► The ultimate Ferrari 488 road car
► 710bhp, 211mph, 0-123mph in 7.6sec
► Tested on road and track
No pressure: the Ferrari 488 Pista has some big tyres to fill. This is the fourth car in Ferrari’s V8 ‘special series’, which began with the 360 Challenge Stradale in 2003, followed by the 430 Scuderia in 2007 and the 458 Speciale in 2013 – all of which are, justifiably, whispered of in hallowed terms as all-time-greats, each of them an enthralling driver’s car for the ages.
The Pista (named after the Italian for ‘track’, and pronounced pee-sta) is the most potent Special Series car yet, with fiendishly clever electronics, aerodynamics influenced directly by Ferrari’s 488 Challenge and GTE racing cars – and a power output starting with a 7…
That it’s hugely fast on road and track isn’t a surprise, but that it’s also such a well-rounded and confidence-inspiring plaything is perhaps this car’s greatest achievement. Read on for the full Ferrari 488 Pista review.
Let me guess, more downforce, less weight?
Yes, but the way it’s been applied is quite fascinating. On the aerodynamic front, one of the most outwardly obvious features is the new ‘S-duct’ integrated into the 488’s nose. The optional stripe livery (a snip at £8,640, in a choice of single- or two-tone) shows it off to best effect, diving into the scalloped section below the front badge, remerging at the front spoiler. Together with new winglets and underbody front diffusers, the S-duct contributes to significantly more front downforce than the GTB.
At the other end, the stripes flick up over an elongated tail spoiler. It’s fixed and doesn’t move, but three flaps within the rear diffuser (based on that of the 488 GTE Le Mans racer) open and shut actively, for less drag in a straight line or higher downforce for stopping and turning.
Overall downforce increase over the GTB is in the order of 20%, and yet, impressively, Ferrari claims there isn’t a commensurate penalty in drag. That’s partly because it’s achieved the extra aerodynamic grip without the use of giant fixed spoilers, and it has to be said, the Pista does look good. Drinking in its details in the Modenese sunshine, it looks more purposeful, less fussy than the GTB.
Under the skin, plenty has changed – the radiators in the nose have flipped position to make space for two front diffusers (incorporated into a similar near-totally flat floor to the 488 Challenge racer's), and the intercoolers behind the giant side scoops have moved higher, in search of cooler, more efficient airflow.
How much more potent is the Pista than the regular Ferrari 488 GTB?
Power is up by 50bhp from the 488 GTB, making this the biggest step forward of all the V8 Special Series so far. The power increase from 458 Italia to Speciale was 35bhp, for example.
So the 488 Pista now generates no less than 710bhp. Specific power is now 182bhp/litre vs 172 for the GTB, and peak torque is now up to 568lb ft, a 7lb ft increase.
Cleverly, maximum torque doesn’t arrive until full throttle in top (seventh) gear. Variable torque management makes for increasing acceleration in any gear, a feeling more in line with that of a naturally aspirated engine. To the same end, the new exhaust manifold continuously increases sound over engine speed, for more of a climactic feel than a typical everything-in-the-middle turbo engine.
And lighter, too?
The 488 Pista is up to 90kg lighter than the 488 GTB, assuming all the lightweight options boxes are ticked, including the one-piece carbonfibre wheels – which cost £14,208.
On the practicality front, the Pista’s glovebox has also been deleted, and replaced by all-but-useless luggage nets in the doors, and behind the seats. Front boot space has been impacted by the S-duct, although it’s still a more usable space than that of an Audi R8 or Lamborghini Huracan, if far smaller than that of McLaren 720S.
710bhp from 3.9 litres? What on earth’s gone on in there?
As many as 50% of the engine’s components are brand-new: the intake system, the camshafts, valves, exhaust manifold, con-rods, crank, cylinder walls, flywheel…
Incredibly, 18kg of the Pista’s total weight saving comes from the engine alone. For example, the crankshaft is made from titanium alloy and weighs 1.7kg less, and the flywheel is 1.5kg lighter. Those lighter internals help reduce inertia by 17% compared with the GTB’s engine.
The 488 GTB is already one of the least laggy turbocharged engine’s out there, but Ferrari’s head of engine design Nicola Pini describes the 488 Pista as possessing ‘zero turbo lag.’
How does it feel to drive?
Pini’s claim actually feels quite plausible on the road, where acceleration feels more akin to a superbike than a car. Response is instantaneous, regardless of gear (the Pista can punch out of a hairpin in fourth gear like a hot hatch in second) and were it not for some faint turbo flutter somewhere over your shoulder, you could believe it was naturally aspirated. There is the faintest trace of lag if you really concentrate, but it’s negligible. This is a fast-twitch engine, no mistake.
