If the 458 Speciale was a damn-near perfect version of the 458, it’s almost impossible to say what the 488 Pista is. Because it’s better — and faster — than the Speciale was.
If it’s at all possible, the Pista is delicate, delicious and ferocious all at once. Put simply, it’s as good as sports cars get.
My collarbones are still sore to the touch four days after I’d volunteered to be beaten up by the 488 Pista. And I liked it.
The most powerful production V8 engine built at Maranello will do that to you and it will, unofficially at least, lap the Fiorano test track every bit as fast as hybrid hypercar LaFerrari.
It’s not necessarily the way the sleek two-door launches off the line (all-wheel-drive cars have harder initial launches), though 2.85 seconds to 100km/h is a long way from risible. It launches about as hard as any other rear-driver with licence plates, but that barely matters because the Pista does its heaviest hitting after it’s rolling, sling-shotting towards the next corner from the rage deep within the heavily reworked 3.9l V8’s mid-range.
From the passenger seat, the sprint from about 40km/h to 200km/h is so brutal it disorients you for a few corners until you can recalibrate your head. If fast cars could advance your automotive perspective like a growing understanding of physics, the Pista would be quantum physics.
The Pista’s second chunk of 100km/h acceleration has been timed at 4.75 seconds, getting it out to 200km/h in 7.6 seconds, and I didn’t find a single reason to doubt Ferrari’s 340km/h+ top-speed claim. If anything, it feels quicker than that.
It’s redesigned from scratch to react faster to the throttle, with 41% less plenum-chamber volume
The custom-developed rubber fights a losing battle off the line, even with Ferrari limiting the twin-turbo V8’s torque in the first six gears to give the Pirellis a fighting chance.
For an example of the pure savagery of the Pista, full throttle in third gear from about 3,000r/min delivers 0.9g of acceleration. In fourth gear, it’s still 0.7g of longitudinal punch.
The M142 MVS is a phenomenal engine, both a technological masterpiece and a throwback to the days when engine design and performance dominated everything in Maranello.
The stock 488 GTB motor delivers 492kW of power and 760Nm. Impressive from 3.9l, right? The 488 Pista motor bumps that up to 530kW at 8,000 and 770Nm from 3,000 (but only in seventh gear).
Ferrari will tell you it’s an all-alloy engine block, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s actually a mix of things such as titanium, strontium, magnesium, manganese and AlSi7, so it’s not as though they’re just melting and moulding old Coke cans.
It’s an engine that does things that aren’t supposed to be done in a production car. Not only is the intake shorter and made from carbon fibre, but the three-piece welded exhaust manifold has given way to a cast, single-piece Inconel unit that saves 9.7kg. It’s a piece of technology that, alone, costs four times as much to make as the 488 GTB’s exhaust manifold.
The connecting rods are titanium, saving 1.7kg. The 3,902cc engine’s crankshaft and flywheel are lighter (1.2kg and 1.5kg each) and the rotational inertia inside the engine is 17% lower.
It’s redesigned from scratch to react faster to the throttle, with 41% less plenum-chamber volume, runners that are 60% shorter, more aggressive camshaft profiles, hollow valves on both the intake and exhaust sides and new valve springs.
This might have been a bit techy, but it was important because the cooler the air-fuel mixture is in the cylinder, the more power the car can make. The Pista’s fuel-air mixture is seven degrees lower than the 488 GTB’s, and the air is six degrees cooler due to the plenum-chamber design alone. And there’s more.
The turbochargers are bigger and faster, with a new inductive speed sensor in front of the compressor wheel so the management computer always knows how fast it’s running and how much boost it’s delivering. It also lets Ferrari better balance the boost to the two banks of cylinders, maximising engine performance to "the last rpm" instead of running any sort of safety margin.
The titanium-aluminium turbine wheel lowers the twin-scroll turbo’s inertia by 50%, plus its new ball bearings lower friction by 30%. It all adds up to 10% more peak firing pressure, allowing combustion to start a little earlier.
"We are trying to remove the margins we would normally have on a road car," Pista’s engine development team leader, Gianfranco Ferrari (no, seriously, and no relation), said.
It gets even techier. The platinum-covered spark plug doubles as an ion sensor for the third-generation knock-sensing system, and Ferrari (both Gianfranco and the car maker) insist it reduces knocking "events" by 40%. The exhaust is now just 1mm thick and the sound tuning delivers 8DbA more sound to the driver — which equates to more or less double in the Pista’s sportiest modes.
It’s lighter in all sorts of places outside the engine, too, borrowing the lithium-ion battery from the 488 Challenge race car and even lighter seats to launch off the line toting 90kg less than the already featherweight GTB.
So it’s got every right to go a bit, and go a bit it does.
And then there are corners. It now has enough aero downforce (technically, lack of lift) that you can add about 50% to your confidence levels in high-speed corners over the 488 GTB. It feels planted, even when you ramp it over bumps.
