2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale first drive review: Plugging in to 986 horsepower

The tides are changing in the automotive seas. In terms of production, the Ferrari is a small fish. With just over 9,000 cars shipped in 2020, Ferrari’s volume is less than 1% of a mainstream player like Toyota. However, in terms of history and prestige, it’s hard to get much bigger than the prancing horse, and although the brand has come this far largely by doing its thing, even the House of Enzo cannot ignore the new world of electrification.

Of course, for Fiorano’s best engineers it’s not enough to put an electric motor on a car. With the SF90 Stradale, Ferrari has created something special. It’s an engineering marvel that you might think has many parallels to another vehicular prodigy: NSX from Acura. However, the Stradale is so radically different in terms of feel and performance that I must confess that it’s actually a bit difficult to compare the two.

But I’ll do the same, if only for the context. Also important for this very reason is to look at the F8 Tribute, Ferrari’s current premium supercar with which the SF90 shares a chassis and a few other pieces. Likewise, after spending a day at the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, much of what revolves around the company’s private test track, I assure you that these cars are also less related than you might think.

Let’s start with the facts and figures. The Ferrari SF90 is a 986-horsepower coupe, weighing just 3,700 pounds despite some of that power coming from three electric motors and an 8-kWh battery pack that sits low behind the seats. Most of the power comes from a 4.0-liter V8, twin-turbo up to an inch of its life and delivering 769 hp.

That’s about 60 horsepower more than the 3.9-liter V8 that powers the F8 Tributo, but there’s a lot more to it than a 0.1-liter bore job. The SF90’s nodule has been significantly modified, including swapping the fuel injectors in a central position for better combustion and remodeling the block to place everything lower in the frame. That revised engine, with its new turbos, not only produces more power, but weighs a whopping 55 pounds less than the Tributo.

2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale

Similar, but very different.

Ferrari

Like a pancake-shaped parasite, the first of the SF90’s electric motors are sandwiched between what Ferrari calls the “heat engine” and the transmission, a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that’s 22 pounds lighter than the seven-speed in the F8. This engine helps drive the rear wheels and brings an additional 201 horsepower to the party, filled with torque and throttle response and all the lovely benefits of electrification.

Ahead sit the other pair of electric motors, 133 horsepower each for a net system power of that astonishing 986. So much power, nearly 280 horsepower more than the Tributo, albeit costing around 500 pounds more. weight. Power, however, is far from the only advantage. The two front engines add infinitely variable torque vectoring to pull the car into corners. When braking, they help recharge the battery. Those engines help overcome any turbo lag and the big one at the rear also helps with traction control.

How? I was shown the telemetry of my laps in Fiorano. Whenever my right foot demanded more power than the rear tires could provide, instead of simply cutting off the engine spark or slowing down like a traditional traction control, the SF90 actually increased the regeneration of the rear electric motor. This effectively reduced power to the rear wheels, using unwanted torque to recharge the batteries. Very beautifull.

While the SF90 shares the same wheelbase as the F8 Tributo, the car itself is nearly 4 inches longer, largely to make room for the extra cooling required by batteries, inverters and motors. The elongated muzzle features a prominent wing, made even more pronounced by the contrasting colors featured on the Fiorano backpack seen here. At the rear, there’s a hint of the fluted Lexan engine cover that’s a highlight for me on the F8 Tributo, here dramatically cut and nestled under a broad flying bridge shape.

2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale

The car goes this way.

Ferrari

It’s a dramatic profile, but underneath the skin is a similar setup as found in the Acura NSX, which also uses a trio of electric motors, intimately tying one to a mid-mounted turbocharged engine. As such, I couldn’t help but expect a feeling similar to what I would come to respect and frankly even love in the Japanese counterpart of the SF90. The first time I opened the SF90 on the track, however, I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Where the NSX is a majestic performer, delivering surprising speed with subtlety and smoothness, the SF90 is the ferocious Ferrari you desire. Put the transmission in Qualifying mode and the engine comes to life screaming, howling all the way to the 8,000 rpm red line. The razor-sharp shifts from that eight-speed DCT come with a slight kick on the climb and a bark of rev-matching on the descent. It is a thrilling experience that not Plaid performer will never deliver. The SF90’s steering is lightning-fast, just like the F8 Tributo, which dips to the apex or wherever you can point it.

It’s an immersive experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a handful. Sure, there’s enough power to get you into trouble, especially on the tight Fiorano circuit where the walls never seem more than an arm’s length away. The car, on the other hand, is manageable at speed, responding delicately to your inputs. It is only after looking at the telemetry feed after my last session that I see how much of that precise response is due to the harmonious interplay of the car’s various systems, filling the torque out of corners and traversing the virtual front axle. to make everything work where I want.

Ferrari

From behind the wheel, everything feels right, and that’s the best praise you can give a complex system like this. So is the braking sensation. This is Ferrari’s first Brake-by-Wire system, meaning the car’s pedal is effectively disconnected from the hydraulic system which actually squeezes the carbon ceramic calipers on all four corners. The feel of the pedal is completely artificial, and as such it is perfectly taut lap after lap under the hot Italian sun.

In fact, there is a lot of news here. This is not Ferrari’s first hybrid, but it is the company’s first series production hybrid, i.e. a regular production car, not an hyper-limited model like the The Ferrari. It’s the company’s first plug-in hybrid and, fun fact, the company’s first car without a reverse.

How does the backup then? The front electric motors simply rotate backwards, pushing the SF90 silently and smoothly. You can also drive this way, emission-free, for up to 16 miles. In this mode the car isn’t a rocket, of course, but it has plenty of power and range to get you out of earshot before spinning the V8.

Inside the cockpit you will find another absolute novelty: the Ferrari heads-up display. That HUD is simple, small, and by default it only shows the current speed, which to be honest is the most important thing for anyone hoping to preserve the integrity of their license while driving a car like this on public roads. On the track, I like its simplicity, as many other sports car HUDs can be distracting.

2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale

A powerful and special thing.

Ferrari

The all-digital cluster of gauges measures 16 inches from side to side with a resolution of 2,880×960 pixels across its slightly curved surface. While some may mourn the loss of the traditional center analog speedometer, it’s hard to fault the presentation of information here, including tire pressure and all sorts of system temperatures. And, yes, there’s plenty of space devoted to a high-resolution representation of that iconic broad needle.

The rest of the interior is generally familiar to the F8 Tributo, albeit with a new set of seats that look delightful in their all-carbon construction, padded only where it’s needed. Unfortunately, the SF90 shares a capacitive touch steering wheel similar to the one I generally didn’t like on the Ferrari Rome. This means you have to touch a surface that says “Engine Start / Stop” to turn on the V8. It will never be as dramatic as stabbing a finger on a big red button.

In reality though, it’s my only fault with the Ferrari SF90 Stradale. For such a leap in technology over any previous Ferrari, it’s remarkable how cohesive everything is. Four separate energy sources work in unison to create an extraordinarily 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 opinions and opinions of the Roadshow staff are ours and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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