Pista Whipped : Ferrari 488 Pista Driven [review]

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Like all Ferrari special edition V8s, the 488 Pista whips winding roads into submission

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Maranello, Italy – You can never underestimate an adoring crowd’s response when you’re deep in Ferrari country driving a Ferrari… and a red one, no less. Ferrari-spotting in Maranello isn’t something anyone will grow tired of (we’d certainly hope not, considering the legion of Tifosi that makes the pilgrimage to Maranello just to soak in the glamour and mystique of the Prancing Horse). Neither have the brand’s sportscars become anything remotely resembling a blind spot, as they’re still regarded as decidedly exotic in most parts.

(CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE CHALLENGE STRADALE, 430 SCUDERIA & 458 SPECIALE)

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batch IMG 20180902 152556488 Pista's front 'S-duct' is F1 tech

The 488 Pista we’re in is Ferrari’s latest special series V8, and sight of it quickly blocks out thought of anything else; conversations stop, fingers point excitedly and camera phones are whipped-out to catch our drive-by, because regardless of race, language or religion, petrolheads will always be petrolheads.

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If anything, it’s a fabulous experience pandering to these passionistas when we’re on overseas drives, because they’re an enthusiastic bunch that will egg you on to rev the car, or slow it down for them to have a better look.

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With the strong exception of a passionate group of exotic car spotters in Singapore, such petrolhead passion has all but dried-up here. These days, revving a sportscar, or even being seen at the wheel of anything sporty provokes dirty looks and a ready camera – however, we should qualify that in this case, the camera is readied more to record anticipated misdeeds than any love for such unbridled machines, which could soon go the way of the Dodo.

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Look at that detail... how do you get bored of something like that?

Of course, we’ve also encountered that group of petrolheads that likes to affect a blasé world-weariness when it comes to exotic cars, almost as though this breed of sportscars isn’t good enough. Many are pseudo-anorak types that want to swim against the flow – however, it’s one thing to adopt a contrarian view when it’s justified, but entirely myopic to dismiss a marque solely because it appeals to the masses as an ‘obvious choice’ – more so if you’ve never driven one in anger... or at all. Real petrolheads can find joy in all things automotive, regardless of age, brand and country of origin.

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The Pista’s tried-and-tested formula is a familiar one: weight-loss, finely-tuned aero/cooling dynamics and a bump in engine performance – all in a single road-raging track-honed sportscar package. Most, if not all the major sportscar brands have that one (or more) model that is a road-going embodiment of these virtues, and we’re not looking forward to the day when such focused driving machines have to take a backseat to fully-autonomous cars.

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Like Ferrari’s other special edition coupes from before – 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale – there’s a subtle, effortless elegance to the 488 Pista that belies its performance credentials, but don’t be mistaken into thinking it’s in any way small in road presence.

(CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE CHALLENGE STRADALE, 430 SCUDERIA & 458 SPECIALE)

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Unlike its contemporaries, there’s nary a GT wing or bulging bodywork in sight, so it doesn’t garner undue attention (well, as little attention as any Ferrari can get, at any rate!), so you’ll be able to drive from home to the track, and then dinner after, with little issue scoring prime parking position in front of the posh hotel.

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The Pista’s aerodynamic, weight-savings and engine innovations are derived from the 488 GTE and 488 Challenge racing programmes, as well as from F1. Weight-savings alone account for 90kg shed from the regular 488 GTB, with the Pista tipping the scales at under 1.4-tonnes.

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Carbonfibre rims – est. S$90k cost-option if you spec it on the car... a fair bit cheaper if you order it as a spare part ;)

Ferrari has introduced a lightweight lithium battery and cost-optional 20-inch carbonfibre rims for the Pista, lightened the engine internals (the Pista’s engine is 18kg less than the GTB’s) and used Inconel for the exhaust manifolds.

batch 3LOR8603Motorsports-inspired door pull-straps... très cool

Naturally, carbonfibre is also employed, with the racy material used for the engine cover, front and rear bumpers and the characteristic rear ducktail spoiler, while Lexan, a lightweight composite from motorsports is used for the rear window.

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A name often maketh the car, and Italian brands seldom get it wrong, and this even extends to the time Ferrari elected to call its hypercar LaFerrari (or the Ferrari The Ferrari in English!) – no confusing series of alphanumerics here, just pure sex as the L’s, R’s and A’s roll seductively off one’s tongue.

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In this case, ‘Pista’ is Italian for track (or circuit), a fitting, natural environment for the hard-edged 488 variant, but it also thrives well on the winding roads, as our jaunt along the country roads around Maranello would demonstrate.

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Ferrari is fuelled and fired-up by passion, both for its cars from the fans, as well as the passion for driving from the owners of its cars. Instead of talking about what your car can do to impress your listeners in chat groups and kopitiams, it’s cooler to get out and drive. Life is too short for pissing contests when you could be luxuriating in a combination of lateral gs and a thunderous soundtrack as you weave and wind your way through the European mountain passes, or any engaging B-road in Malaysia.

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Winding roads or race-track, the 488 Pista will whip'em all into submission

‘Getting out and driving’ is clearly a philosophy Ferrari has adopted for its cars, because the brand has engineered the Pista to offer accessible and progressive handling dynamics at the limit with the FDE (or Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer), which works its magic in the ‘CT Off’ driving mode, or one level below the no-holds-barred ESC Off on the manettino control.