It still can’t match its turbo-free 458 Speciale predecessor on sound, however. The Pista sounds harder-edged than the regular 488, but it’s still sounds gruff and monosyllabic compared with the Speciale’s high-pitched songbird of an engine.
Despite the prodigious power and neck muscle-spraining acceleration, the Pista is genuinely docile and tractable around town. It’s no more taxing to drive than a regular 488, speed bumps are no difficulty and the powerful 488 Challenge-derived brake servo is easy to get used to at low speeds.
At higher speeds, all that downforce manifests in seemingly endless front-end grip, like there’s a giant magnet under the front axle. The steering, despite possessing an even faster rate of response than the 488 GTB’s dartily fast rack, has been tuned to feel weightier, more measured and less nervous in its response.
With more aggressive spring rates than the GTB, ride quality is firm, but still supple. Switched to ‘Bumpy Road mode’, the adaptive dampers do an impressive job of smoothing out broken tarmac (the roads in the hills above Maranello are as bad as any you’ll find in the UK) and the Pista remains serenely composed at speeds low and high.
What about on the track?
As addictive and exciting as the Pista feels on the road, on an actual pista is where it makes most sense. We drove it at Ferrari’s Fiorano test circuit and it was deeply impressive.
Acceleration, corner speeds and tiny braking distances are one thing, but it’s the way the Pista feels reassuringly normal to drive that most impresses. There’s just enough body roll to let you know what’s going on, and it always gives you options, up to, during and on the exit of each corner, to alter the car’s attitude with the brakes, steering and throttle.
The Pista is 2sec quicker around Fiorano than the 458 Speciale, and chief test driver Raffaele de Simone explains it could easily have been faster still, but Ferrari wanted to ensure it was forgiving to drive for drivers of all abilities, with rounded edges rather than spiky handling at the limit.
There’s so much torque available that giant slides are there for the taking when the steering-mounted manettino drive mode switch is set to ‘CT Off’ mode, but the thing that sets the Pista apart is how malleable it feels beyond the limit. That’s partly thanks to the so-called Dynamic Enhancer, a Pista-specific system that works in tandem with the 488’s Side Slip Control system to read the car’s yaw moment and make the brake system’s intervention smoother and more intelligent.
What is Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer?
It’s sort of a telepathic stability control – if you want to perform a big, smoky powerslide, it reads your steering and throttle inputs, works out that it’s deliberate, and gives you enough rope. If you don’t wind on enough corrective lock, and the car is likely to spin, it’ll do its best to nip it in the bud and save you.
It can make you feel a bit of a hero, in short, although there’s always the knowledge that there are many microchips beavering away in the background to support you. Just as a Eurofighter would fall out of the sky without its computers, it’s not difficult to imagine pirouetting into the scenery without the Pista’s various electronic systems working in harmony. (You can switch the ESC off altogether, by the way, but even de Simone doesn’t on a hot lap: ‘there is no point, unless you want to draw patterns on the ground with the tyres.’)
Rather than a limited edition, the Ferrari 488 Pista is a series production car, albeit a low-volume one. That said, it’s described as ‘nearly sold-out’, and if you want one, you’ll need to go through an approval procedure that makes winning the X-Factor look like child’s play. Of the chosen few, Ferrari expects more than half of Pista owners to use the car on track at least once, and they really should. It’s special to drive on the road, but really comes alive on a circuit. This is more than a 488 Challenge race car converted for road use – it’s an ultimate 488 road car designed to be as well-rounded and as fun to drive as possible, and the result is a truly captivating driver’s car.
By James Taylor
Read on for Georg Kacher's first drive of the pre-production Ferrari 488 Pista:
► Our early go in Ferrari 488 Pista
► We drive a prototype supercar
► Georg Kacher on road and track
Challenge Stradale, Scuderia, Speciale, Pista... Ferrarispeak for power, speed, lots of money and restricted availability. We drove a pre-production version of the new 488 Pista in torrential rain, up snowy hills and on a heartbeat-tricky pista. But although the weather did to an extent scotch our high-flying expectations, this Ferrari does warm your heart and butt, even on radically low-friction surfaces.
It just wasn't meant to be. Instead of donning the traditional rosso corsa livery, the new Ferrari 488 Pista arrives in Fiorano dressed like a clown in swirly shrink wrap. Matching this drab appearance is the depressing weather, drenching the lowlands and sugar-coated the surrounding hills. This must be the first ever Ferrari launch where the objects of desire are forced to wear skimpy M&S all-seasons tyres; previous-season Pirelli Sottozeros, to be precise.
More detail and specs on the Ferrari 488 Pista
Assembled in the three-room pit garage, warming their hands while still shaking with cold, the five men in red are sticking their heads together for a rather long time. According to one smartphone, the sun may soon put in an appearance north of Florence; according to another message the autostrada is cramping south of Bologna, and we are running out of time. What to do?
