So what next? Not least for the contrast, make it the Ferrari 488 Pista. And from a car with a performance level you would delight in taking full advantage of probably as often as you drove it, meet one in which the punctuation between your first full-throttle adventure and your second might be rather long – and the sheer effort of mental processing power that pause contained necessarily considerable.
The Pista is monstrously, preposterously fast. It accelerates with a violence you very rarely find in a car with numberplates, feeling less like a car at all while doing so and more like it might be invisibly but very firmly attached to some distant F35 fighter jet (albeit one that you can’t actually hear over the angry yowl of the V8 engine). For Frankel, its pace was “epic”; for Bird, it was “intense, visceral, out of this world”.
But Prosser’s comments hinted at the elephant in the room, which other judges noted also: that the car “has a level of performance that you really struggle to tap into on the road”. That’s the risk any car with a particularly healthy feeling 710-horsepower engine runs, of course. But this one has such a dramatic, torque-filled power delivery that, in this tester’s experience at least, it is the first Ferrari whose sheer pace seems to know no end. Maranello has been talking for years of ECUs that deal out more and more torque, in a stepby-step process, as you shift up – but the 488 Pista is the first Ferrari to really feel like it’s doing that. In some cases, the car seems to pick up more mid-range potency in that way than it seems to lose as a result of the change in gearing, even. Shift from second to third without taking your foot off the throttle stop and it feels as if another engine has suddenly attached itself to the driveline. It’s incredible.
As well as that astonishing engine, the Pista leaves you in a bewildered sense of awe with its supreme outright grip level, and with steering that’s light, direct and precise even by modern Ferrari standards – but that doesn’t inspire immediate confidence.
For some, that made for a combination sufficiently highly strung to be problematic. Frankel recorded that it was “the most civilised (and best) Ferrari V8 special I’ve driven, after the Challenge Stradale, Scuderia and Speciale; but like all of those, it’s still not as nice to drive on the road as the standard car on which it’s based. You can’t use what it’s gained, but feel the compromise in ride and refinement at every turn.” For Prior, however, we heard different: that the Pista was “very enjoyable on the road”, and had “a ride which is good enough, even if the steering is over-light and quick by comparison to some”.
Well, by comparison specifically to one, as it happened: the McLaren 600LT. The list of 600-horsepower mid-engined supercars that feel as planted and precise as this, and that communicate, reassure and encourage you to extend them so powerfully on the road, might only be one item long. It’s a car blessed with a turn of speed we might usefully describe as fathomably immense rather than downright absurd. But it rides with a sense of measure and supple sophistication you just don’t expect of it; it can be placed so accurately that you feel as if you could handle any bend, at any speed that your bravery would permit. It has one of the world’s great driving positions, granting superb visibility of the road ahead. The Ferrari’s initial hit of fever is much more exciting, and while the McLaren’s V8 revs slightly more freely, no judge thought it even close to a match for the Maranello-built engine: not on responsiveness, torque, audible charm nor outright potency. And yet the car with the deeper and more lasting sense of exhilaration and reward? That was debated long and hard.