Take our 2017 Best Driver’s Car champ, give it 710 horsepower, trim 198 pounds from the overall weight, add the latest generation of Ferrari’s acclaimed vehicle dynamics software, overlay it all with aerodynamic tricks learned in the white-hot cauldron of Formula 1 racing, and what have you got? The 2019 Ferrari 488 Pista, that’s what. And after some quick hot laps at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track and a short blast through the hills around Maranello in a gaudily camoed 488 Pista prototype, we can tell you this much: The best just got better.
The 488 Pista is the latest in a line of race-flavored mid-engine Ferrari road cars dating back to 2004’s 360 Challenge Stradale, and this is the most extreme of the lot. It’s also, paradoxically, the easiest of them all to drive. At any speed.
Technical director Frank Markus deconstructs the 488 Pista’s headline story—its staggeringly powerful and efficient twin-turbo V-8 engine—here. And we gave you the lowdown on the car’s other tech highlights after its debut at the Geneva show. But it’s only out on the road and the track where the 488 Pista becomes more than an aggregation of numbers and factoids.
It starts with that astonishing engine, the most powerful V-8 Ferrari has ever installed in a road car. With those 710 horses arriving at a soaring 8,000 rpm, it combines the crystalline response of a high-revving naturally aspirated engine with the midrange muscularity of a turbo engine that can produce a thumping 567 lb-ft from just 3,000 rpm in seventh gear. Ferrari’s clever torque management system doles out the lb-ft to ensure torque keeps rising throughout the rev range in gears one through six. And unlike other engine management protocols that anticipate when an engine is about to approach the redline and pre-emptively begin to wind back spark, fuel, and boost, the 488 Pista’s system will allow the 3.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 to maintain exactly 8,000 rpm.
It all happens in such a seamless manner you’re never aware of anything other than pure thrust, whenever you want it. Acceleration is urgent, even as the upshift warning lights form a crimson arc across the top of the steering wheel. But you can also use the torque to punch the Pista through a tight sequence of unsighted corners on the open road, or to let the car loaf through town with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in automatic mode. The Pista’s V-8 may make 182 hp per liter, roughly the power density of Ferrari’s 1989 V-12 Formula 1 engine, but it will pull cleanly from just 1,200 rpm in top gear.
In Race mode and above, the transmission has been recalibrated to deliver harder, faster shifts that thump home like a full-race sequential-shift manual transmission. Under normal circumstances that would mean treating downshifts with respect on corner entry to avoid unsettling the car. But the Pista’s Side Slip Control 6.0 (SSC) system monitors everything from steering angle to yaw motions and braking efforts, and the intensity of downshifts is modulated to avoid locking the rear wheels.
The Pista’s chassis feels sharper, more alert, more connected to the tarmac than that of the regular 488, though it still retains that car’s wonderfully light-footed feel. The ride is remarkably composed. Recalibrated shocks and 10 percent stiffer springs mean body motions are more tightly controlled than in the 488, but the Pista remained calm over the bumpy roads around Maranello, with impressively low levels of impact harshness. There’s slightly more weight to the steering than in the 488, but—importantly—more intimacy, too. Despite the extraordinary grip generated by the bespoke Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, especially once they’re warm, you can feel the slip angles building with remarkable clarity.
Reduced sound deadening means there’s more tire noise, however, and you hear gravel peppering the underside of the car. There’s also slightly more pronounced tip-in when braking from low speeds. But there’s nothing to prevent the 488 Pista being used as a daily driver. Which is remarkable given the way it drives on the track.
The Pista is fast, 1.5 seconds a lap faster around the 1.86-mile Fiorano circuit than a regular 488 in the hands of a Ferrari test driver like Raffaele de Simone. But what makes the Pista special is that its extra performance is accessible even to regular drivers like us. Ferrari’s extraordinary SSC dynamics system works with the driver to ensure the 488 Pista delivers its best while inspiring maximum confidence. The laws of physics still apply, but it is indeed remarkable to be able to hop into a mid-engine supercar with 710 hp and be confidently powersliding it out of Fiorano’s hairpin turn within four laps.
The genius of the Pista’s SSC system is that it’s not an electronic nanny that punishes when you make a mistake, but a genuine aid that helps even experts go faster. With manettino at the CT-OFF position—one shy of switching everything off—SSC 6.0 analyzes the driver’s reaction to lateral movements of the car and lightly brakes selected wheels to make them feel more predictable. SSC 6.0 doesn’t dumb down the Pista’s dynamic limits. It simply makes them much more approachable. So despite its enormous power and prodigious grip, the 488 Pista is a supercar that encourages rather than intimidates. And yes, it will drift.
Rest assured the 488 Pista is on the invitation list for our 2019 Best Driver’s Car shootout. We can’t wait to let it loose around Laguna Seca and find out exactly how much better than our current titleholder it really is.