One-track mind

It’s bred for the cir­cuit. who’d buy it?

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE -

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.

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