2019 Ferrari 488 Pista prototype review : Quick Spin

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Don’t be suckered by just the promise of extra power — the Ferrari 488 Pista is the most complete sports car of its era

What we liked:

• Crushing in-gear acceleration

• Twinkle-toed handling

• Brutality and delicacy, together

Not so much:

• Let’s see…

• …Nothing here

• Oh, awkward indicator buttons

If the Ferrari 458 Speciale was a damn-near perfect version of the 458, it’s almost impossible to describe the Ferrari 488 Pista. Because, this Scuderia racer for the road is better than the Speciale was, as well as being faster. If it’s at all possible, the 488 Pista is delicate, delicious and ferocious all at once. Very simply, it’s as good as sports cars get to be today.

Pleasure and pain

My collarbones still hurt to touch four days after I’d volunteered to be beaten up by the Ferrari 488 Pista.

And I liked it.

You know that good kind of hurt, like after a long run, swim or gym workout? Multiply that by immense speed and g-forces, astonishing noise and that’s what it’s like pushing hard in the Ferrari 488 Pista.

The most powerful production V8 engine ever built at Maranello will do that to you, and it will, unofficially at least, lap Ferrari’s Fiorano test track every bit as fast as the Italian marque’s hybrid hypercar, the LaFerrari.

How low is that?! The camo is rubbing on the track!!

It’s not necessarily the way the sleek new Ferrari 488 based two-door launches off the line (all-wheel drive cars have harder initial launches), though 2.85sec 0-100km/h is a long way from risible.

No, the Ferrari 488 Pista does its heaviest hitting after it’s rolling — sling-shotting towards the next corner from the rage deep within the heavily reworked 3.9-litre V8’s twin-turbocharged midrange.

From the passenger seat, the sprint from about 40-200km/h is so dazzlingly brutal that it disorients you for a few corners until you can recalibrate. It’s literally dizzying in a straight line.

There’s a new level of performance provided by the New Ferrari 488 Pista

If fast cars advance your automotive perspective like a growing understanding of physics, the Pista would be quantum physics and string theory rolled into one – everything you learned in other fast cars no longer makes sense here.

The Pista’s second chunk of 100km/h acceleration has been timed at 4.75sec, getting it out to 200km/h in 7.6, and I didn’t find a single reason to doubt Ferrari’s 340km/h+ top-speed claim.

If anything, it feels quicker than that. 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 3000rpm delivers 0.9g of acceleration. In fourth gear, it’s still 0.7g of longitudinal punch.

The Ferrari 488 Pista’s 530kW turbo V8 pumps through a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox

Metallurgy lessons

Ferrari’s M142 MVS is a phenomenal engine, at once a technological masterpiece and a throwback, returning to the days where engine design and performance dominated everything at Maranello.

The stock 488 GTB motor delivers 492kW and 760Nm. Impressive from 3.9 litres, right? The Ferrari 488 Pista’s engine bumps that up to 530kW at 8000rpm and 770Nm from 3000rpm (but only in seventh gear).

Ferrari will tell you it’s an all-alloy engine block, but a bit more complicated than that. It’s actually a mix of things like titanium, strontium, magnesium, manganese and AlSi7. 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 able to be done in a production car. Not only is the intake shorter and made from carbon-fibre, but also 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…

Ferrari has outdone itself with the 488 Pista

The connecting rods are titanium, saving 1.7kg (which is an astonishing 43 per cent of the specific weight of the 488 GTB versions). The 3902cc engine’s crankshaft and flywheel are both lighter (1.2kg and 1.5kg each) and the rotational inertia inside the engine is 17 per cent lower.

The engine has been redesigned from scratch to react faster to the throttle, with 41 per cent less plenum-chamber volume, runners that are 60 per cent 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.

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 precisely how fast it’s running and how much boost it’s delivering. This 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 attention to detail on the chassis, powertrain and aerodynamics is phenomenal

The titanium-aluminium turbine wheel lowers the twin-scroll turbo’s inertia by 50 per cent, plus its new ball bearings lower friction by 30 per cent. It all adds up to 10 per cent 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,” the 488 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 carmaker) insist it reduces knocking “events” by 40 per cent.

