2018 Ferrari 488 Pista review

Maranello, you’ve done it again…

WHAT IS IT?

High-performance, track-worthy version of the Ferrari 488. It has a mid-mounted twin-turbo V8 driving the rear wheels.

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT

Ferrari staged a special 488 Pista drive event for journalists on the judging panel of the International Engine of the Year award ahead of most media. Who’s going to decline an invitation like that?

MAIN RIVALS

McLaren 720S is its only true rival.

THE WHEELS VERDICT

Another amazing achievement from Ferrari. The 488 Pista is faster than the revered 458 Speciale, with an even more highly polished suite of driver aids to make its power even more easily accessible. This is a towering technical tour de force, with bonus lovely looks. Just don’t expect the same wailing soundtrack of Ferraris past…

PLUS: Engine; transmission; chassis; brakes; electronic control systems; exterior
MINUS: Some won’t like the way it sounds; spartan interior; price

THE WHEELS REVIEW

RAFFAELE De Simone short shifts with a gentle tap of the 488 Pista’s satin-finish carbon-fibre right paddle. Ferrari’s thirty-something GT development driver tells me later he’s had 150 laps of Fiorano to hone his act. And it’s worth watching…

From the passenger seat it’s crushing g forces coming at you from every direction. Acceleration, cornering and braking pressure spine, ribs and chest in turn, while neck muscles constantly strain to keep head and eyes pointed in the right direction.

‘Pista’ is Italian for ‘track’ and this Ferrari lives up to the name. And it needs to. The $645,000 drive-away price-tag is a hefty $175,000 more than the 488 GTB.

Acceleration out of the tighter of the compact circuit’s two hairpins is savage, but even wilder are the lateral loads the 488 Pista can generate through the open curves that follow.

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This is when, so as not to disturb the car’s awesome equilibrium, De Simone makes the early upshift. Still the speed builds, still the Ferrari holds the arc. And this is just the sighting lap…

Helmets are now compulsory on Ferrari’s hometown test track, except when tooling around below 50km/h for photography. So De Simone slows briefly and asks the question with a right-handed thumbs up. Am I ready for max attack? Or am I about to decorate the inside of my full-face with half-digested breakfast? Yes, and not a chance, are the answers implicit in the thumbs up I give him back.

What follows is a literally breathtaking display of what the 488 Pista can do with a practiced pilot at the wheel.

Compared with De Simone’s scorching laps mine are lukewarm, at best. But there’s no mistaking this car’s ferocity. Or its finesse.

Behind the 488 Pista’s pair of snug-fit, deep-bolstered seats is the most powerful V8 Ferrari has ever installed in a road car. The twin-turbo 3.9-litre engine delivers 530kW at 8000rpm and 770Nm at 3000rpm (but only in seventh gear). These numbers are 85kW and 230Nm more than the non-turbo 4.5-litre V8 in the 488 Pista’s immediate ancestor, the 458 Speciale, a car that burns in my memory as the very best mid-engine V8 Ferrari I’ve ever driven.

The increases are substantial, and there’s little difference in weight between the two, yet the 488 Pista’s factory-claimed 0-100km/h is only one-tenth of a second better than the 458 Speciale, 2.9 versus 3.0 dead. This points to the difficulties faced by Ferrari’s engineering team in transforming the 488 Pista’s power into pace.

Yet they have succeeded. The 488 Pista feels subjectively faster round Fiorano than the 458 Speciale. It’s an impression backed by Ferrari’s official lap time. At 1:21.5, the 488 Pista shaves 2.0 secs off the 458 Speciale’s best, quite a margin on a not-so-long 3km circuit.

Credit, then, to the Ferrari engineers who developed the new, Version 6.0 evolution of the company’s superb Side Slip Control system, and integrated it with the 488 Pista’s other electronic control systems. These work together to quickly create driver confidence. I spend much of my too-brief Fiorano time marvelling at their effectiveness.

