Motor Trend|November 2021

When I first learned Ferrari was offering a plug-in hybrid supercar with hypercar aspirations, I didn’t think much of it. In some ways the SF90 Stradale is yet another update of the F8 Tributo platform, which dates to the decade-plus-old 458 Italia—and truthfully there’s some circa-2004 F430 marrow and sinew found within the new car’s anatomy. I assumed it would be nothing more than a heavier iteration of the same Maranello-flavored, mid-engine V-8 supercar with too much power for anybody’s good. Boy, was I wrong.

There’s a comprehensively reworked version of Ferrari’s twin-turbo V-8 behind the passenger compartment. Displacement is up from 3.9 to 4.0 liters, and power rises from 711 to 769 horsepower, along with 590 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mounted remarkably low to the pavement: The tops of the rear tires sit above the cylinder heads. This is possible because Ferrari reduced the engine’s overall height by 12 percent, and because there’s a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission mounted 15mm lower than the F8’s seven-speed. Also, there’s no reverse gear, so the smaller, more compact gearbox weighs less.

Between the engine and the gearbox lies a compact “pizza motor” (what non-Italians might call a “pancake motor”) good for 157 hp and 196 lb-ft. There are two other motors, one driving each front wheel and making 97 hp and 62 lb-ft apiece. The latter two handle reverse duty, and although they don’t make a ton of power, these units are stout enough to propel the SF90 to speeds up to 85 mph in pure electric front-wheel-drive mode, Ferrari says. However, I couldn’t keep the V-8 turned off beyond 77 mph. Still, that’s good. There’s a battery you plug in to charge, mounted low behind the two seats, and it provides 15 miles of pure-EV driving. Below 130 mph, the engine and three motors power the SF90; above that, the front motors disengage. This means, depending on what you’re up to, the SF90 Stradale can be front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive. That’s nuts.

Four driving modes are selectable via capacitive buttons found on the lower left of the steering wheel. They are eD (Electric Drive), Hybrid, Performance, and Qualifying. eD is self-explanatory—it prevents the V-8 from firing unless you run out of juice or exceed the 85-mph limit. Hybrid means the SF90 defaults to EV mode, but the gas engine starts when more performance is requested or if the battery is drained and needs to be charged. Performance mode keeps the V-8 burbling and the battery charged, and it’s probably how most drivers will enjoy their SF90s. Qualifying taps everything for maximum power, allowing for full output from the electric motors. This is the quickest, most powerful driving mode, where draining the battery is part of the fun.

A typical use case scenario: You silently roll out of your gated driveway/hangar and make the trip to your favorite canyon road, which is let’s say 8 miles away. The battery shows 7 miles of range left. You pop the SF90 into Performance mode to warm everything up, and hey, look at that—after a few miles of hard-driving, the battery’s range has gone back to full. The gas engine spins the three electric motors while also keeping the battery juiced. Into Qualifying mode you go, driving especially hard for a few miles. The battery is drained.

Once you tire of limit-handling shenanigans, you drop back into Performance mode to cool things down. By the time you’re at the bottom of the mountain, the battery is nearly fully charged, and you drive home in electric mode, making it back to your villa with 5 miles of range left. The above isn’t marketing baloney: I spent six hours driving the SF90 all over Los Angeles, and it’s exactly what I experienced.

I need to mention I did not drive the standard SF90 Stradale; I drove the even sportier and track-focused Assetto Fiorano version. Hand Ferrari an additional $56,000, and you get a significantly upgraded car. The standard adjustable dampers are replaced by fixed Multimatic shocks. Steel becomes titanium for the springs and exhaust system. The underbody and door panels are fully carbon fiber.

This all results in a 66-pound weight reduction. Ferrari claims the SF90 weighs 3,454 pounds, which would put Assetto Fiorano models at less than 3,400 pounds. Emphasis on the word “claims.” That’s the dry weight; it’s more like 3,839 in the real world (more on this on the next page).

The carbon-fiber rear spoiler and other clever aerodynamic tricks deliver 859 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. Lastly, the standard tires are replaced with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s designed for the Assetto Fiorano. These meats are a bit softer of compound to partially compensate for the Assetto’s stiffer ride.

Ferrari says roughly 50 percent of SF90 customers have ordered the Assetto Fiorano specification. One caveat: You cannot spec a front-end lift system on the Assetto Fiorano, which will no doubt turn off some buyers. However, the car rides much taller than others of its ilk; I only scraped the lip once.

As for the design, the SF90 looks like it was born in a wind tunnel rather than on someone’s sketchpad. In fact, there are 14 paragraphs in the press release related to aerodynamics, which is what happens when a Formula 1 manufacturer builds a modern hypercar. What are those 14 paragraphs about? Turns out, a lot. Some highlights include the struggle between downforce and aero efficiency. Anything this powerful needs to stick to the ground, but EVs and PHEVs must be slippery. Additionally, the engine, the three electric motors, the battery, the brakes, the fluids—even the passengers—need to be kept cool. Air needs to be manipulated in ingenious ways.

Additionally, sometimes you want 859 pounds of downforce, and sometimes you don’t. This means you can stall both the front and rear wings. The rear section is particularly tricky. The wing is in two sections (one fixed, one on electric actuators) suspended between the rear fenders. In normal driving conditions, air flows over and under both pieces. When downforce is needed, the lower section (a.k.a. the shut-off Gurney flap) drops down to close off the flow underneath and create a totally new tail geometry.

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