The new-for-2018 Ferrari 488 Pista is the latest in the growing lineage of track-focused special edition models from the Italian company, following on from modern classics such as the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale. Not only is the 488 Pista the first of these special series cars to utilise turbocharging, its 50-per-cent-new engine is the most powerful V8 to carry the Prancing Horse badge.
In the Metal:
Our very first taste of the Ferrari 488 Pista comes during the final shakedown phase of the car's development, hence the camouflaged livery wrapped around the bodywork. The car made its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, where its more extreme design could be clearly seen. Even with its light disguise, its numerous differences to the 488 GTB can be clearly seen.
The 488 GTB drew criticism for its somewhat blunt and plain nose, but on the Pista, things couldn't be more different, with a Formula One inspired 'S-Duct' helping to shape the front end. Air is drawn in under the more pointed nose before being channelled out over the front bonnet. Viewed in profile this creates an 'S' shape, hence the name. The front-mounted engine coolant radiators now lie back, improving airflow over them without compromising efficiency.
The large side intakes of the 488 gain carbon fibre surrounds and no longer double up as air intakes for the engine. Now, these solely feed the charge air intercoolers, while a more advanced intake system moves to the rear of the car. On either side of the enlarged rear spoiler sit the intake vents for the engine. It's an unusual arrangement in that the air is drawn into the car behind where the engine is mounted. This setup gets a little extra help from the car's aerodynamics to optimise air flow into the uprated V8.
Ferrari's attention to detail, in particular to shaving weight, has been little short of fastidious. Throughout the car, the company's engineers have been relentless in their efforts to reduce weight. The engine alone has seen 18kg removed from its weight, while optional carbon wheels further help to lower unsprung mass. Even the washer nozzles for the headlights didn't escape the scalpel, with smaller fixed units replacing the pop-up ones found on the GTB. In total, the Pista is 90kg lighter.
The Pista's interior is entirely driver-focussed as you might expect from such a car. The prototype we drove wasn't fully representative of the how the finished production car will be, but it is close enough. From the figure-hugging Alcantara-clad racing seat your view is dominated by the multifunction steering wheel that sits in front of a three-section instrument cluster. A large yellow-backed tacho at its centre is the most important aspect, but you also get shift lights along the top of the steering wheel in case the wail of that turbocharged V8 heading towards its 8,000rpm redline isn't enough to remind you to change up.
Even though the 488 Pista presents uncompromising performance on paper, it is a car that Ferrari wants you to be able to live with. Despite that S-Duct up front, there is still a small boot space for a weekend bag, for example. The seats hold you snugly in position, but have enough padding in the right places so that you can happily sit in them for a few hours. Lastly, there's the driving position itself. Visibility forward is spot-on and even though the Ferrari is a wide car you can see everything that's going on behind you.
Our time with the cars on both the roads in the foothills that surround Maranello and at Ferrari's Fiorano Circuit were limited, but long enough to get to exploit the performance on tap. Every parameter of the car has been pushed as far as possible, but the star of the show is that engine. Naturally, many were apprehensive about the move to forced induction in such a focused car as this, but Ferrari has created a power unit that is phenomenally potent yet incredibly tractable.
Among the changes is more extensive use of exotic materials. A new Inconel exhaust manifold sheds 9.7kg while helping to boost sound levels. Fitment of speed sensors within the turbochargers allows for maximisation of power regardless of altitude or ambient temperatures. The output of 720hp at 8,000rpm is joined by 770Nm of torque, but just as important is the apparent lack of turbo lag. More sound makes its way into the cabin, too, with Ferrari claiming an increase of 8dB - and it's an addictive noise.
Fiorano is a technical circuit mixed with fast stretches, sweeping bends and hairpins. In lower gears the blown V8 surges through the rev range with a relentless delivery of horsepower and torque that seems to make even the digital speedometer struggle to keep up. The seven-speed transmission alters its characteristics depending on what setting you have selected from the 'Manettino' on the steering wheel. This also alters how much the traction control will allow the car to move around before intervening.
Through the faster bends there is small amounts of movement in the suspension, but the Pista remains impressively level as the speed builds. Under heavier braking the 488 can scrub off speed in a fashion that will make you appreciate the multi-point harness that's holding you in your seat. Even so, the car keeps its composure when you need it. If you can summon enough bravery, there seems to be an unending level of grip in the bends. The latest version of Ferrari's traction control system does flatter and will allow you to have some fun without intervening. Engage launch control and you'll be blown away by just how well the Pista gets off the line. From a standing start it sails past the 100km/h barrier in just 2.85 seconds. Less than the time it took you to read that sentence. As a track tool the Pista is undoubtedly superb, but there's more to it than that.
Getting out onto the road in Maranello reveals what is arguably a more important test for the 488 Pista. Here, the local road surfaces are far worse than you might expect for somewhere within spitting distance of where they produce some of the world's most exotic sports cars. No better setting then to see just how easy the Pista is to live with in reality.
From the outset, the development team wanted to produce a car that was not only phenomenal on track, but one that owners would want to drive all the time. Cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 were felt to be too track-focused. The ride quality in the Pista is expectedly firm, but not what you'd call harsh. There is a fair degree of road noise that resonates through the cabin, too, but this is soon drowned out by dropping down a cog or two and letting the engine provide a more pleasing soundtrack.
The Pista's steering is surprisingly light on the road and it has enough agility to dodge the numerous potholes hanging over from the winter in Italy. The suspension deals with most surfaces well, especially when its 'bumpy road' mode is chosen. Refreshingly, the seats have enough padding to conceivably do some big distances without feeling exhausted when you reach your destination.
When the transmission is left in full auto mode it quickly works up through the gears to keep engine speeds low and boost fuel efficiency. It is in this setting that the Pista feels remarkably civilised given its potency. At any point you can choose to shift gears manually via the large carbon fibre paddle shifters that are fixed to the steering column. Rolling on the throttle in higher gears demonstrate just how quickly the engine reacts to driver inputs. There is no real perceptible lag from the engine, allowing you to dispatch slower vehicles with quick overtakes.
What you get for your Money:
As a more exotic and extreme version of the 488, the Pista nails the brief. Every aspect of the car's performance is taken to the furthest degree. From the Inconel exhaust that seems impossibly thin and titanium alloy connecting rods, to engine components developed in parallel with the Ferrari Challenge race series, it seems that every single aspect of the 488 Pista has been scrutinised before being included. It isn't a cheap car, but given the ever increasing values of its predecessors, the 488 Pista should make a sound investment for those in the privileged position to have their name in the order book.
In the 488 Pista, Ferrari has managed to find a usable middle ground that manages to offer incredible performance in a package that remains accessible to drivers of a lesser skill level. Few will be lucky enough to own one, but those who do will be able to enjoy a car that can flatter and reward on track and, crucially, can be driven there and back.