The tide is changing in the sea of cars. In terms of production, Ferrari is a small fish. With just over 9,000 cars shipped in 2020, Ferrari’s volume is less than 1% of a regular player like Toyota. However, in terms of history and prestige, it’s hard to get much bigger than the stinging horse, and although the brand has come this far largely by doing its own thing, House of Enzo can not ignore the brave new world with electrification. .
Simply beating an electric motor on a car is not enough for Fiorano̵
But I want exactly the same thing, if only for the sake of context. Also important for precisely that reason is to look at, Ferrari’s current premium supercar like the SF90 shares a chassis and some other bits. Having spent a day at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello, much of what has been going on around the company’s private test track, I also assure you that even these machines are less related than you might think.
Let’s start with facts and figures. The Ferrari SF90 is a 986 horsepower coupe, which weighs only 3,700 pounds despite some of the power coming from three electric motors and an 8kWh battery pack that sits low behind the seats. The bulk of the power comes from a 4.0-liter V8, two-turbocharged to within an inch of life, and swings out 769 hp.
There are about 60 more horses than the 3.9-liter V8 that drives the F8 Tributo, but there is much more going on than a 0.1-liter bore. The SF90’s lump was significantly changed, including changing fuel injectors to a central position for better combustion and reshaping the block to put everything lower in the chassis. The revised engine, with its new turbos, not only provides more power, but weighs as much as 55 pounds less than the Tributos.
Like a pancake-shaped parasite, the first of the SF90’s electric motors is sandwiched between what Ferrari calls the “thermal engine” and the gearbox, a new, eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that is 22 pounds lighter than the seven-speed in the F8. This engine helps drive the rear wheels and provides an additional 201 hp to the party, full of torque and throttle response and all the wonderful benefits of electrification.
In front sits the second pair of electric motors, 133 hp each for a net system power of the stunning 986 figure. It’s a lot of power, almost 280 hp more than the Tributo, but costs about 500 extra weight. Power, however, is far from the only advantage. The twin engines at the front provide stepless torque weighting to pull the car through the corners. During braking, they help charge the battery. These engines help overcome any turbo delay, and the large one on the back even helps with traction control.
How? I was shown telemetry from my lap on the Fiorano. Every time my right foot asked for more power than the rear tires could provide, instead of just cutting the engine spark or throttle back like a traditional traction control, the SF90 actually swung up the rain on the rear electric motor. This effectively reduced the power of the rear wheels by using the unwanted torque to charge the batteries. Bellissimo.
While the SF90 has the same wheelbase as the F8 Tributo, the car itself is almost 4 inches longer – largely to accommodate the extra cooling required by batteries, converters and motors. The curved nose has a prominent wing, made even more pronounced by the contrasting colors of the Fiorano package. At the back, there is a touch of Lexan’s engine cover that is a highlight for me on the F8 Tributo, here dramatically chopped and nestled under a sweeping, flying bridge shape.
It has a dramatic profile, but under the skin is a similar layout to that found in the Acura NSX, which similarly uses a trio of electric motors, which intimately bind one to a mid-mounted, turbocharged engine. As such, I could not help but expect a similar feeling as that I would respect and honestly even love in SF90’s Japanese counterpart. The first time I opened the SF90 on the track, however, I realized that I could not have made more mistakes.
Where the NSX is a stately performer, delivering astonishing speed with subtlety and smoothness, the SF90 is the fierce Ferrari you want. Throw the drivetrain in qualifying mode, and the engine screams to life and howls at up to 8000 rpm. Razor-sharp shifts from the eight-speed DCT come with a subtle kick on the way up and a bark of reef-matching on the way down. It’s a tingling experience like nothe practitioner will ever deliver. The steering of the SF90 is lightning fast, just like the F8 Tributo, diving to the summit or anywhere else you can point it.
It’s an engaging experience, but it’s not necessarily a handful. Sure, there is enough power to get you many problems, especially on the narrow Fiorano circuit where the walls never seem more than an arm’s length away. However, the car is manageable in speed and reacts delicately to your entrances. It is only after looking at the telemetry current after my last session, that I see how much of the exact answer is thanks to the harmonious interplay between the car’s different systems, filling torque out of the corners and vectors over the virtual front axle to make everything go where I want.
From behind the wheel, it just feels right, and that’s the best praise you can give to a complex system like this. So is the braking feeling. This is Ferrari’s first brake-for-wiring system, which means that the pedal in the car is effectively disconnected from the hydraulic system that actually squeezes carbon-ceramic calipers on all four corners. The pedal feel is completely artificial, and as such is perfectly tight round after round under the hot Italian sun.
In fact, there are many firsts here. This is not Ferrari’s first hybrid, but it’s the company’s first series production hybrid – that is, a car in regular production, not a hyper-limited model that. It’s the company’s first plug-in hybrid and, funny fact, the company’s first car without reverse gear.
How does it back up, then? The electric motors at the front simply spin backwards and push the SF90 quietly and calmly. You can drive forward like that too, emission-free for up to 16 miles. In this mode, the car is not a rocket ship, of course, but it has plenty of power and range to get you out of the right shot before spinning up the V8.
Inside the cabin you will find another first: Ferrari’s heads-up display. That HUD is simple, on the small side and by default only shows the current speed, which to be fair, is the most important thing for anyone hoping to preserve the integrity of the license while driving a car like this on public roads. On the track, I like the simplicity of it, as many other sports car HUDs can be distracting.
The all-digital measuring cluster measures 16 inches from side to side with a resolution of 2880×960 pixels over the gently curved surface. While some may mourn the loss of the traditional, central analog tachometer, it is difficult to delay the presentation of information here, including tire pressure and all kinds of system temperatures. And yes, there is plenty of room for a high-resolution representation of the iconic, sweeping needle.
The rest of the interior is generally familiar to the F8 Tributo, but with a new set of seats that looks lovely in its carbon construction, upholstered just where you need it. Unfortunately, the SF90 shares a similar capacitive steering wheel as the one I generally did not like. This means that you have to press a surface that says “Motor Start / Stop” to fire up the V8. It never gets as dramatic as sticking a finger on a big red button.
Really, though, that’s about my only fault with the Ferrari SF90 Stradale. For such an advancement in technology compared to any previous Ferrari, it is remarkable how cohesive it all feels. Four separate power sources work as one to create a unique sublime driving experience.
Editor’s note: Travel expenses related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the automotive industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow employees are our own, and we do not accept paid editorial content.