The exhaust is now just 1mm thick and the sound tuning delivers 8DbA more ‘tunes’ to the driver – which equates to more or less double in the 488 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 racecar, 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.

At Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, the 488 Pista is hypercar fast

And also around corners

Then there are corners. It now has enough aero down force (well, technically, lack of lift) that you can add about 50 per cent to your confidence levels in high speed-corners over the 488 GTB. It just feels planted, even when you ramp it over bumps or smash kerbs.

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 488 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 great chunk missing from the bonnet. 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, creating a low-pressure area that sucks the car onto the road.

The rear 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/ELMS 488 GTE racer, has three active flaps in it so it doesn’t add to aero drag when its downforce isn’t required.

That doesn’t look like a normal seat belt…

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. Although it’s considerably faster and more powerful, the 488 Pista reverts to much smaller air intakes, which now only feed the intercoolers because the engine air intakes have moved back 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-stiching for the dash, seats and steering wheel, plus alloy in the driver’s footwell.

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 (Top tip: the engine is on the other side, so don’t hide your chocolates there).

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, Australian-sourced optional carbon-fibre 20-inch wheels, retuned dampers and springs that are 10 per cent stiffer.

All that camo and tape probably takes a hundredth off the lap time!

Key fast car disciplines

But nothing really feels like a trick inside the car and nothing really prepares you for how strong the Ferrari 488 Pista is in every key fast-car discipline – apart from just raw straight-line speed.

The 488 Pista’s brakes are phenomenally strong, stopping a metre sooner from 200km/h than the 488 GTB. Its custom tyres are like glue. And its steering is the best I’ve ever used on a Ferrari –finally 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 winding mountain pass behind Maranello, covered in snowmelt and deep ruts and camber changes. Yet, the Pista felt so reliable and faithful that it could have been covered in black ice, for all it mattered.

As a borderline supercar-hypercar, it’s astonishing how user friendly the Ferrari 488 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 – quickly – in a surprisingly calm manner.

Lapping a mid-engine V8 Ferrari never gets old

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 the car back up almost instantly with a smooth cut-in, taking any stress away from its on-road ability.

Having all that torque down low is a big help on the road, too, and you can drive the 488 Pista in a lazily 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. It lets you know about everything that’s going on, allowing you to get everything done early, unfussed, even when it’s hustling.

Ferrari 488 Pista or a Porsche 911 GT2 RS? Hmm…

Racetrack on the double

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. Indeed, 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. And those grip limits are a long, long way from where they are even in a 488 GTB.

The thing is, it’s so user friendly at the limit that it makes the limit itself feel lower.

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 frankly ridiculous amounts of speed, hauling down from 270km/h into Fiorano’s Turn 1 for example.

And the left pedal stays rock solid throughout, biting hard and with consistent force. It has a wonderfully easy transition to a gentle slide on the way into slow corners, which lets you pick up the throttle earlier and earlier, balancing it on its drift, err, dynamic enhancer all the way through.

The Ferrari 488 Pista has an ear-splitting, high-revving V8 battle-cry

It’s a very expensive car to go dynamically enhancing around bends in, but it’s fabulous at it. It’s even better when you put away the show and putt for dough. Raw speed is what the car is designed for and raw speed is what it brings.

The noise levels are right where they should be, singing a brutal song, urging its driver into a battle frenzy with every added rpm, but it’s the power down and the handling agility and consistency that make the Ferrari 488 Pista so fast.

The engine 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 scary bends and rewards you with speed and giggles, then it blasts through slow bends as though it’s furious with them.

When Ferrari comes to replace the 488 GTB, it will inevitably bring a 488 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 to be a worthy successor to this car.

And that’s what Ferrari had to do to the 488 Pista to make it a worthy successor to the brilliant 458 Speciale.

The 488 Pista is, in every way, the complete, coherent real deal.

How much is the 2019 Ferrari 488 Pista?

  • Price: TBC
  • Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8
  • Output: 530kW/770Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch
  • Fuel: 11.5L/100km
  • CO2: 263g/km
  • Safety rating: TBC

(motoring.com.au, http://bit.ly/2H3OoX8)

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