Ferrari has been so enthusiastic about the inordinate amount of work it’s done on the engine that, if anything, it deeply undersells the work it did to up-speed the rest of the Pista. That’s the reason the low-volume supercar (though it isn’t, technically, a limited-edition model) doesn’t share a lot of bodywork with the 488 GTB.
The first difference you notice is that there’s a chunk missing from the bonnet, and that’s because Ferrari now uses the nose as one giant F1-style S-duct, taking air that would normally flow underneath the car and pushing it over the top of the body.
The spoiler is 30mm higher and 40mm longer, there are air vents in the rear bumper to smooth out the car’s aero efficiency and its rear diffuser, pulled almost straight from the Le Mans 488 GTE racer, has three active flaps so it doesn’t add to aero drag when its downforce isn’t required.
Then there are the air intakes on the side. The 488 GTB might be faster than the 458, but the enormous holes scalloped out of the sides of the bodywork to feed the turbochargers mean it isn’t as visually delicate. Though it’s considerably faster and more powerful, the Pista reverts to much smaller air intakes, which now only feed the intercoolers because the engine air intakes have moved to the rear spoiler.
It’s not exactly a Rolls-Royce inside, but it’s not as stripped out as, say, the F430 Scuderia. There’s plenty of exposed carbon fibre and Alcantara, plus hand-stitching for the dash, seats and steering wheel, plus alloy in the driver’s footwell.
Nothing really prepares you for how strong it is in every key fast-car discipline, not just raw straight line speed
There’s no glovebox anymore, either, because it’s gone to save weight. Instead, you’ll need to use the pockets in the bulkhead behind the seats.
There are other tricks, too, including a new "dynamic enhancer" (drift control is far too crass for Ferrari), sharper shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, optional carbon fibre 20-inch wheels, retuned dampers and springs that are 10% stiffer.
But nothing really feels like a trick inside the car and nothing really prepares you for how strong it is in every key fast-car discipline, not just raw straight line speed.
Its brakes are phenomenally strong, stopping a metre sooner from 200km/h than the 488 GTB. Its custom tyres are like glue. Its steering is the best I’ve used on a Ferrari, moving away from the overly light weighting to something more in keeping with the effort involved.
Luckily, our first drive was on the road. Unluckily, that road was a mountain pass behind Maranello, covered in snowmelt and deep ruts. The Pista felt so reliable and faithful it could have been covered in black ice, for all it mattered.
As a borderline supercar-hypercar, it’s astonishing how user-friendly the Pista is, even in difficult conditions. Making sure to push the button on the steering wheel that keeps the dampers at their softest setting, it can cross roads like this one in a surprisingly calm way.
Only a couple of times did it step out: once under power out of a corner where the road simply fell away under us, and once on a patch of snow when it was all loaded up mid-corner. Both times, in Sport mode, the skid-control systems worked quickly to straighten up the car.
Having all that torque down low is a big help on the road, too, and you can drive the Pista in a relaxed way, allowing the transmission to choose its own gears with you just poking along.
It’s firmer in its ride than the not-soft GTB, but it’s direct, not uncomfortable. Press on a bit harder and that directness becomes its greatest handling trick, especially with the heavier steering weight that now delivers genuine feedback and nuance. It’s astonishingly easy to accurately place it on the road and in corners.
That goes double for the racetrack. We drove it at the tricky figure-of-eight Fiorano circuit, with a mix of high-, medium-and low-speed bends, and it mastered them all.
Its engine is a tautly packaged ball of ferocity on a track, bellowing and blasting, and Ferrari has made its Race mode more aggressive in every way, including the more thumping gearshifts it delivers. It’s now so rich in its information from around the car that you can place its inside tyre to within millimetres of where you want it, even at the car’s grip limits.
It’s so user-friendly at the limit it makes the limit itself feel lower than it is. The first thing to get used to are the brakes, and how hard you need to use them because it’s simply arriving into braking areas carrying ridiculous amounts of speed, hauling down from 270km/h into Fiorano’s turn one for example.
The noise levels are right where they should be, singing a brutal song, urging its driver into a battle frenzy with every added rev, but it’s the power down and the handling agility and consistency that make it fast.
The engine is so light inside that it loses and picks up revs with stunning speed, letting you balance the car on the throttle any time you want to, allowing you to ease off the pedal to tuck the nose into the corner without touching the brakes.
It gets airborne over the bridge at Fiorano, with the burnt rubber on the ground suggesting the flights are about five metres long, but it doesn’t remotely concern the way the car handles. It encourages you to slide it into high-speed bends and rewards you with giggles, then blasts through slow bends.
When Ferrari comes to replace the 488 GTB, it will inevitably bring a Pista-style car to the top of whatever model line-up it happens to be. And it will need to be just about the best car in the world.
And that’s what Ferrari had to do to the Pista to make it a worthy successor to the 458 Speciale. The Pista is, in every dazzling way, the complete, coherent real deal.