Fer­rari 488 Pista

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Chris Har­ris takes the race-honed 488 Pista off the track and onto the road. Cue a traf­fic jam of rub­ber­neck­ers

The truth, as is so of­ten the case, is con­tained in the tyre. It is easy to be bam­boo­zled by a Fer­rari tech­ni­cal pre­sen­ta­tion – end­less charts and sta­tis­tics work­ing in com­bi­na­tion with fran­ti­cally hy­per­bolic Ital­ian-English over­load your grey mat­ter and pum­mel you with in­for­ma­tion that leaves you al­most brain­washed. Dur­ing the per­for­mance, at least five peo­ple will stand up and tell you how fan­tas­tico-amaz­ing the lat­est Fer­rari Ber­linetta is. By the end, if they told you it could soft-boil an egg and halve the third-world debt, you’d sim­ply nod in ac­cor­dance.

But the man from Miche­lin, no­tably the only non-Ital­ian in the build­ing, is the quiet voice of rea­son. He tells us that the new Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyre that has been spe­cially de­vel­oped for the Pista isn’t an ex­treme track-only item. It of­fers con­sis­tent grip in all con­di­tions and no sig­nif­i­cant peak when it is new. It is a tyre that com­pro­mises out­right lap time to be us­able in the wet. Be­cause for all its 710bhp and Fio­rano lap time su­pe­rior to ev­ery other Fer­rari bar the LaFer­rari, the Pista isn’t de­signed to crush your spine or go hunt­ing lap records. It’s a real, us­able road car. And this is a good thing. Mind you, its spec­i­fi­ca­tion reads like some­thing that could have won Le Mans a few years ago. The en­gine is lifted from the 488 Chal­lenge race­car, and is sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent from the GTB’s twin-turbo V8. The big num­bers are 710bhp and 770Nm of torque, al­though that last fig­ure is only avail­able in seventh gear, such is the ex­tent of the cal­i­bra­tion to make the car feel as un­tur­bocharged as pos­si­ble.

Weight has been re­duced by 90kg through the usual blend of light­weight com­po­nents and a bar­ren in­te­rior – car­bon-fi­bre wheels are also an op­tion for the first time on an F-car. The front cool­ing pack­age is taken from the Chal­lenge car too, al­low­ing for the large bon­net scoops, and the whole aero pack­age has been re­vised to cre­ate a down­force fig­ure that is, as

“It’s a real, us­able road car. And this is a good thing”

usual, mean­ing­less to me. In­ter­est­ingly, the vast side in­takes no longer feed air into the plenum like they do on the GTB, that is now ducted from two new scoops on the deck lid.

The lat­est ver­sion of Fer­rari’s trac­tion and sta­bil­ity pro­gramme has added abil­i­ties and acronyms, but ma­jors on jug­gling a vari­able lock­ing dif­fer­en­tial with sin­gle brake disc ap­pli­ca­tions to make the car turn more ef­fec­tively and to make own­ers feel like su­per­heroes.

And they’ll feel pretty good about this car, be­cause it is shock­ingly fast. The 50bhp in­crease over the GTB doesn’t make it pro­foundly dif­fer­ent to the “base” GTB, but I can only judge these things ac­cord­ing to my trusty swear-ome­ter, and, from the mo­ment I gave it full beans, the ver­nac­u­lar flowed in much greater quan­ti­ties in the Pista. The mo­tor pulls from be­low 2,000rpm, and the ef­fects of the re­duced torque in the lower gears can be felt but is never a frus­tra­tion, be­cause even those fancy Miche­lins sim­ply can­not cope with how po­tent this mo­tor is.

The sys­tems are some­thing else, though. You re­ally can place your­self in the hands of the Pista and let it carve its way around a cir­cuit. It helps if you stop in the cor­rect places and aim for the odd apex, but oth­er­wise it man­ages the avail­able trac­tion to per­fec­tion, and the in­ter­ven­tions are so seam­less, the jug­gling of dif­fer­en­tial and brakes so smoothly de­ployed that, at times, you have to re­mind your­self it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. In fact, you can only fully ap­pre­ci­ate how much work the sys­tems are do­ing by switch­ing them all off – at which point the Pista be­comes one of the most out­ra­geous mo­tor cars I’ve ever driven.

Be­cause there comes a point when pure mo­tive force over­whelms even a del­i­cate mid-en­gined Fer­rari chas­sis. At Fio­rano, cor­ners that were full throt­tle in sec­ond gear in the old 458 Spe­ciale are part throt­tle in third, and if you push any fur­ther on the long-travel throt­tle pedal, the car moves into big over­steer. And it will do this ev­ery­where, even into fifth gear. It’s com­pletely out­ra­geous and also to­tally ad­dic­tive and quite un­like any­thing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced from Fer­rari be­fore.

