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First drive: Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.

First drive: Ferrari 488 Pista
There wasn't much wrong with the 488 GTB, but the new Ferrari 488 Pista is shaping up to add a whole new layer of specialness to the sports car's recipe.


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Ferrari 488 Pista

5 5 5 5 5

Ferrari has taken the top prize in the International Engine of the Year awards for two years on the trot, for the twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 in the 488 GTB. Surely no need to do much to this already formidable powerplant for the inevitable hardcore variant, the new 488 Pista? Think again; the new engine shares just 50 per cent of its components with the GTB's, is lighter, more powerful and even more responsive. And we've already tested it in a pre-production vehicle at Ferrari's Fiorano test track in Italy.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ferrari 488 Pista (pre-production prototype)
Price: 252,695
Engine: biturbo 3.9-litre V8 petrol
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive, electronically controlled limited slip differential
Body style: two-seat coupe
Combined economy: 24.5mpg
Top speed: >211mph
0-62mph: 2.85 seconds
Power: 720hp at 8,000rpm
Torque: 770Nm at 3,000rpm in seventh gear (see text)

What's this?

An inevitability, but no less exciting for it. Ferrari's mid-engined V8 bloodline is strong. Before the 488 GTB was the 458 Italia, followed by the even more focused Speciale model. The 458 succeeded the F430 (and the sublime 430 Scuderia), the 360 was before that, following on from the F355, 348, 328 and 308 QV. And now we have a new name, the 488 Pista. Pista is Italian for 'track', so you'd justifiably expect a hardcore version of the mid-engined sports car for your money. And in some ways, that's what you get, with a considerable 90kg weight reduction, allied to an engine that's remarkably different to that of the GTB, resulting in a boost in power from 650hp to 720hp. Maximum torque jumps 10Nm to 770Nm as well.

The focus of our visit to Italy was that special engine and a mind-boggling amount of work has been done on the powerplant. The core goals were weight reduction, improvement in response and increase in performance, but Ferrari also targeted usability and sound. Some 18kg in total was shaved, including motorsport-derived Inconel exhaust manifolds (also contributing to lower back pressure and pumping losses to the benefit of power output), expensive titanium connecting rods, a much-lighter flywheel and crankshaft, thinner cylinder liners, hollow inlet valves and other bits and pieces. The two IHI turbochargers are the same as fitted to the 488 GTB, except they now feature inductive speed sensors so the engine management knows precisely how close to their speed limits each turbo is, which enables maximisation of performance for all conditions. Without such sensors, there would be a map with some degree of uncertainty and hence more conservatism in how the turbos are used.

Ferrari focused heavily on reducing the onset of 'knock' in the engine while also detecting its approach better. The latter is taken care of by third-generation ion-sensing spark plugs, while more spark advance has been made possible by the considerable reduction in engine inlet air temperature. This is thanks in part to larger intercoolers. As before, they sit ahead of the rear wheels, but now they don't have to share space with the main engine inlets (these have been moved to the back of the car, either side of the new spoiler), which meant space for bigger intercoolers. Ferrari also discovered that the hot air exiting the GTB's radiators (positioned ahead of the front wheels), was entering the intercoolers, so it tilted the radiators to a different angle, and further improvements of the flow to the intercooler inlets were found in aerodynamic tweaks.

The cooled, pressurised air is then fed into a gorgeous new carbon fibre plenum. It's 41 per cent smaller in volume to improve transient response and it's bolted to an alloy inlet manifold featuring runners that are a massive 60 per cent smaller. This is for 'intake detuning' at full load, reducing the air temperature before combustion in the cylinder. To ensure that combustion is still quick and complete, in-cylinder turbulence has been increased by using 1mm higher inlet valve lift. The exhaust camshafts also have a 1mm higher profile contributing to lower pumping losses. Bolted to the exhaust side of the cylinder heads are the stunning new Inconel manifolds, with thinner walls that allow for longer runner length, larger pipe diameter and lower pumping losses. They also contribute to more sound intensity according to Ferrari. The result of all these changes is earlier combustion phasing, faster combustion, improved efficiency and more power.

However, Ferrari didn't stop there. There was just as much work done on the aerodynamics of the Pista, resulting in a unique appearance and a 20 per cent improvement in the aerodynamic efficiency. It's obvious that the whole of the front of the Pista is new for a start, featuring a plunging bonnet line that seemingly goes through the front bumper. Ferrari calls this measure an S-Duct and it's straight from Formula One. This, apparently, accounts for 18 per cent of the downforce increase over the GTB, while adding just two per cent drag. Incredibly, the redesigned sides of the front bumper are responsible for 23 per cent more of the extra downforce, as the resultant airflow sucks air out from under the car. At the back, the obvious spoiler is higher and longer than before, contributing 25 per cent to the downforce increase, though Ferrari claims its extra drag has been balanced by changes to the airflow elsewhere. Underneath is an active diffuser as in the 488 GTB, though the shape of the floor entering it is new in the Pista, derived from that of the 488 GTE racer.

