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2019 Ferrari 488 Pista: First Drive Review

Italy. Sunshine. Ferrari. Race track.

Sounds perfect doesn’t it? Bask in a little Mediterranean sunshine, escape the deep freeze that is the northeast in a frigid March and oh, roil the new, fully weaponized version of Ferrari’s twice-turbocharged 488, the Pista, round Fiorano, possibly the most famous (if not quite the fastest) test track in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

Snow, actually. As in a little blizzard of the fluffy white stuff that would have done our Canuckian friends to the north proud. And temperatures cold enough — on an Italian March 19 for gosh sake — Ferrari’s public relations mavens informed us, that the new Pista — that would be the "track" version of Ferrari’s 488 GTB — would have to run on winter tires, the Michelin Sport Cups specifically designed to be simply too stiff in these cold climates to serve as anything other than giant hockey pucks. Yup, just when I though I’d seen it all, snow tires on Ferrari on a racetrack.

Snow tires or no, however, Ferrari’s new Pista is a mad thing. First of all, there’s the simple fact that its 3.9-liter V8 now boasts 710 horsepower, 50 more than the garden-variety GTB. That is, according to Ferrari, the greatest increase of any of its recent special editions, i.e. bigger than the jump from the 458 Italia to the Speciale or the F430 to the 430 Scuderia. It is also, says the company, a whopping 182 hp, per liter — one of the highest specific outputs in the industry.

That’s all enough to propel the new Pista to more than 340 kilometers an hour. That’s 212-plus miles per hour, folks, the type of speed that separates hypercars from the merely super. It will also accelerate the Pista to 62 miles per hour in less than three seconds and, given its head, hit the 125 miles per hour mark in substantially 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, the 7.6 seconds the Pista takes to accelerate to 125 mph being just 0.2 seconds slower than Porsche’s million-dollar 918. Even Maranello admits that its own hybridized 949-hp V12 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.

What makes the Pista even more special, however, is that, unlike so many of its similarly turbocharged competitors, it feels like the good, old naturally aspirated V8. Where previous Ferrari turbos, well, lag, the Pista’s 3.9-liter zings. After nearly a decade, actually longer, of the industry trying to claim its turbocharged cars were as involving as naturally aspirated engines, Ferrari has finally delivered. It’s a good one, still not quite as involving, perhaps, as the 458’s old 4.5-liter gem, but more than close enough, as they say, for government regulations. Both in sound and fury, the Pista is heads above the GTB and most of its competition.

As for why the Pista is so much more powerful than the GTB — some of its advantage is the result of minimizing turbo lag by adding speed sensors directly to each turbocharger (so that they’re always kept near their optimum operating rpm). Then they optimize the camshaft/airbox combination design. Counterintuitively, Ferrari actually bleeds off a little air at the end of the intake stroke, permitting an even higher compression ratio without the detonation that plagues all high-performance turbocharged engines.

The reason for the engines newfound "zinginess" — that impressive response to throttle I mentioned — is that Ferrari claims a 17-percent reduction in rotational inertia for the Pista’s engine compared with the garden-variety GTB. Everything inside the engine from the flywheel (down 1.5 kilograms) to the now titanium connecting rods (lighter by 220 grams a piece) is reduced in weight so the Pista’s 3.9-liter can spin harder, faster.

As for exactly how good the Pista’s road-holding, cornering and steering will be, I simply can’t tell you. Snow tires, even Pirelli’s entirely creditable PZero Sottozeros, are the proverbial fish on bicycles trying to harness 710 hp on a cold, wet racetrack. First impressions, however, are of suspension decidedly more firm than the base GTB’s and a revised Side Slip Control system still able 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.

What we can say is that the Pista is the 488 invigorated. In fact, I will pay it the highest possible compliment I can to a turbocharged supercar: It’s almost as much fun to drive as a 458.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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