In the time it takes you to read this sentence aloud, the new Ferrari 488 Pista can accelerate from a standstill to 124 miles per hour.
Let that spin your head for a second. Or 7.2 seconds, for that matter.
That’s the sort of asphalt the Ferrari 488 Pista can ripple, thanks to its 710-hp, 567-lb-ft 3.9-liter twin-turbo V-8. It has variable torque curves mapped—depending on which gear you’ve selected—moderated by changes in boost, injection, and spark advance. In other words, there’s flop-sweat power in any gear, at any rpm.
I’m sitting shotgun beside Ferrari chief test driver Raffaele de Simone at Ferrari’s legendary Fiorano Circuit test track. For those of you who’ve never been, Fiorano isn’t out in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of town, embraced by the sprawling factory grounds as well as residential Maranello itself. Raffaele is gently warming the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup K2 tires and reacquainting me with the track’s layout before I take the wheel.
Without warning, he stabs the throttle midcorner, causing the Pista’s back end to jar sideways in a vicious slide that he easily catches (with some help from the very sophisticated new traction electronics). For the next lap and a half, he rarely lifts from full-mash throttle or brake, providing an expert’s demonstration of the limits of the most powerful road car Ferrari has ever built.
Look, I’m pretty quick around a track. But I’m not Raffaele quick. Not even close. And let’s face it, likely neither are you. But the magic of the 488 Pista is that you or I can play at being Raffaele, and this magnificent supercar will forgive us our trespasses without an unfortunate meeting with gravel or Armco. Really, you have to be blindingly stupid to wad this machine. Some cars can smell fear and prey upon your hesitancy and twitchy hands. The 488 Pista can sense it, as well, but instead of snapping back upon you, it reacts with reassurance.
So let’s get to the basics of what Ferrari changed from its already impressive 488 GTB, which won Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car contest last year.
Although the GTB verily leaped forward with 660 hp, Ferrari engineers generated 50 more horsepower from the gorgeous midship engine (covered in Lexan for easy viewing). And if a 7.6 percent gain doesn’t sound like much, in this aspect it’s the difference between slingshot and rifle. What changed? About 50 percent of the part numbers, including redesigns to the valves, springs, and cam profile for starters, not to mention the intake and exhaust runners.
Having 710 cavallini under the hood puts ungodly stress on mechanical parts. So Ferrari redesigned the cylinder heads, pistons, and DLC-coated piston pins for greater durability, all while lightening pretty much everything, from the titanium connecting rods to the crankshaft and flywheel. The cylinder liner walls are thinner, saving precious grams, said Gianfranco Ferrari (no relation), the Pista’s powertrain project manager.
But you can’t simply create 50 more horsepower without some associated engineering challenges—namely, dissipating the heat from the entire engine bay rather than the engine itself. Enter Ferrari’s thermal management specialists, who redrew the ducting at the front, as well as the rear spoiler and diffuser. Engine-air intakes have moved from the flanks to the rear spoiler, where they feed directly into the plenums—with the side benefit of making room for larger intercoolers.
While they were in there, Ferrari made the engine sound inside the cockpit 8 decibels louder. There’s no acoustic trickery, just plain old ripping out of sound-deadening material (which also saves weight). Why not make the glorious engine song louder to passersby, too? “Well … ” says ingegnere Ferrari, “there are laws about that.” Listening from trackside, the Pista’s notes at speed nonetheless shred the air with a menacing alto of furious purpose.
Thanks to all this engineering excellence, the Pista engine won the International Engine of the Year trophy—a threepeat for the prancing horse marque. (If you want to geek out further about the engine changes, check out technical editor Frank Markus’ teardown of the 488 Pista engine here.)
Nicola Boari, Ferrari’s head of product marketing, said the Pista has the best weight-to-power ratio of any road-going Ferrari. And it isn’t all about the engine and raw power. There’s weight savings galore, about 200 pounds over the GTB.
With bodywork and chassis, the Pista makes extensive use of carbon fiber as a replacement for aluminum—from the body panels to the 20-inch wheels. At $17,500, this is an option box worth ticking. These are pounds, not grams, we’re talking about here.
Combine the reduced weight with improvements in aero—an 18 percent improvement in downforce with negligible drag penalty, for 528 pounds of downforce at 124 mph—and the Pista can stay well mannered when handled roughly.
So what does all this power and lightness mean in the hands of a gentleman racer? Well, Ferrari makes its bones in ride and handling, as well. Having a fast car that doesn’t turn triggers a frowny emoji in terms of customer loyalty.