That's all a bit mind-boggling, we realise, but it has also resulted in a car that is sharper looking and more aggressively styled. Optional stripes along the centre of the whole car neatly flow through the S-Duct up front to emphasise its presence, while buyers can replace the standard forged 20-inch alloys with stunning new carbon fibre rims. We're told that most people on the waiting list have done so, and who can blame them?

Meanwhile, while the interior is largely the same as that of the 488 GTB, it feels more pared back thanks to the removal of the glovebox in front of the passenger. There's loads of carbon fibre and Alcantara trim, contrast stitching and a triangular aluminium pattern that wouldn't look out of place in a race car for the tread plates and heel rests. Our test cars featured lightweight buckets seats and four-point harnesses, so no doubt buyers will have a few options there.

Pricing for the 488 Pista is from 252,695, a chunk up from the Ferrari 488 GTB. It competes head-on with the Lamborghini Huracan Performante and Porsche 911 GT2 RS.

How does it drive?

Astonishingly, Ferrari paid more than lip service to its assertion that the 488 Pista was developed, despite its name, to be used as much on the road as on a race track. Before we got to try it on the flowing Fiorano circuit, we drove out of town and into the mountains, threading through busy traffic with low speed limits and, it must be said, very poor road surfaces. It was raining a little so the Wet mode was chosen from the Manettino switch on the steering wheel, which not only softens throttle response and gearchange ferocity, it also pre-selects the softer damper mode. And the Pista proved remarkably pliant and tractable, a cinch to drive slowly with no recalcitrance at all. Naturally, it takes only a little movement of your right foot to bring it fully alive, but there's no fear of doing so such is the feedback and telegraphic responses.

For such a ferociously performance-focused machine, it takes remarkably little time to acclimatise to the Pista and start using it to the full. Race mode is brilliant for this as it ups the engine and gearbox to their most focused calibrations, delivering razor sharp throttle response and simply merciless accumulation of speed. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission comes with large carbon fibre paddle shifts behind the steering wheel and the gear changes are some 30ms quicker in Race mode than in the GTB, according to Ferrari. Full-throttle up-changes are bordering on violent, but changing down through the gearbox while braking heavily for a corner reveals that the automatic throttle blips are perfectly judged to smoothen out any unwanted judders through the drivetrain.

Indeed, the brakes (no larger than the GTB's, but enhanced in terms of cooling) are simply amazing, stopping the Pista dead from high speeds when you need to, with a firm, confidence-inspiring pedal that's easy to modulate. They allow you brake late from high speeds on track and still precisely get on the right line before turning into a corner. In the tight hairpins of Fiorano, the Pista is beautifully hooked up, almost making them a non-event at first, until you realise you can get back on the power much earlier in the corner. There's huge traction available, a combination of the mid-engined layout, the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and, if you really push it, Ferrari's excellent F1-Trac traction control system.

That's aided and abetted by the sixth generation of Ferrari's Side Slip Control (SSC) system, which, as the name suggests, is all about sliding the rear of the car, in a controlled manner. For the Pista, Ferrari introduced a new aspect to SSC, called Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer. This is designed to assist drivers prolong controlled drifts on track if they have the CT Off mode selected - and the balls to start the process in the first place, as it takes commitment to get the rear of the Pista out of shape, even out of second-gear turns.

And yet, in faster curves, it feels quite natural quite quickly to have the Pista move around on its tyres underneath you. That's not to say it has no grip (quite the opposite), but it makes it easy to find the limits and then play with them, adjusting your line with the throttle or the super-direct and communicative steering. It shouldn't be this easy to take a 720hp rear-drive sports car by the scruff of the neck and fling it around a race track, but the Pista is, despite the demonic wail from the V8 behind, an incredibly friendly car to maximise the performance of. We can't wait for a proper fast road drive to see if that translates to the confines of speed limits and space, too.


Though we've only sampled an engineering prototype of the new Ferrari 488 Pista, it's close enough to the finished article for us to confidently state that it's going to be one to remember. While the gains over the 488 GTB in terms of numbers are impressive, it's the depth of the engineering updates that really showcase Ferrari as a technology company, led by one of the most special engines in the business. It all adds up to one of the most exciting Ferraris ever. And that's saying something.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Shane O' Donoghue - 25 Apr 2018    - Ferrari road tests
- Ferrari news
- 488 Pista images

Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.

Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.Driving the 2018 Ferrari 488 Pista. Image by Ferrari.


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