'Vai provare,' says the chief test driver Raffaele de Simone, grabs his helmet and heads for the car, the engine of which is ticking away at idle speed. The man everyone calls Raffa makes a point in taking it easy out on the track shrouded by low-hanging nearly-black clouds. Which is just as well. Because when you follow the speckled 488 on the numerous overhead monitors lined up in the command centre, il cicuito die Fiorano looks more like lake scenery seen from a plane than a proving ground.
Testing the Ferrari 488 Pista on a very wet Fiorano
Recurrent obstacles include large puddles of standing water, red-and-white kerbs glistening like officer Kojak's skull, and rivulets criss-crossing the circuit as if they were mercury veins. Raffa is constantly short-shifting to keep down the revs, and when the car eventually passes the pits the cold tyres hum sotto voce like Pavarotti and his three brothers. Second time round, the pace increases by a notch or two, and by lap four it's pure routine again for Raffa who calls the Nordschleife his second home.
'It's okay. We can stay here.' Off comes the helmet, out comes the index finger. 'You go first, Georg.' There is no better trick to kick the heartbeat right to the redline, to pull out all the adrenaline stops and to make the blood pressure soar like a couple of drones. Right-e-o. The XL bucket seat must have shrunk since my last visit to Maranello, the four-point harness almost runs out of belt material when pulled tight, and when did I last search in a Ferrari for the rear window heater switch?
The Pista cockpit looks familiar, but it is actually different. The glovebox has gone, the widespread Alcantara rash barely stops short of the greenhouse, and plenty of red accents ensure that one doesn't mistake this crackerjack for a lesser piece of kit. While the ignition key rests in its own recess below the air-con controls, you must still press that game-charging red starter button to uncage the 3.9-litre V8.
Our 'normal' Ferrari 488 GTB review
The full 720bhp experience in the Pista
'A posto?' A posto, confirms the pretender. With 720bhp behind your back, it's best to join the track in a gentlemanly manner - such overtly responsible behaviour helps to calm the crew and the ego. Lap one is merely a rekkie, with upshifts at 4500rpm, a conservative line, early on the brakes and the manettino firmly locked in Sport. All good, Georg, you're doing fine. Except that helmet and glasses are not perfectly synchronised, the windscreen is now also beginning to fog up, and ambition is already threatening to get the better of the man at the wheel of this €300k future collectible...
It's still raining heavily, but after a few more circulations you know the worst aquaplaning spots by heart, and it is of course imperative to stay clear of the liquid soap kerbs. In these grande casino conditions, where on earth can one safely relish 8000 revolutions per minute, where do torque and those mushy tyres bond safely with the wet blacktop, and where exactly is the demarcation line when you flick the red fate selector to Race?
It clearly takes more laps to find out. Initially, there's too much smearing and sliding, not enough poise and precision. But when you start working with the Pirellis rather than fight them, the balance promptly changes from latent snap-oversteer to enough room to move. Having said that, winter tyres plus soaked tarmac plus low limits make it virtually impossible to decipher the difference at the limit between Normale and Pista settings.
The 50 newfound horses rest in hibernation, the g-force bonus is grey theory, and the 90 kilo weight loss makes for an impressive paper tiger. Although the innovative ground-effect aerodynamics pay only off in full beyond the courage-eats-angst threshold, the top-of-the-line 488 retains the playfulness and the homogeneity of the GTB. The overkill electronics that govern differential, brakes, dampers, steering, transmission and engine make even those of us who were born with clumsy fingers and a timid right foot feel like superheroes.
We test the Ferrari 488 Spider
How many 488 Pistas will Ferrari make?
In total, Ferrari will build around 3500 Pista units. All of them have been pre-sold, not to common millionaires but to collectors with a stable full of limited-edition Modenese specials. Most customers pay extra for the bespoke Tailor Made treatment (careful - the Taste Police is watching you), featherweight racing seats complete with roll cage and superlight and super expensive carbon fibre wheels.
The Pista may have got what it takes to keep its master young, fit and alert, but its own DNA is ageing, and it shows. The complex ergonomics are for instance second-rate, the ho-hum connectivity is hit by bouts of amnesia, the monitors are minuscule by current standards. Users probly won't miss 4WD and RWS, but an update in terms of driver assistance systems would come handy, as would a head-up display. Although any kind of electrification is conspicuous by its absence, a plug-in hybrid is under development for the next 488.
Another pow-wow, this time over coffee, Coke and cookies. After the second espresso, we finally receive the okay to take the car out on public roads. 'Piano, please. We only have these two mules.' Having made a mental note of this, the Jurassic Italian traffic chaos swallows the zebra coupé complete with Prova plates. Sooner than later, the Ferrari is fighting a losing battle against sludge, snow, congestion and trucks struggling for traction.
