Road Tests

First Drive: Ferrari 488 Pista chases Speciale’s genius

Ah, a camouflaged Ferrari 488 Pista. Did you manage to get a good run in it?

On an empty track, I drove many laps in a late prototype. Slow ones then quick-as-I-can (not that quick) ones. Then on the roads, I dawdled through traffic and mooched up hillside routes. Everywhere and all the time, I went looking for turbo lag.

You’ll have read that any number of turbo engines are free of lag. There’s the AMG V8, or some of BMW’s and Porsche’s better efforts. Nope. What they are, my friends, is “free of lag”. Then there’s the Ferrari 488’s V8. That one is tantalisingly close. Close but not touching. The quotation marks remain.

And what about the 488 Pista’s V8?

You can forget any additional punctuation. It’s free of lag. That’s the electrifying achievement of the 488 Pista.

There’s vastly more to it though. Has to be. Because the 488 Pista must follow the smoking tyre marks of the 458 Speciale. Every driver who’s ever been graced by the Speciale’s sensational presence would call it a pinnacle supercar of the modern era.

In chasing the Speciale’s genius, the 488 Pista has 35kW more than a 488 GTB, and weighs 90kg less. It’s had a major overhaul of the already fabulous 488 engine. Plus an all-new exhaust system, promising a hair-raising song. The Pista’s chassis electronics are cleverer than ever, and its aerodynamics substantially altered.

In researching it, developing it and manufacturing it, Ferrari has brought to bear transcendent levels of technology and meticulous effort.

Phew. Sounds… special.

It is. Fiorano (Ferrari’s private test track) is clear and sunny this morning. For an overture, I’m strapped into the 488 Pista prototype’s passenger seat alongside the man who can get the most out of it, chief development tester Raffaele de Simone for a demo lap. Trouble with that is Rafa’s preternatural talents would easily cover for a car if it handled like an abject donkey.

But still, I learn the 488 Pista is madly, madly accelerative, grips like crazy and has the sort of discs and servo that treat your usual braking zones with brutal contempt.

My turn now. Into the seat. Simplified trim, no glovebox or radio. Four-point harness. Clamp them down. Brake. Right paddle. Gently squeeze the throttle. Go.


Man this thing is fast. It just catapults itself to the first bend. But equally amazing is the way it gathers speed from deep into three figures. Ask for acceleration and the 488 Pista seems instantly to calculate then execute your required position in space like a video game. You are here – zap – now you’re there. Where’s the inertia?

Gather your thoughts and, yes, events are actually unfolding, The engine’s revving, the shift lights flare up, there’s absolutely no tail-off of power as it hits the red-line, the gearbox grabs new cogs faster than any Ferrari transmission has done before.

And all the while you’re washed, as promised, in an epic noise: sharp, penetrating, pure.

Does the handling match up to the sonics?

Ohmygoodness the handling is just as special as the engine. The engine compresses time, but the chassis slows time down.

Despite the harum-scarum velocities, it lets you know long before the limit arrives. It’s balanced and friendly. It communicates, cajoles, coaches you into exploiting its abilities.

This was a focus for the development of the 488 Pista over the GTB: not just grip, but feel. It lets you keep ahead of things rather than constantly chasing the car.

It’s bewitchingly balanced, and then, if you’re in the race mode, just wriggles nicely as it delicately moderates the ridiculous power on the way out of a bend. Switch things ‘off’ and the newly elaborated side-slip control gives you any manner of high jinks.

Does it work on the road though?

Yep. The engine remains as benign as ever – in theory more so because combustion is more finely controlled. The V8’s sound is soft when you want it to be; a hair-raising layered roar when you want that. Barely any turbo whine or wastegate hiss cuts across the pure engine magic.

The springs are hardly stiffer than standard. The optional carbon fibre wheels reduce unsprung weight, which to a degree smoothes away harshness. In some ways the chassis should be more relaxing on a motorway than the GTB because heavier steering makes it feel less nervous going into gentle high-speed curves. Really it’s only the road noise that conspicuously undermines the idea of using it as a car for long and frequent journeys.

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