New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Ferrari 488 Pista

Corralling 700 horsepower has never been this easy

MARANELLO, Italy — Ferrari’s name for its latest special-edition mid-engine supercar might not, casually speaking, carry the same performance implications as those of its fondly remembered predecessors: Designations like 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia, 458 Speciale—those were immediately recognizable as the bad-boy versions of Maranello’s sublimely balanced, purist-centric modern-day weapons.

“Pista?” The name might describe your neighbor’s attitude when you rev its new twin-turbo, 3.9-liter V-8 to its 8,000-rpm redline as you pull into your driveway past midnight or out of it before 7 a.m. Perhaps it brings to mind a certain off-kilter tower just a couple of hours’ drive from the Italian carmaker’s home base, or maybe the Friday-night leftovers in the back corner of your fridge. On the other hand, devoted Tifosi know Ferrari’s official designation of its famous 1.862-mile test facility—the same one abused over the years by the likes of Lauda and Villeneuve and Prost and Mansell and Schumacher and Räikkönen and Alonso and Vettel—is Pista di Fiorano. If you’re one of them, you then also know that adding the “Pista” moniker—“track” in Italian, if it wasn’t clear—to Ferrari’s already stellar 488 must mean you’re facing something exceptional indeed.

What’s so, er, speciale about this car? The attention-grabbing figure sits top-dead-center: 711 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. Yes, another member of the suddenly burgeoning 700-plus-hp society has arrived (here’s to you, Porsche GT2 RS, McLaren 720S, and Corvette ZR1), this one also boasting 568 lb-ft of torque. For the record, that’s 50 hp and 7 lb-ft more than the 488 GTB. The Pista can hit a launch-controlled 60 mph in 2.8 seconds and 124 mph in 7.6 on its way to a 211-mph top speed. We know, Giovanni, we know: will the madness ever end? Pray not.

Those numbers represent the most powerful V-8 in the marque’s history. Ferrari says the Pista’s engine has more in common with the 488 Challenge race car’s than it does with the GTB’s. The powerplant allegedly features more than 50-percent new parts, including reshaped, stronger connecting rods now made of titanium rather than steel, stronger cylinder heads, carbon-fiber rather than aluminum intake plenums, shorter intake runners, friction-reducing DLC-coated piston pins, new valves (now hollow on the intake as well as the exhaust side) and springs, and wider, longer, backpressure-reducing exhaust manifolds made from Inconel, with 1-millimeter-thick walls versus 3 or 4 mm in the GTB. The crankshaft and flywheel are lighter as well, and Ferrari says the entire engine weighs 287 pounds, about 40 pounds lighter than the GTB’s unit. Impressive stuff.

Additional revisions of note include a rethink of the intake and cooling strategies. Like on the 488 Challenge, engineers relocated engine air intakes to the bodywork surrounding the rear spoiler, providing a ram effect; the Ferrari 308-inspired classic-style intakes on the car’s flanks now only help cool the engine compartment rather than feed the monster that lies inside it. This change increased airflow and allowed the installation of a larger intercooler. The front-mounted radiators are reoriented so they angle toward the car’s rear rather than toward the front as on the GTB, resulting in a 7 percent improvement in cooling efficiency, according to Ferrari.

However, beginning our test drive with four laps of Fiorano—it’s always nice to start your day with more than 700-hp beneath your right foot in a car you’ve never driven, on a track you haven’t tackled in several years—Ferrari doesn’t oversell the point about horsepower. Not exactly, anyway; rather, it makes a strong impression about how the car’s brain manages all the power and torque via the latest version of the company’s already excellent Side Slip Control, in this guise featuring a “lateral dynamics control system” with a marketing-friendly tag that sounds an awful lot like those ubiquitous products you see advertised in the back of men’s magazines: “Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer.” The simplest way to think of it is an additional stream of braking information the onboard driver-aid network processes in the form of brake vectoring, side-to-side and front-to-rear. It only works with the steering-wheel-located manettino switch dialed to the traction control’s “CT Off” setting, which sounds a little intimidating for racetrack runs straight out of the box.

And at first, for a lap or two, it is. Before lighting off from the pit lane, one of Ferrari’s test drivers piloted us on a couple of laps, rear end sliding all over the place. “You can keep your foot down through the exits,” he said. “Use small corrections on the wheel and you can do this, no problem.” It is one thing to see and hear it from someone else, quite another to implement it yourself so quickly after you push the start button. As a result, the first few attempts are too cautious, the car remaining planted thanks to the tacky grip from the bespoke, Ferrari-spec’ed 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (treadwear 180).