In other words, Ferrari took extensive measures to give drivers more confidence while cornering (and often save themselves from ham-fisted mistakes) via an evolution of the Side Slip Control system (SSC 6.0).
“You shouldn’t feel the difference, but you’ll end up going faster,” said Stefano Varisco, vehicle dynamics and control engineer. Essentially, he’s saying Ferrari wouldn’t have built a car with this much power if it didn’t have a dynamics system capable of handling it.
Before I hit the track, I skitter through the hill towns of the Modena region, snaking around endless delivery trucks in steaming swelter and seeking picturesque spots to highlight the skills of photographer William Walker.
A race-bred car can be a chore to drive in city traffic. But the Pista—Italian for track—is quite manageable in tight urban settings. In basic Sport mode, shifts are calm and smooth, the carbon-ceramic brakes are predictable rather than chalky, and steering is light. I very much appreciate the “bumpy road” suspension setting (carried over from the GTB) to tame the district’s disinterested attitude toward road maintenance. While dodging the occasional nonna strolling across a blind corner, we find the odd chance to let loose—to about 50 percent of the Pista’s abilities. But the roads are tight and narrow, the traffic too unpredictable, and the car too quick for the conditions to play it fast and loose. The prescribed route never puts us on the autostrada for a high-speed blast. Pity.
A couple of notes as we burble along: There’s an engine drone at around 3,000 rpm and a gurgling when you feather the throttle at 4,700—both of which get old quick. But otherwise, the engine is a symphony of whirs, whines, and whistles that remind you you’re driving a very exotic machine. Although grippy, the Michelins do create a substantial amount of high-register tire noise on coarse-aggregate roads. And I still need to get used to the horn buttons being integrated into the 10-and-2 of the steering wheel rather than the center airbag pad. Lastly, proving the supercar can coexist with the realities of the modern age, the navigation system is excellent in providing directions through villages that would merit scarcely a mention on a map.
“The Pista is about technology transfer from the track to the road, not a track car where we just hand you the keys,” Boari notes. Well said.
With thunderheads threatening, we dash back to Fiorano for my track time. Following my slithery session with de Simone, I take my own shot at this legendary circuit. Carrying speed through fast corners, I happily discover that banging redline doesn’t result in a twitchy, oscillating fuel cutout; rather, it simply maintains revs and power output (though a string of red lights across the top of the steering wheel strongly reminds that it’s a good idea to upshift). After all, if you reach max horsepower at 6,700 rpm, you should have sufficient time to flick the sensuous aluminum shift paddles before you hit the 8,000-rpm limiter.
I experiment with the manettino dial on the steering wheel to change the various traction settings. At Fiorano, there’s a narrow short chute that overpasses the main straight. It has an undulation at the precise point you’d hammer the brakes before entering a sharp right-hander. Normally this would upset a car’s balance, but in both Sport and Race modes, the Pista tracked straight and true. (With de Simone behind the wheel in CT-Off mode, things were considerably more wiggly, but never was it a water-in-shoes moment.) Get on the power too early, and the back end steps out quickly, but if you trust SSC 6.0 to keep things in order, you won’t suffer the dreaded tank-slapper. Under pressure diving into corners, the carbon-ceramic brakes are as good as your confidence level allows. Trail-braking into the right-hand sweeper at the end of the screaming-fast front straight? Not an issue. Want to wait for the last marker before testing your nerve? The brakes are ready.
All too soon, my session is over, limiting my chance to explore the 488 Pista. I could make up lots of excuses for why I wasn’t quicker—the fog of jet lag, rustiness on a long-forgotten track, my being the last track car out on possibly cooked brakes (though I felt no evidence of that), or wanting to be a kind escort to their pricey sheetmetal. I wish Ferrari had granted us more than four laps to sample the goods under their harshest inputs. The assembled journalists agree that four laps was the perfect amount to get settled into a rhythm, ready to really breach the Pista’s limits—only then to frustratingly see the “pit in” board come over the wall.
But that’s the magic of luxury-goods PR: always give a taste but leave them wanting more. It’s a $345,000 check to write to take that next step. Ferrari could not clarify whether that sticker includes destination charges or gas-guzzler tax, but those are rounding errors. Time to check your 401(k) balance.
|2019 Ferrari 488 Pista|
|BASE PRICE||$345,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.9L/710-hp/567-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,200 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||181.3 x 77.8 x 47.5 in|
|0-62 MPH||2.8 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/22/18 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.11 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|