Thanks to being a juror for the prestigious International Engine of the World Award, Driving.ca’s Motor Mouth, David Booth, was lucky enough to drive a heavily-disguised prototype version of Ferrari’s new twin-turbocharged 488 Pista. Of course, he didn’t count on the snowstorm …
MARANELLO, Italy – Come to Italy, they said, and test a Ferrari on the racetrack. Escape all that horrible snow that’s blanketing the northeast. Bask in the warmth of a spring Mediterranean breeze. Sun yourself, said the brochure — OK, it was just an email, but still — in warm Italian sunshine.
Un-huh. What we got was snow — yes snow — on an Italian March 19th that was colder than Toronto’s. How cold you ask? So cold, Ferrari’s public relations mavens told us, that the Pista — Ferrari’s fully ‘weaponized’ version of the 488 GTB — would have to run on winter tires, the Michelin Sport Cups specifically designed for it simply too stiff in these cold climes to serve as anything other than giant hockey pucks. So, yes, I ended up travelling all the way to Italy just to sample the magic of Ferrari’s latest supercar on the most famous test track in the world on snow tires.
Snow tires or no, though, it’s a mad thing is Ferrari’s new Pista. First off, there’s the claimed 720 horsepower. Oh, to be sure, they’re of the slightly-wimpier “CV” European breed equines — said 720 CV’s translating into about 710 North American Clydesdales — but that’s still 50 more horsepower of whatever variation than a garden-variety 488. What one gets — besides a whopping 185 hp, er CV per litre, one of the highest specific outputs in the industry — is a supercar that now tops out at more than 340 kilometres an hour (that’s 210+ mile per hour, folks), accelerates to 100 km/h in less than three seconds and hits — in what is becoming the new benchmark for true supercar performance — the 200 km/h mark in under eight seconds.
That makes Ferrari’s supposedly ‘junior’ supercar virtually as fast as all those million-dollar hybrid ‘hypercars’ introduced but five years ago. So, forget that the Pista accelerates to 200 km/h in the same amount of time as your Toyota Camry — or Ford Fusion/Chevrolet Malibu/Hyundai Sonata for that matter — takes to get to 100. That’s just we, the undeserving proletariat, trying to compare a dream we’ll never be able to afford to the econobox we can.
What really matters — at least for those lucky denizens of Bay Street fortunate to have half a mil to blow on a set of wheels — is that the Pista’s 7.6 seconds is barely 0.2s slower to those 200 km/h than Porsche’s million-dollar 918. Lamborghini’s Aventador LP 750-4 Super Veloce — with four more bellowing pistons — is barely 10 kilometres an hour faster on the top-end than the breathed-on baby Ferrari. Even Maranello admits that it’s own, once-thought-indomitable electrified and V12ed LaFerrari is less than two seconds faster around Fiorano than the new Pista. Equipped with similar tires and without all that aforementioned snow, of course.
And yet, as scintillating as that incredible turn of speed may be, it’s not the best thing about the new 488. No, what makes the Pista so special, what makes this one supercar stand out in a sea of similarly-turbocharged competitors (virtually everything supercarish these days, save Lamborghini’s Huracan and Audi’s quasi-super R8, is force-fed) is that this particular twice-‘turboed 3.9L feels like the good, old naturally-aspirated V8 we thought we had lost with the passing of the 458.
Where the GTB’s rendition of the F154CD — for that is the designation of this latest variant of the Ferrari V8 that powers everything from the base Portofino to the GTC4LussoT — almost lumbers, the Pista fairly zings. Where previous Ferrari turbos, well, lag when you punch the throttle, the Pista’s 3.9L responds with almost naturally-aspirated zeal (Maranello’s engineers even have a “roll-on” type measurement for this, noting that Pista is more responsive than the GTB and within milliseconds of the 458). What I am trying to say is that after nearly a decade of the (supercar) industry claiming its turbocharged cars were as involving as the naturally-aspirated glories that emissions and fuel economy standards have forced us to leave behind, Ferrari has delivered. It’s a good one, this new Pista engine, still not quite as involving, perhaps, as the 458’s old 4.5-litre gem, but more than close enough, as they say, for government regulations. It’s waaaay more engaging than the GTB.
NATURAL Trish Brown High Boot Knee Women's SOUL As for the source of this goodness, it’s actually important to look past the traditional problem of turbo lag. Oh, Ferrari has performed tricks here, such as adding speed sensors directly to each turbocharger so that they always be kept near their optimum operating rpm to optimize throttle response. There’s also a new, almost counter-intuitive, camshaft/airbox combination design — which actually bleeds off a little air at the end of the intake stroke — that permits an even higher-compression ratio without the detonation that plagues all high-performance turbocharged engines.
But, despite those very real sources of improvement, the reason for all this newfound turborchaged magic, I think, is the fact that Ferrari claims a 17 per cent reduction in rotational inertia for the Pista’s engine compared with the garden-variety GTB. A measure of how quickly all the moving parts inside the motor can “spin up,” the Pista’s ability to zing to redline is immeasurably aided by a crankshaft that’s 1.2 kilograms lighter, titanium connecting rods that are lightened by 220 grams each and even the F154’s first use of hollow intake valves. Hardly as exciting as gargantuan turbochargers these details may be, but they are responsible for regaining what turbocharged supercars had lost: Personality.
As for exactly how good the Pista’s road-holding, cornering and steering will be, please see my lede, re: snow, 2C temperature and winter tires. Snow tires on a Ferrari, even Pirelli’s entirely creditable PZero Sottozeros, are a bit of the proverbial fish on a bicycle. What little I can say is that in its full attack mode, the Pista’s suspension is decidedly more firm than the base GTB’s and that Ferrari’s latest Side Slip Control system manages to contain all that power in conditions better suited to dog sleds and snowball fights. For more than that, you’ll have to wait for our full-fledged road test later this summer, hopefully with seasonal driving conditions.
What we can say — again, for those with a small fortune burning a hole in their pockets — is that if the 488 GTB felt a little tame — hell, some might say antiseptic — in the way it charged about breaking speed limits, Ferrari has now let the dogs out. Indeed, the highest compliment I can pay the Pista is that it felt a lot like the much-missed 458.
On steroids, of course.