Screw it. Hammer down on the next third-gear right-hand corner and, lookout, the tail snaps away. Jolted by the quick breakaway, opposite lock is accompanied by a huge throttle lift. The rear comes back into line in a sloppy display of non-drifting, but it’s clear there’s something to this, so try again. Get the nose turned in, bend it to the apex, and then unleash the power without fear. It takes some mental adjustment, a sort of eerie faith everything will stay rubber-side down, but soon you feel the rear begin to slip in linear, not snappy, fashion. Keep your foot in it and use small corrective steering inputs as instructed to, and the car comes back in line with ease. Not that our attempts with only four laps allotted were anywhere near what Ferrari’s drivers demonstrated, not even close. But nevertheless an epiphany formed and confidence began to build. With another five or 10 laps, we’ve no doubt the experience, and the slip angles, would have gotten nothing but better and bigger. That’s not important, though; the significant takeaway is that arguably never before have non-professional drivers been able to wield such an ominous amount of rear-drive power so gracefully.

From Fiorano, we headed into the surrounding mountains and onto twisting two-lane roads, a simultaneous exercise in laughter at the fun the Pista offers and scowls at the never-ending blockade of slow-moving lorries, Fiats, and the like. In many ways the Pista was too much car for the route, which never offered an opportunity to probe the upper reaches of the tachometer in anything but first and second gears. But the V-8’s punch above 5,000 rpm indicated the ultimate 488 will easily pull as strong beyond 120 mph as it does at less than 50, delivering vision-blurring use of its 700-plus horsepower just as we’ve experienced recently in Porsche’s GT2 RS, McLaren’s 720S, and Chevrolet’s Corvette ZR1. It’s a nimble dance partner as well—not that a regular 488 isn’t, but the Pista’s curb weight of 3,053 pounds is 199 pounds lighter, and contributes to its reactive character the moment you turn the steering wheel. The steering itself is lovely, weighted just right and extremely quick without the blinking-fast, potentially destabilizing initial turn-in found on some of Ferraris of recent past.

As we selected at the track, off went traction control, and the Dynamic Enhancer went to work, allowing—when traffic cleared—hard braking into corners, followed by kicking the tail out some and coming out on the other side feeling like our hair was on fire. The Pista’s carbon-ceramic brakes are among the world’s best and make slowing the car almost as thrilling as accelerating it. Time and again on Fiorano we braked as late as we dared, later even, and the Brembos refused to protest, slowing us brutally and never exhibiting a give-up in pressure even at the furthest reaches of the firm pedal’s path—something we can’t say for every super sports car of this ilk. It’s a welcome ability that gives you a reassuring sense of confidence. The small amount of pedal travel combines with repeatable and unfading stopping power that serves-up braking as precise as any mortal could desire in a road car. It’s just another trait Ferrari engineered into this car, which along with 20 percent more downforce—now 529 pounds at 124 mph, with only a 2-percent increase in drag—makes it insanely stable across a wide spectrum of conditions. The latter is due in no small part to Ferrari’s first road-car use of a Formula 1-style, airflow-channeling “S-Duct” in the front end and an aggressive rear diffuser similar to the one used on the 488 GTE Le Mans endurance racer.

If there’s one minor sensory letdown, it’s the fact—despite the new exhaust manifolds and Ferrari spending time retuning the Pista’s sound versus the GTB—you’ll still never mistake this powertrain as anything but turbocharged. This 488 whistles rather than screams through the air, with a bass-heavy rumble echoing beneath prevalent intake and turbo noises. It’s a nice-sounding car in its own right, but certainly not one—even when standing trackside at Fiorano as the pro test drivers rocketed past—that makes your hairs stand on end. (It is up to 8 decibels louder inside the cockpit, though, due to its new hardware, tuning, and less cabin sound-deadening material.) Conversely, we have no complaints about the powertrain’s responses, sharpened beyond the GTB via a 17-percent reduction in internal inertia to produce quicker revving, and also by integrated turbo rev sensors similar to those found on the 488 Challenge, which provide consistent, identical pressures across both cylinder banks and thus more efficient power delivery. Both are features any self-respecting enthusiast, let alone Ferrarista, will mark down on their list of things to geek out about.

With one final mountain run, each redline-pull of the larger, 488 Challenge-style carbon-fiber paddles sends a jolt through your body, a fresh race-derived shift-map strategy Ferrari refers to as “shotgun + overtorque,” and it feels just like it sounds. If you’re clinging to the F430 in the garage mostly because it has a manual gearbox, we understand—but if any double-clutch, pseudo-F1 transmission can convert you, this is the one.

In fact, relatively benign soundtrack aside—and it’s a big aside for traditional enthusiasts—this car is the one when it comes to mid-mounted, V-8-powered Ferraris. For Enzo’s sake, it can lap Fiorano just 1.8 seconds slower than the apocalyptic LaFerrari. We’re Pista we can’t afford to bring it home with us.

2019 Ferrari 488 Pista Specifications

ON SALE September 2018
PRICE $345,300 (base)
ENGINE 3.9L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/711 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 181.3 x 77.8 x 47.5 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,053 lb
0-60 MPH 2.8 sec
TOP SPEED 211 mph

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