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Flat out in the Ferrari SF90 XX: does this 1,016bhp hypercar deserve the badge?

Is the launch of the first ever road-legal XX car the moment it jumped the shark?

Published: 15 Feb 2024

When I first drove the SF90 back in the weird summer of 2020, and in the hills not far from here, what blew me away was how fast it got itself out of corners. Inside, I felt like a tennis ball: roundabout, thwack, tight bend, thwack, open curve, thwack, hairpin, thwack. It was a physical bombardment and I was in the firing line.

And now Ferrari has built a faster SF90. More aero. More grip. But how it gets itself out of corners remains the most remarkable thing. At least dynamically speaking. But put dynamics to one side and there’s something even more remarkable: that the car exists at all.

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My God there must have been some fights, scuffles and scrapes in the corridors of power at Maranello about whether to lend the hallowed XX label to the SF90. This is a badge that matters. It’s less a car, more an entry to Ferrari’s most exclusive club. Up until now, as far as I can work out, Ferrari has only built about 116 XX cars over 12 or more years. Now it’s about to build 10 times that many of a car that breaks with everything that XX stands for.

Photography: Mark Riccioni

It’s a road car. It’s high volume. You can have it as a drop-top Spider. It’s not eligible for any of the XX extras: the events, activities, track days. Ferrari won’t store this XX car at the factory for you. It’s not part of the Corse Clienti program. So why not plunder the back catalogue and stick a less contentious badge on this moderately uprated SF90? GTO perhaps (although that opens another can of worms), or Speciale? Plunder something else from the back catalogue.

Probably because it wouldn’t have done enough. When it came out it looked like the biggest issue the SF90 had was its lack of luggage space. It wasn’t its pace, the way it drove or even the slightly ungainly styling. However, the intervening years have revealed something. Wealthy car enthusiasts really adore the V12. They don’t mind hybrid, but a twin-turbo V8? That was what featured in the 488 and F8 – the entry level supercars before the 296 came along (that uses a twin-turbo V6, which acts, sounds and feels more exotic than the V8).

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The SF90 is Ferrari’s current flagship and its blown 4.0-litre V8 is potent, responsive and very, very effective. But it doesn’t sound great. And since Ferrari builds a truly epic V12 (and has kept it alive in the not-an-SUV), this powertrain, even reinforced with three electric motors, felt like a step down. Turns out simple, binary, shove-in-the-back g-force is no substitute for purity, hedonistic charisma and a tune to rouse Enzo from his eternal slumber.

 

Which meant Ferrari hasn’t sold as many SF90s as it must have wanted. It already had the optional hardcore Assetto Fiorano pack, so adding another badge to supplement that wasn’t going to cut it. Nothing less than a rolling out of the XX branding, considerable engineering resources and a proper attempt at a lap time would do. But making it track only would never shift enough metal. Buyers of cars like this, as social media shows us all too often, just want to hang out and show off. And tell us all about their Forex trading.

So it had to be road legal. And buyers can’t be expected to compromise on luxury, so it still has aircon, a hi-fi, glass windows, proper sound insulation, nose lift, matrix lights and a full suite of options. This is how to attract people now, not design a legend for the future. And frankly it has the sticky fingers of the marketing and sales departments all over it.

Aside from the funky new seats with their horseshoe shaped base (BMW puts a threatening pommel between your legs, Ferrari gives you some ventilation instead) there’s little sense of compromise to the SF90 XX. It might look radical outside, but it’s only 10kg lighter than an SF90 with the Assetto Fiorano pack. And yes it’s now got a wing and bonnet vents and slats and plenty of other air bullying devices, but 530kg of downforce at 155mph isn’t that impressive. At the same speed the McLaren Senna had 800kg, and that was five years ago. That, and Porsche’s latest GT3 RS, have shown how much wing you can sneak past the legislators if you really try.

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The claim is that it has the most efficient aero of any Ferrari road car ever. I’m not sure that’s a huge selling point, but I will say this: the SF90’s styling looks much more cohesive with all the aero kit on it. The car is more purposeful, visually better balanced and makes a much stronger statement than before.

Power has also climbed beyond the magic 1,000bhp mark. An extra 17bhp has been liberated from the V8, another 13 from the electric motors, and while a 1,560kg dry kerbweight (call it 1,700kg with fluids, about half a tonne more than an original FXX) is no one’s idea of a superlight, it’s blown aside by 1,016 huffing horsepowers. Divvied up between all four wheels (one e-motor for each front wheel) and delivered in a gasping wallop, it’s brain scrambling stuff. Which brings us back to where we came in. The energy with which the XX leaps out of Fiorano’s many slow corners is bewildering. It lunges in a way I haven’t experienced since I drove Audi’s R18 LMP1 car. Get it near-straight, flatten the throttle and pull the paddles as fast as you can. Next blink you’ll be in fifth and way up over a ton.

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I might have had a pop at the planning and positioning of this car, but given the componentry and weight, it’s a great piece of engineering. Only Ferrari can make a super complex 4WD supercar this accessible and playful. Turn-in isn’t hyper aggressive, just incisive. The front bites cleanly, carries loads of speed on the Michelin Cup2R tyres. They’re the key to everything, reckons chief test driver Raffaele de Simone: “To get the car faster on the racetrack normally everyone goes with a specific development of the tyre... but here we did not, here the tyres were a fixed point to work around and improve the other areas.”

Road tyres, see, for a road car. Not that I was allowed to drive it on the road. Sore point. It would have been interesting to find out if it’s as well cushioned out there as the body roll and suspension movement on track suggest. It’s not as stiff and unyielding as I suspected, although at the end of my day with the car, Raffaele proved its credentials by sending it around Fiorano in 1m 17.309s, making it Ferrari’s fastest ever road car.

And slowest ever XX car. The FXX posted a 1m 17s 18 years ago. Put the SF90 XX on the slicks the FXX wore and it would doubtless be faster, but that’s not the point. In giving it this duality, making sure it’s manageable for less experienced drivers, the XX appears to have a very similar tone and demeanour to the regular SF90. It’s not hugely aggressive, it’s smooth and undemanding, Ferrari says it has worked on the gearchange speed and pop, the engine noise and more, but it’s hard to spot an improvement. End result: it’s not that memorable to drive. Maybe I’ll change my tune if/when I get to drive it on road.

Frankly it has the sticky fingers of marketing and the sales department all over it

Ultimately, it’s an accomplished piece of development work, but the original brief wasn’t the right one. I can tell you why it’s been done though: business. It’s limited edition, which means Ferrari can jack up the price. So it has. By almost £300,000. Yes, where a regular SF90 starts at £376k, this is £673,584. The regular Spider is £40k more than the hard-top Stradale, for the XX that gap increases to £70k – £744,088 before you’ve fitted an option.

In total, 1,398 are being built (split 799/599 coupe to roadster), which means a billion dollars of income before anyone’s fitted an option. We know what usually happens when a supercar marque launches a range topper: no one buys the ordinary one. Well, the markup here is so extravagant I’m not sure that’ll be the case. But maybe buyers will go elsewhere – there’s another marque down the Po valley that might have what they’re after. God it must have stung Ferrari when Lambo kept the nat-asp V12 alive for the Revuelto.

This is surely the end of the line for XX as a badge and brand. The launch of this car is the moment it jumped the shark. It’ll continue as a club with the existing cars, but Ferrari couldn’t now introduce a new super limited edition XX hypercar. The SF90 has diluted and devalued the offering. But, it looks like Ferrari has already thought of that...

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