It’s bred for the circuit. who’d buy it?
Ferrari is still the premier purveyor of exquisite driving artworks. No other car maker can cajole engineering and aesthetics into quite the same happy confluence. In the 488 Pista (meaning “track”), shape, sound, smell and colour are perfectly arranged to produce such a fizz that I believe it could move something in the bowels of Christ.
But I see two problems with the Pista. The first is personal: I own this car’s predecessor, the 458 Speciale. The second is the appearance of the A110, a pocket-size sports car made by Alpine, the Renault skunkworks. More on this later.
When the Pista was announced a few months ago, I received a call from my automotive drug dealer to say I could have one, but I’d have to make my mind up by Monday. It was Friday evening. I struggled with this one for the whole weekend. It didn’t help that continued enthusiasm for the Speciale, the last of the naturally aspirated V8 Fezzas, is such that I could sell it at a healthy profit, buy the Pista and still have change for a new suit and a slap-up fish supper.
The Pista would almost certainly be better than my car, because the latest special edition of a mid-engined V8 Ferrari has always been superior to the previous one, all the way back to the 360 Challenge Stradale. The Pista would give me an extra 85kW, even more sophisticated aerodynamics and yet more subtle electronic intervention. It might even look better. I just couldn’t decide.
In the end I decided to stick with what I had. For a start, a part of me that I despise believes my car is a shrewd investment. Moreover, my orange Speciale is very much mine, personally specified in accordance with the mantra once relayed to me by a friend: “Always buy the Ferrari you can’t really afford.”
But, dammit, the Pista is better. Everything is lighter and more responsive, and the motor sport technology transfer (largely from the 488 Challenge racing car) is the most intensive on any road-going Ferrari to date. The Pista is blisteringly fast yet surprisingly benign. Its 530kW may sound absurd for a 1385kg car, but as Ferrari’s chief test driver once famously said, as long as you’re in control, the power is never enough.
Now I must introduce that Alpine A110, which I was driving a few weeks ago. Where Ferrari has applied its considerable intelligence to refining the supercar idea – power, turbocharging, use of lightweight materials, control of slip angles, speed of gearchanges and so on – Alpine has applied it to sports car basics. The A110 makes do with a 185kW four-pot unit, but it weighs not much more than a tonne and is properly tiny. This isn’t really about downsizing, saving fuel or reducing emissions. The ruthless paring translates as genuine mid-engined magic and tremendous feel. The experience suffused me with supercar doubt. Just what, in reality, is the 488 Pista for?
I’ve oft argued that driving something like a Ferrari is an act of civic generosity, like buying a Matisse and hanging it outside your house so others can enjoy it. But I now wonder if owning a 488 Pista is like buying a Matisse and hanging it on your wall back to front. Its abilities are that unfathomable.
I’m conflicted here. Ferrari says 60 per cent of Pista owners will go on track days, but I find that hard to believe. I don’t take my Ferrari on track days. At the same time, I don’t buy that tired old argument that supercars are “unusable” in the real world. Of course you can’t hope to exploit the dark corners of their capabilities, but that is also true of hot hatches. The beauty of a track-bred Ferrari is that its ability to do all that stuff makes it feel exotic in normal use. It lends an incredible clarity to its operation. It also makes it credible, like a watch that can be used at a depth of 200m, even though you’re not going there.
I took the Pista for a lengthy drive around the back roads of EmiliaRomagna and it was utterly delightful. Should I have taken Ferrari up on its kind offer? Probably. OK, definitely. I haven’t, though, have I? But I have paid the deposit on an Alpine.