Since even the snow plough barely pulls through, we decide to head back to the ranch where the lost son is greeted with applause by a row of smiling minders. Can we now go back on the track, please? On this bewitched Monday, Fiorano is indeed our first and last hope. For a moment, the devil inside ponders whether to select the CT-OFF mode which allegedly makes drifting this 488 even easier. But the guardian angel intervenes, and moments later the Pista lets its tail hang out for three or four seconds even in Race, anyway. Bravo! Can't wait to see the in-car footage.
Ferrari 488 Pista: specs, numbers, performance
The heavily revised twin-turbo V8 has shed 18 kilos in weight, responds even more promptly to throttle inputs (even if the normally-aspirated 458 still comes to the point fractionally faster) and is claimed to average a fancifully unrealistic 24.5mpg. With the DCT in seventh gear, the 420bhp engine floods the dfferential with up to 568lb ft of torque. Why only in top gear? Because like all turbocharged Ferrari engines, this one staggers its twist action delivery in accordance to the transmission ratio.
In low gear, grunt is thus dished out in smaller doses; in high gear, the full punch feels like a jet plane just before take-off. This engine/transmission strategy may not be plausible immediately, but it works really well, also thanks to the fact that peak torque is available at an accessible 3000rpm. As soon as you climb the rev ladder, a wall-to-wall sound attack is prone to produce Toblerone-size goose bumps...
It's almost lunchtime, and the heavy rain has at last turned to a drizzle. This is the second and last chance of the day to put the Pista to the real test. I want to see 8000rpm in third now, about two thirds down the start-finish straight. With the wipers still on intermittent, the Pista peels out of the final left-hander like a hungry cobra out of its basket. Already in third, the right foot firmly planted on the F40-style carbonfibre floorpan, now is the time to give it stick.
A blink of an eye later, the guys look up from their monitors in unison, watching the car tank past with that vibrating trademark roar as it trails a train of spray longer than the wedding dress of a giant. No difference between the 488 and the Pista? Quite the contrary. But the dams don't break until the rev counter hits 6000 or even 6500rpm. At that point, the imaginary afterburner sets in with a vengeance, pushing the four camshafts, eight cylinders and 32 valves hard towards self-destruction before a tiny chip saves them from overrev harakiri.
What's the gearchange like in the maximum 488?
In the Pista, flat-out upshifts are an eye-watering kick-and-rush adventure. While the chargers hold up the revs, the dual-clutch transmission whets the gears through the gates without ever missing a beat. Rapid downshifts feel even more physical. Keep the respective paddle pulled, and the cogs will count down the ratios molto presto and hiccup-free, if need be from seven to one. What makes all the difference compared to the standard model is the torque overboost which maximizes the deceleration like a very strong headwind.
Only a bungee jump airs the pit of the stomach as throughly as the 2.85sec 0-62mph acceleration, a time which depends on the standard mixed-to-order rubber 305/30 R20 Michelins. Only a videogame makes the head spin as viciously as the blaring near-zero-back-pressure V8 hammering the 1385kg Pista in a swooshy 7.5sec from 0-125mph. Only an excursion to virtual reality conveys the full force of the in-your-face stopping power of the carbon ceramic brakes which need merely 31.0metres to reel the car in from 62mph.
You don't have to push the Pista to the limit to relish its motorsport genes. Even at seven-tenths, this coupé feels nimbler, crisper and peppier than any other mid-engined Ferrari. Unlike its predecessors, this is not a blunt weapon on steroids but a surprisingly accessible and forgiving supercar. After a short familiarisation peroid - by now on virtually dry turf - one begins to appreciate the positively magnetic roadholding, the quicker reflexes, the even sharper handling and the big band sound of the Jekyll-and-Hyde Kraftwerk.
Rev it hard in manual mode, and the V8 is as explosive and blatantly loud as such a sophisticated high-revving turbocharged engine should be. But when you stick the transmission in Drive, it can be as courteous and obliging as one of the high-output fours mama Fiat has under her wings. In addition to the amazing forward thrust, the Pista comes with an extra helping of Ferrari flair in the shape of additional fairings, diffusors, splitters, ducts and spoilers. The design is not OTT, but in places close to it.
Unless you are best buddies with Sergio Marchionne or the Elkann brothers, the 488 Pista is - scusi, ragazzi - out of reach for mere mortals unless they have very deep pockets and can pay the premium independent retailers will undoubtedly charge. Alternatively, you could still try to get your name on the waiting list for the Pista Spyder due in 2019, or you may consider settling for a used high-performance drug from the Emilia Romagna such as the memorable 360 Challenge or a late-model 458 powered by the marque's last normally-aspirated eight-cylinder engine, which is an icon in its own right.
By Georg Kacher
See all our Ferrari reviews