Of course, you can drive the car neat-and-tidy, man­age the torque your­self and rely on what must be the most ap­proach­able mid-en­gined chas­sis on sale. The set-up is very con­ser­va­tive, with a good chunk of un­der­steer on a con­stant throt­tle to stop the thing loop­ing around on it­self. Grip is ac­tu­ally very good, but be­cause the rear is so eas­ily un­stuck if you want to be silly, it gives the sen­sa­tion of ac­tu­ally not be­ing that grippy.

“You can only fully ap­pre­ci­ate how much work the sys­tems are do­ing by switch­ing them all off...”

In fact, this is the para­dox at the core of the Pista. It de­ploys the very lat­est in sports-car tech­nol­ogy, is prob­a­bly mak­ing more cal­cu­la­tions per nanosec­ond than a space­craft, but with all the sys­tems switched off, the re­sult­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence sits some­where around the mid Six­ties. And I mean that as a huge com­pli­ment. The torque-to-grip ra­tio is ac­tu­ally very sim­i­lar to an old sports car in that drivers re­ally can choose to over­come trac­tion when­ever they want to.

The brakes are mon­strous car­bon-ce­ram­ics, and they need to be, be­cause the Pista ar­rives into brak­ing zones at such silly speeds that they take an ab­so­lute past­ing – you spend most of your time thrum­ming into the anti-lock and pray­ing it will stop. The steer­ing is typ­i­cal mod­ern Fer­rari: pretty in­ert and fan­tas­ti­cally quick – to the ex­tent that you just steer be­tween your wrists.

And Fer­rari has worked very hard to make this tur­bocharged en­gine want to rev all the way to the 8,000rpm lim­iter. The GTB al­ways feels breath­less over the last 1,000rpm and that dulls the excitement fac­tor on a cir­cuit, but the Pista keeps pulling all the way to eight grand. What I didn’t re­alise was that the base car has a soft lim­iter that ta­pers power away grad­u­ally as you near the cut-out (see, al­ways lis­ten to the tech­ni­cal brief­ing), and that ob­vi­ously hurts the sense of ag­gres­sion even more. The Pista does away with that, so it of­fers far more zing at the top end. No, it doesn’t scream like a Spe­ciale, but it is so much faster that the two can’t re­ally be com­pared. I’m prob­a­bly the wrong per­son to ask about the qual­ity of the noise be­cause I’ve al­ways found Fer­rari flat-plane V8s (apart from the 355) to be rather tune­less and shouty, es­pe­cially the Spe­ciale. This thing is less shouty and still pretty tune­less.

On the road, the Pista is ar­guably more sur­pris­ing. I only spent a cou­ple of hours on the usual sham­bolic roads around Maranello and, apart from miss­ing some car­pet and a lit­tle more gen­eral com­mo­tion in the cabin, it is no harder to live with than the stan­dard car. The springs are a lit­tle firmer but the car never feels too raw for the road, and the hy­per­fast steer­ing comes into its own on very twisty sec­tions, be­cause you just don’t need to use too much lock. The front grip of the car is es­pe­cially im­pres­sive – the way it wants to dart into an apex and then hold a line is quite some­thing. You can feel the dif­fer­en­tial open to al­low that free­dom to turn and then lock to find trac­tion on the

“The Pista ar­rives into brak­ing zones

at silly speeds”

exit. Cru­cially, it’s a car that is fun to drive at nor­mal road speeds. Yes, it could cover ground at a rate that would land you in se­ri­ous trou­ble, but the slow thing works just fine. It’s a great shame that Fer­rari no longer of­fers man­ual trans­mis­sions, but this dual-clutch gear­box is a pretty strong ar­gu­ment for not having one – in the con­text of this type of car. Up­shifts are flick-snap quick, and com­ing back down the ’box is even more im­pres­sive.

So, as a driv­ing de­vice, this is Maranello at its best. On pa­per, a 710bhp twin-tur­bocharged, mid-en­gined Fer­rari should be ap­prox­i­mately as ap­proach­able as a Victorian head­mas­ter with a crack­ing hang­over, but this thing is a com­plete honey to slide around. How­ever, as an ob­ject, I have a few reser­va­tions. The cabin de­sign is now eight years old and it looks it. There are so many dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and tex­tures that the whole thing looks a bit of a mess. And much as you have to ad­mire the use of un­der­body aero as it means no ugly rear wing, there’s an un­for­tu­nate fussi­ness to some of the de­tails. But that re­ally is a mat­ter of opin­ion, and, on this sub­ject, mine prob­a­bly doesn’t count for much.

The Pista is a stun­ning achieve­ment. In a mar­ket­place that seems to be in­creas­ingly ob­sessed with track-fo­cused ma­chines, it ex­ists as a very fast track toy that can be used per­haps even more ef­fec­tively as a road car. The lucky few al­lowed to buy one will not be dis­ap­pointed.

Ex­actly like the “stan­dard” 488 ex­cept with less car­pet and more noise To fully ap­pre­ci­ate the sound of the Fer­rari V8, press ear to page here

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