torque. Compare that to the 458's outputs of 425kW/540Nm and you get an idea of the leap forward in performance this car represents. But that's only part of the story — peak torque now arrives with exactly half as many revs on board, 3000rpm instead of 6000rpm.

That means the engine doesn't so much wind up as whack you in the back when you stomp on the throttle.

It's also given the Ferrari engine a bilingual character — at high revs it still has that Italian supercar shriek but now, courtesy of that turbo, it sounds like one of those marble-gargling German sports sedans at low revs.

That means tunnels are your friend in a big city. The sound of that exhaust note bouncing off the walls is a joy, although you almost have to stick to first gear to stay under the speed limit.

You'll reach 100km/h in 3.0 seconds flat and if you keep the accelerator pressed to the floor it will take just 18.9 seconds to cover a kilometre from a standing start, at which point you're probably doing about 330km/h.

That makes doing a road test on the Ferrari in Australia a tad problematic. The distributor's generosity wisely doesn't extend to fanging the 488 at a track and the limit for our test is 400km, so a blast on the Top End's open speed limit roads is out of the question.

Keen to avoid a whopping fine and career-limiting suspension, we decide to see what thrills the 488 could deliver at legal speeds.

We aren't disappointed. In the mad three-second rush to the speed limit, we're amazed at the car's drive off the line and the lightning-quick gear shifts. When the first corner arrives, we marvel at the surgical precision of the steering and the limpet-like grip — it feels as though your insides will give way before the 488's rear tyres.

It's an insane experience and if you're not careful, the 488 will make you lose your mind a little. At 100km/h it's barely out of a canter and you find yourself desperately wanting to find out how it feels in a gallop.

In the end the return to the suburban crawl is a relief and a crushing disappointment. The traffic means there's no choice but to sit back and soak up the smell of Italian leather, the admiring glances of fellow motorists and the ride, which is surprisingly comfortable for such a focused sports car.