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A wayward mid-engined rear-drive car is no laughing matter, so it is timely that Ferrari has taken into account the fact that drivers of varying levels of skill (or ‘unskill’) might be in a position to exploit the dynamic potential of its cars.

We wouldn’t have dared taken the same liberties with our favourite special edition, the 430 Scuderia, as we did with the Pista. In the older models, there’s always an added thrill from the risk of a huge wipe-out, and this constantly keeps one on the toes, metaphorically speaking of course. After all, it’ll never do you or the ‘Scud’ any good to be tip-toeing around with such ballistic performance at the behest of the right foot. In fact, many still feel it is fighting to maintain that delicate balance on the knife’s edge of the traction circle that makes things so challenging… and ultimately satisfying.

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Purists may scoff at the integration of FDE into the Side Slip Control system to deliver natural and progressive oversteer characteristics, so that it’s never viciously snappy, but there’s no denying it gives less expert drivers a newfound satisfaction in driving, which is everything that cars like the Pista should represent.

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The FDE makes things predictable and affords some leeway for those not versed in precision recovery, but make no mistake, you’ll still need to throttle and steer to recover or hold the slide. The FDE is not going to bail you out without any effort from the part of the driver once you decide to flirt with her playful side and it’s important for owners to be able to come as close to enjoying the maximum performance of their cars as possible.

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You slip into the Pista like it’s a second skin and it doesn’t take long for you to realise it’s the perfect partner to tango with; it’s all down to the communication between man, machine and the Michelins (Pilot Sport Cup K2 rubber to be exact), as you quickly become intimately familiar with its limits. Driven hard, it’s the raw, manic edge to the Pista’s personality that elevates it beyond 488 GTB territory. Despite the electronics, progress is fluidly swift and organically feelsome, as you segue seamlessly into the Pista’s groove.

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The huge turbo’d torque gives the Pista an almost dainty lightness of being better associated with the 360 Challenge Stradale, albeit with the staggering ferocity of the Scuderia and relative comfort of the Speciale. The trend towards delivering an all-rounded performer started with the Speciale, and this has evolved even further with the Pista.

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Despite its voracious appetite for squiggly, winding ribbons of tarmac on both road and track, the Pista has a sanguine side to its personality that lets one cruise sedately in urban traffic without man or machine feeling unduly frustrated.

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Pista gets the longer paddle shifters from the 488 Challenge race-cars – paddle extensions were a popular mod on earlier models

It’s the first of the modern V8 special series models to be powered by a turbocharged engine. The 3902cc unit boasts lightened and precision balanced internals over the GTB’s and has been tuned to 710bhp and 770Nm (versus the 488 GTB’s 660bhp/760Nm), albeit with an eye to response and daily-driveability, as well as outright performance at the highest reaches of the rev-band.

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Ferrari has tweaked it to deliver the same immediacy of response as one of its naturally-aspirated screamers, and the Pista’s torrential thrust will whip your head into the headrest with every flex of the right foot, with the 0-100km/h sprint demolished in well under 3secs.

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Regretfully, gone are the days you need to wring an engine out to its screaming redline to tap into its performance – the GT3 RS and Huracan Performante are the remaining two contenders in this segment to offer naturally-aspirated engines. The Pista’s full-fat 770Nm hits hard from just 3000rpm, and even in seventh gear, which as you can imagine, sees the Pista stir rowdily from slumber to searing between one drawn breath to the next.

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Ferrari has endowed the Pista with the aural, visual and tactile cues to deliver the requisite shock and awe. Shifts of the dual-clutch gearbox that we found to be overly smooth in the Speciale have regained the familiar bang-bang-bang ‘shotgun-effect’ in the Pista, a powerful performance reminiscent of the explosive shifts of the Scuderia’s single-automated transmission.

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The soundtrack of a turbocharged engine is the soft-spot kink in this velvet-gloved iron fist, and it's hard-pressed to rival the strident melody of the Challenge Stradale’s, or even the existential angst of the Scuderia. However, it creates a stirring enough impression from within the cabin for the driver to enjoy, with a surprisingly wide enough tonal range to be evocative.

(CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE CHALLENGE STRADALE, 430 SCUDERIA & 458 SPECIALE)

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If there’s one thing that gets a petrolhead in the mood for driving, it’s cabin ambience, and the Pista doesn’t disappoint. Like Porsche’s RS models, the cabins of Ferrari’s special series sportscars are appointed with all the motorsports-inspired trappings to put one in the frame of mind for a blistering drive, with appropriate amounts of carbonfibre and Alcantara cladding strategic visual and touch points.

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Price-wise, the Pista's S$1.216m starting price sits between the compelling and very competent McLaren 720S in the S$1.1+m region and the GT2 RS, although the latter is a moot point if you’re thinking of it now, considering allocation for Porsche’s S$1.4+m (spec’d with the Weissach Package) turbo’d tour de force might already have dried up, especially with the next generation 911 impending.

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Ultimately, Ferrari is in an enviable position of not indulging in the whole record-run rat-race to sell cars and wow your friends with, least of all for special series machines like the Pista, simply because a Ferrari just is – nothing less, but certainly a whole lot more.

PHOTOS Ferrari / David Khoo

FERRARI 488 PISTA
Engine 3902cc, V8, twin-turbo
Power/rpm 710bhp/8000rpm
Torque/rpm 770Nm/3000rpm
Transmission 7spd F1 dual-clutch
0-100km/h 2.85secs
Top Speed >340km/h
Fuel Consumption 11.5l/100km
CO2 263g/km

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.