I just had some serious alone time in Maranello with a Ferrari 488 Pista, a car that will start at $350,050 when it arrives this winter. Ferrari’s only instructions were to go drive and be back in time for lunch at Ristorante Cavallino next to the factory. Press launches are never this laid back, and there’s always another media member along as a drive partner who has to listen to your nonsense, but they’re also waiting for their chance to drive, ready to steal your seat time.
Without a passenger to talk to, I’m left with questions bouncing in my head, which you now get to hear. Like why do people open the shades on airplanes when there’s turbulence? Are they expecting to see a construction crew? Or, when exactly in our lives does a smock become an apron? I think it happens around age 10.
Except it’s not called Speciale. It’s the 488 Pista—pista is Italian for “track”—and it’s the fourth in a line of limited-edition, track-focused versions of Ferrari’s mid-engine V-8 two-seaters. The first was the 2004 360 Challenge Stradale, a car so good it made you feel like you should really be doing more with your life. Next came the 430 Scuderia, another stripped-down, ridiculously quick and rare Ferrari that we tested in Italy in 2009 as part of a comparison test with an Audi R8 V10. That Scuderia didn’t have floor mats or windows that opened. The Audi did. The Audi lost. The 458 Speciale followed. It more than lived up to its name.
Half a Transplant
With the last diesel-belching Iveco truck out of the way, my mind goes from thinking of new email passwords—I’m way past my dogs and onto my friend’s pets—and focuses on the power of the Pista’s engine. A dry-sump twin-turbocharged 3.9-liter V-8 bolts deep in the middle of the car. Compared with the heart of the 488GTB upon which the Pista is based, 50 percent of the Pista engine’s parts are new. A lighter crankshaft and flywheel fling lighter titanium connecting rods with a claimed 17 percent reduction of inertia. The compression ratio rises from 9.4:1 to 9.6:1, and more aggressive cams work with shorter intake runners and a new Inconel exhaust manifold that reduces back pressure and weighs 21 pounds less than the GTB’s cast unit. Ferrari found an additional 49 horsepower and dropped nearly 40 pounds from the V-8. In total, Ferrari claims a 176-pound weight reduction versus the GTB. Opt for the carbon-fiber wheels, a Ferrari first, and the weight drops by another 22 pounds.
The engine’s 710 horsepower doesn’t just arrive, it barges in and puts its hooves on the coffee table. Power doesn’t peak, it plateaus. From 6750 rpm to the 8000-rpm redline, the V-8 continues to make all of its 710 horsepower. Redline shifts from first to second to third never drop below 6750 rpm, so even after a shift you’re still in the land of 710 horsepower. Launch control is actuated by a Launch button on the LaFerrari-like carbon-fiber outcropping that sprouts from the center console. Push the button, then hold one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator, and the Pista will rev the engine to 3000 rpm before takeoff. If you’re not ready for it, your head won’t stand a chance. Even though the Pista sends torque only to the rear wheels, the careful tuning of the torque curve, power delivery, and available traction are an eye-opening match that even Tinder couldn’t make.
First gear doesn’t last long, but what’s odd is that second gear is gone in a flash as well. Second passes so fast that we had to study some video to see what happened. It’s tough to evaluate a car when an acute case of the giggles accompanies every hit of the pedal to the metal. It’s actually metal, too, as the Pista can be spec’d with a bare aluminum floor that’ll tink tink with every pebble tossed up by the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. (The Scuderia did that, too.) Although it pegs our own giggle meter, Ferrari’s acceleration claims might be of more interest. How about a believable zero-to-124-mph time of 7.6 seconds? We’d expect a sub-3.0-second run to 60. Another advantage of going solo: With no passenger along, there’s no one to roll their eyes when you do seven consecutive launch-control starts. It may have been 10.
Light steering and that characteristic 488 driving position that puts you right up against the front-axle line fosters the confidence to push harder and harder. There’s nothing a mountain road can throw at the Pista that unsettles it. Tight stuff, high-speed stuff, midcorner bumps, quick back-and-forth transitions, and spandex-wearing cyclists all are taken in stride. But, even though its limits are high, the car never acts bored on the street. Driving it below its potential on the street is still a thrill because the steering, brakes, and powertrain all sing the same tune and you’re there whistling along. One more advantage of driving alone: No one has to hear you whistle.
At Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, a 12-corner pista that now is nearly surrounded by housing, the 488 Pista finally revealed that there are, in fact, limits to its traction. A new system dubbed Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer (FDE) works in many ways like a stability-control system, but instead of trying to stop the chassis from breaking away, the system uses individual brake applications to smooth out the loss of grip in corners.
There’s really no way to set a lap anyway, as Ferrari’s track is subject to sound-level limits, and there’s a big sign on the straight that says, “Gas Off,” which made me hold one in. The Pista is certainly loud enough to peg Fiorano’s sound-level meter, and we’re happy that the new exhaust manifold blows a racier tune than the 488GTB’s cast unit, but we miss the naturally aspirated V-8s of the recent past; the Pista is all about that bass. Ferrari’s naturally aspirated V-8s shrieked and snarled into the redline. The Pista barks and roars its way there. Those turbochargers have changed the sound, but Ferrari did increase the engine volume inside. Sound quality is important to Ferrari, and the Pista is clearly part of an ongoing challenge dealing with the dulling effects of turbocharging.