New Ferrari 488 Pista prototype review

The Ferrari 488 GTB supercar is already as quick as hypercars from just a few years ago, but the company still reckons there’s room for a bit extra and even more involvement. Enter the 488 Pista, equipped with an engine that is 50 per cent new and an even more extreme chassis set-up. We got behind the wheel of a late pre-production version to see if the new car delivers.

As well as being more powerful, the Pista is lighter (by 90kg if you tick the right options boxes) and it uses aero tricks from motorsport. And yet, despite the increase in raw speed, Ferrari is adamant that the 488 Pista is about driving enjoyment – on road or track.

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At the heart of the new car is a heavily updated twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8, mounted behind the two-seat cabin; itself trimmed down in appearance, but not drastically. Peak power has been increased by 50bhp to 711bhp, while torque output is up by 10Nm, at 770Nm.

Exotic materials, such as titanium and Inconel, are used to reduce weight and increase response, which is electric for a turbocharged car. At no stage does it ever feel like you’re waiting for the turbos to spin up to speed. Ferrari quotes a 0-62mph sprint time of 2.85 seconds and a top speed of “over 211mph”, which represent small improvements over the GTB. But those numbers don’t tell the full story.

A lot of work was focused on what occurs inside the engine’s cylinders, in a bid to reliably extract more performance and response, and this has also resulted in smoother running at low speeds. On the road, the Pista is a breeze to thread through traffic and tricky urban layouts.

As before, there’s a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with large carbon-fibre gearchange paddles behind the chunky steering wheel. It has fully automatic and fully manual modes, and has been recalibrated to suit the characteristics of the new engine.

Changes vary from physically violent at full throttle in Race mode (where the shifts are claimed to be 30 milliseconds faster than in the GTB) to smooth on part-throttle or in the Wet setting. As before, drive goes to the rear wheels via an electronically controlled differential.

Twist the steering wheel’s lovely ‘Manettino’ mode selector control to the ‘CT-OFF’ position and it unlocks the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer (FDE), a system that adjusts brake pressure on individual wheels, to assist with sliding the rear of the car in track driving. This is not, stresses Ferrari, a stability control system, but one focused on driver enjoyment and cornering speed.

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And enjoyable the 488 Pista certainly is. That applies whether you’re likely to ever make use of the FDE function or not, because core to the Pista’s remit was that its pace would be accessible and exciting for motorists of all skill levels, while giving more experienced drivers a car they will never tire of.

On the road, Sport mode is ideal, because throttle response and gearchanges are a fraction less sharp than in Race, allowing smoother progress in situations where you can’t hold the throttle down all the way for long.

There’s huge grip and traction from the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – even when the surface is damp and far from smooth. This car’s pliancy on a bumpy road will come as a surprise, given its track focus. The springs are stiffer than in the standard car, but the electronically controlled dampers retain their ‘bumpy road’ setting, which means it’s never uncomfortable.

Admittedly, due partly to less sound deadening, there is more road noise in the cabin, even at normal speeds, but the Pista is unlikely to be used for regular motorway commutes.

It is, however, perfectly capable of being driven to a track for a day’s fun. And there it excels. The new engine sounds even more exciting, with less turbo noise and a much louder exhaust.

The high grip levels, responsive steering and unflappable brakes instil confidence in the driver to push the car harder with each lap, and the Pista feels better the faster you drive it. It’s enjoyable and rewarding, whether you stay within the limits of grip or explore its full capability. Indeed, first impressions suggest that this could be the most engaging Ferrari ever made.

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