The electronics curb but don’t kill the oversteer when I enter the tricky right-hander before the circuit’s overpass bridge more than just a little too hot.

Punching out of Fiorano’s two truly tight corners I learn you can give the 488 Pista wide open throttle as early as you like. With the manettino set to ‘Race’ the electronics simply turn your ham-footed wish into brain-warping reality, as you tap up through the gears to the cracking tempo of the flashing shift lights in the top of the steering wheel.

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Select ‘Auto’ mode for the seven-speed double clutch and it does a brilliant job in ‘Race’, snapping up through the gears like a champion. Hold the left paddle back while braking hard for one of those hairpins and the drivetrain control electronics deliver a series of brutally precise downshifts.

The cars at this exclusive Fiorano drive are wearing camo, but only because they’re development cars and lack proper Pista paint schemes. De Simone says software validation is all that’s left on the engineering to-do list. Work on the 488 Pista’s hardware, he adds, is finished.

This was a major job. The engine of the 488 Pista shares its vital statistics – bore, stroke and capacity – with the 488 GTB. But fully 50 percent of its parts are new.

Codenamed F154CD, key changes include big-ticket upgrades like titanium con rods, titanium-alloy turbo turbines, a carbonfibre intake plenum and exhaust manifolds fabricated from tough Inconel steel. There are also new cams, stronger heads and a lighter flywheel.

Some of the changes are costly substitutions that contribute as much to reducing weight as increasing power, strength and durability. One of the objectives was to reduce rotational inertia. It’s down 17 percent, while power rises by 38kW compared to the 488 GTB.

Also compared to the 488 GTB, the 488 Pista is 90kg lighter. The difference is most obvious in the car’s cabin. Featuring Alcantara and carbon-fibre, but minus conveniences like a glovebox, it’s bare essentials on a no-expense-spared budget.

The exterior design is heavily influenced by the 18kg-lighter engine. The V8’s breathing and cooling arrangements have been totally redesigned, drawing on lessons learned from track-only versions of the 488.

The side ducts now feed air through the engine intercoolers, not to the engine. The V8 now draws breath through apertures near the rear spoiler. Other changes, like the attention-getting S-Duct nose, were designed to improve engine cooling at the same time as aerodynamic efficiency.

These changes, driven by the pursuit of performance, have shaped an exceptionally good-looking car. The Pista is arguably the loveliest 488 so far.

For such a focused car, it’s also surprisingly adept on public road. Ferrari lets us out of Fiorano, wearing Prova plates, for a brief frolic on a winding public road south of Maranello. It was once a favourite of factory test drivers, back before the traffic got too heavy.

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The V8’s strong torque makes the 488 Pista untemperamental. The engine growls away happily in the bottom half of the tachometer dial, ever ready for a quick overtake. In ‘Sport’ mode the double-clutch shifts smoothly. And the ride in this mode isn’t jarring.

Though the 170-litre luggage space under the lightweight bonnet is skimpy, taking the 488 Pista touring doesn’t seem a completely crazy idea.

There’s just one thing that disappoints; the sound. Not from inside the car, where Ferrari engineers have measured an increase of up to 8dB compared to the 488 GTB, but from the outside…

Enjoying the warmth of a sunny, early Spring day in Northern Italy, I watch others take their rides around Fiorano. The Ferrari’s mufflers are valved, with the flaps opening at around 4000rpm and 50 percent throttle.

With De Simone driving, they’re certainly open, yet the low-pitched sound is a surprisingly mellow bellow. Compared to the soaring operatic tenor voices of earlier, non-turbo Ferrari V8s, this one is a crooner.

But the song it sings is very, very seductive…

SPECS
Model: Ferrari 488 Pista
Engine: 3902cc V8, dohc, 32v, twin turbos
Max power: 530kW @ 8000rpm
Max torque: 770Nm @ 3000rpm (in 7th gear)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Weight: 1385kg
0-100km/h: 2.9sec (claimed)
Economy: 11.5L/100km
Price: $645,000
On sale: Now


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