It is hard not to get emotional when you drive a spectacularly good car, even more so when it is involving and presses all the right buttons. As you will read from page 42 onwards, this was often the case during our Performance Shootout. However, I also experienced it recently behind the wheel of another very special car.
In our June 2018 issue, technical adviser Nicol Louw flew to Maranello for an overview of how Ferrari engineered the turbocharged engine in the 488 to heightened levels of performance for the then-new 488 Pista. The trip and a brief drive of a camouflaged Pista prototype left an indelible mark on him. “It’s difficult to come to terms with the performance potential of the Pista … If this first impression is anything to go by, Ferrari has created yet another legend,” he wrote. High praise indeed.
Fast forward to 2020 and there’s no Fiorano test track in sight. Then again, there needn’t be because this is the 488 Pista Spider, primed for open-air supercar thrills on the open road. Its owner has done a superb job of specifying it. For starters, the dark blue exterior paint (Pozzi Blu) looks almost black depending on the time of the day. Yet, in direct sunlight, a rich azure hue reveals itself. In true Spider fashion, we kept the roof lowered for the drive.
The finer details of this car take a while to notice. There are several winglets and aerodynamic details to be appreciated; most notably and importantly, how the air is channelled over the front radiators and through the opening in the front lid. Images of the Ferrari F50 and its distinctive front intakes immediately come to mind.
As before, the doors open to reveal a relatively spartan cabin with no unnecessary addenda to distract the driver, which is entirely appropriate in a car that’s all about driving purity. Two small screens behind the steering wheel supply you with all the necessary information. The lightweight seats are covered in blue Alcantara, as is the dashboard, and the pews are both comfortable and supportive. Being the pared-down 488, I was thoroughly impressed by the level of comfort and luxury. You could easily spend several hours behind the wheel and not tire.
There’s a gorgeous burble from the exhaust the moment you fire the engine. A pull of the large carbon-fibre paddle (still mounted on the steering column and not the steering wheel itself) engaged first gear. The road that runs past the Theewaterskloof Dam towards Franschhoek is not only extremely picturesque, but has long open stretches and fast sweeps before it tightens up Franschhoek Pass. You can really stretch a car’s legs here, but it does demand your full attention at all times.
I pulled off slowly and, once all the fluids warmed up, I pressed the throttle. The car was in fifth gear but as the boost increased from the turbos, the Pista picked up speed faster than anticipated. I needed a moment to gather my thoughts, selected third gear on the shift paddle and asked the car to deliver all it had to offer. In what felt like an instant – after all five rev lights had illuminated on the steering wheel – she was already up into fourth gear. The gearshifts were intense, whether up or down the gearbox. This made sense, as I had selected Race mode on the Manettino dial.
For all the speed and noise, I was gobsmacked at how the suspension setup absorbed bumps on the road. I’ve driven numerous supercars on this road and some can get a little skittish on the pockmarked surface. Not the Pista, it hunkered down without a hint of it feeling unsettled. With the roof down, the wind noise soon overcame the exhaust note, but the blowing from the turbochargers and burbling exhaust returned as I slowed for the twists and turns of the mountain pass.
The view ahead and inch-perfect seating position within the car fell perfectly into place. As the nose is short and dips well below the windscreen, I had a clear view of the road. If I were being critical, perhaps I would have liked more feedback through the steering wheel, but even so, you can easily guide the car with confidence and feel how it reacts through the seat of your pants. The turn-in is sharp and direct. There is a high level of mechanical grip but pushing the car close to its grip limits was just not on the menu today.
You can fully trust the engineering as it had no trouble putting all that torque down when powering out of corners. The moment the steering angle was straight and you could unleash the full force of the engine, straights disappeared in seconds and you could rely unerringly on the carbon-ceramic brakes. It comes as no surprise that the Pista Spider feels nimble, changes direction in an instant and, when you have a few kilometres of open road in front of you, does not run out of steam. It is difficult to decide which facet of the performance is more impressive: the sheer amount of power or the torque on offer. Linear power delivery is often ideal for a sportscar, but the amount of torque available from this engine gives it another level of excitement. Even if you’re a gear higher than you should be going into a corner, you can count on the torque to pull you through. Do it all over again and select a lower gear for the same corner, and the high-end power will catapult you out of the turn. It feels like you simply cannot get it wrong in the Ferrari.
As the sun slowly set over the Franschhoek Valley, we parked the car, put the roof up and relaxed for a while. It’s no surprise this engine has won so many Engine of the Year awards. Having driven the 458 Speciale Aperta a few years ago, I thought I would miss that high-revving naturally aspirated engine but this car is just on another level in terms of performance. Ferrari knows the market and what its clients expect, which proves the success of the 488 Pista Spider. It isn’t as hardcore as I anticipated; rather, it offers an exceptionally well-rounded supercar experience … and a convertible all mixed into one.
Engine:3,9-litre, V8, twin-turbopetrol
Power:530 kW @ 8 000 r/min
Torque:770 N.m @ 3 000 r/min
0-100 km/h:0-100 km/h: 2,8 seconds
Top Speed:340 km/h
Fuel Consumption:12,80 L/100 km