There is so much I could tell you about this car that I could dedicate the rest of this article to it, not mention what it’s like to drive and still only skim the surface of the most complex, advanced and fastest Ferrari road car ever.
So forgive me for sticking to the highlights. The SF90 Stradale does not replace any existing Ferrari, it is a new flagship, the first with eight rather than 12 cylinders. It is not a limited-edition hypercar, but a production model, despite the fact that its powertrain – a 4-litre twin-turbo V8 with an electric motor between it and its gearbox plus two further independent electric motors driving the front axle – produces 1000 Pferdestärke – or 986 good old English horsepower. It can drive itself silently using its front motors at up to 84mph, or you can drive normally in which case the engine drives the rear wheels, only calling on the front motors when needed. I’m not saying it’s the first car that can be front-, rear- or four-wheel drive, just that I can’t think of another.
That’s just the beginning of its cleverness. By using active torque vectoring across the front axle the SF90 does not, for instance, merely brake an inside wheel to help the car turn in, it can accelerate the outer one too. Inside you’ll find an entire new dashboard architecture, a curving screen of dazzling resolution and remarkably well arranged graphics. It looks hideously complex but is in fact very simple to use: quite the reverse of many recent Ferrari instrument packs. Deep down, the car’s platform is distantly based on that of the 458/488/F8 family, but is so changed the only real significance is that its monocoque remains aluminium, meaning that unlike McLaren and Lamborghini, Ferrari still keeps carbon construction for limited- edition specials such as Enzo and LaFerrari. It’s one reason it costs less than half the price.
If there is an obvious flaw, it’s that all this technology weighs quite a lot, and is not offset by a carbon tub or bodywork. Ferrari says it weighs 1570kg, but calculates the figure unlike most others. First, this is a dry weight and not a more widely recognised kerb weight; second, the weight is that of a car wearing every lightweight optional extra including in this case the ‘Assetto Fiorano’ pack, which consists of lighter suspension, exhaust, carbon wheels, and more. That alone adds almost £40,000. Ferrari’s engineers told me a standard car weighs around 1670kg, putting its kerb weight at around 1770kg. Which is heavy. It can also only carry 74 litres of luggage in its boot, less than one quarter of that offered by Ferrari’s next-fastest two-seater, the 812 Superfast. You’d struggle to go on holiday with it, unless your luggage travelled separately.
That’s a huge shame, because for all the fire and fury we’ll be getting to shortly, this is a superb long-distance device. Thanks to its new interior architecture, it’s the easiest Ferrari to just get in and operate of modern times. It’s all easy and intuitive to use. Quite unlike a Ferrari, in other words. Nor is it remotely intimidating. Its essential dimensions are those of any mid-engined V8 Ferrari of the last 10 years. It will do around 15 miles on electrons alone and thanks to its unfathomably compliant ride, there are times where you’ll be wafting around in silence wondering if this is not actually a thousand horsepower limousine.
It is not. When the time comes, the SF90 is preposterously fast and with the electrics filling in the gaps in the turbo motor’s torque curve, it’s instantly responsive too. Because the front axle only manages the 220bhp provided by its electric motors that still leaves the balance of power going to the rear wheels alone, so despite four-wheel drive, you can feel the electronics holding the car back, tyres on the very limit of their traction. Unless you fiddle with the Manettino dial on the wheel and place it into ‘Race’ mode, in which case you can have even super-sticky Michelin Cup 2 tyres yelping for mercy. But it’s also supremely easy to drive fast because those same electronics just don’t let things get out of hand. But the technology can’t disguise all its weight, and in the new electrically assisted power steering system, you can feel it. It dives into an apex, but does not dart. Then you can just power on and leave the rest to the safety nets.
Or not. You can turn them off, in full or in part. At which stage a hitherto fun and entertaining car gets very serious. And I love it for that. Because if you know what you’re doing and have the right surroundings, here is a near 1000bhp, mid-engined, four-wheel drive supercar that will drift and drift and drift. This is a driver’s car from top to toe, utterly wild when requested, but capable of being tamed at the twist of a dial. On the road you can just neutralise the back end with power alone; on the track it’s the most challenging yet rewarding car of its kind I’ve driven.
But I still wonder what it would be like without those driven front wheels. Lighter for sure, and more usable, because it would have a big boot. Cheaper maybe? It would be down a few hundred horses, but I suspect Ferrari could still find 800 or so. Which is enough for most. Which means I left the SF90 thinking not just how incredible it is, but how much better even than that it could potentially be.
Engine 4.0 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged, hybrid drive
Weight 1570kg (dry, with all lightest options fitted)
Power to weight 620bhp per tonne
Transmission Eight-speed double clutch, two/four-wheel drive
Top speed 211mph
Verdict Stunning as an instrument of driving pleasure, rubbish for a holiday…
Aston Martin DBR9, DBRS9 & N24
Andrew Frankel drives the car which Aston hopes will finally bring it class victory at the 24 Heures Du Mans It seems strange to say it now, but I thought…
1992 Mexican Grand Prix: An almost perfect result
Once again the Williams duo ran away and hid, but just how much of their superiority was due to active suspension? It was as predictable as it was impressive, really.…
Forest 'RAC' rally to honour Roger Clark
The classic era of the RAC Rally will be re-created in November 2004 with a three-day forest rally aimed at crews of historic, post-historic and classic cars. Pre-75 rally cars are…