Ferrari SF90 Stradale Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
Shell V-Power: Fuelling your passions
Wednesday 7th June
Car Review

Ferrari SF90 Stradale review

Published: 13 Jul 2020


What is it like to drive?

The key, says Stefano Varisco, Ferrari’s Head of Vehicle Dynamics, is that “you don’t feel the complexity”. Imagine if you did, having to juggle huge forces being randomly spat at each wheel. Doesn’t bear thinking about. Ferrari built its reputation on engines and has maintained it – no turbo engine has better response than the V8 in the F8 Tributo, no-one builds a more hedonistic, bombastic V12 than that fitted in the 812 Superfast. But now Ferrari’s genius goes further – I’m not sure that anyone else does algorithms and systems integration better. Nope, not sexy. But where the SF90 is concerned, vital. 

Let’s start with two things: braking and acceleration. Ferrari has gone for brake-by-wire because it lets them combine regen braking (to charge the battery) with conventional disc braking more fluently. Plenty of others, including the original Porsche 918 Spyder, have got this wrong, ending up with brakes that jerk or are inconsistent. Ferrari hasn’t gone in for one-pedal drivability, so all the slowing is done with the pedal. A pedal that, for possibly misguided reasons, they’ve given an astonishingly short travel, like a racing pedal. But it can’t be as heavy and solid as that for road customers, so in a couple of inches of travel it has to pack in everything from urban traffic lightness and sensitivity to race track bite and power. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

That has been done flawlessly. Yes, they can be snatchy until you get used to them, but the main drawback is the lack of natural pedal feel, when you’re only pressing against wires and sensors, not hydraulics and discs. To combat that development driver Raffaele di Simone says they allowed some of the brake vibration to come back through the chassis under heavy braking so you knew the car was working hard before the ABS cut in. That’s thoughtful. And necessary for several reasons. Stopping ability in an 1800kg hybrid (Ferrari claims a 1680kg dry weight before lightweight options) isn’t as good as in a non-hybrid supercar, but going ability is. The SF90 disguises its weight so well everywhere else, that you forget it needs a few extra metres to stop, and forget too, just how fast the speed has piled on. Relatively easy to outbrake yourself. 

Acceleration is uncomfortable. Here’s what’s new: you take hairpins in fourth gear. You really do. In any rear-drive turbocharged supercar you’re probably in second to guarantee good response, and it’ll still be a scruffy exit as the torque thumps in and the back axle fails to cope. In the SF90 you sail round at about 2000rpm, and when you press go, you go. 217bhp of electric (it feels like more, especially if you’ve ramped the hybrid selector up to max-attack Qualifying mode) hits home and that ultra-responsive twin turbo isn’t far behind. Algorithms decide how the electric power is deployed across the three motors, then the engine takes over. Ferrari says the car is rear-drive when it can be, but it’s so seamless and harmonious when you accelerate, so dextrously is the torque vectored that, on the road at least, understeer and oversteer are effectively banished – the SF90 just hooks up and goes. 

You catapult out of hairpins, or anywhere else where you choose to give it the full pedal at 2,000rpm. And that force sustains, uncomfortably sustains, until the 8,300rpm cutout. In practice there’s just no point going much beyond four or five – it’s the low-end leap that’s most addictive, the instant electric hit and then the rapid turbo shove. Aurally, Ferrari has performed no miracles, this is still a relatively dull engine to listen to.

So far it sounds as if the 986bhp SF90 doesn’t have much of a wild side. Brace yourself for the acceleration, get on the brakes good and early, let the systems sort out everything else. On road that’s true, although doesn’t fully explain how agile and immediate the car feels – I’ll come on to that later. On track it’s another story. OK, stick to Race mode and it’s quick and accurate. The traction nips you back into line a fraction more than it could, but di Simone reckons it’s fastest for all bar pro drivers. I can see why. Step up to CT Off mode and the electric safety blankets are mostly removed and you’re instantly shown just how hard they’ve been working to cover for you. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

‘Playful’ is a word that describes it. So is ‘lively’. Neither really encapsulates the drama that plays out. Suddenly the rear wheels appear to have become casters, which would rather slide sideways than forwards. Now you’re living with the reality of what 1,000bhp does in a car that’s been set-up for agility and response. ‘Hectic’. There’s a word. I’d stop short of ‘savage’ because the dynamic set-up that underpins the SF90 is so good that even with the systems switched off what plays out makes sense: the rear slides, the front responds to compensate. Occasionally it then sends an extra dollop to the rear. That can catch you out on corner exits. Just be smooth, play gently with the balance and traction. 

It's amazingly nimble for a car of this power. You’d expect Ferrari to have set it up more like a grand tourer, but this is definitely sports car. Lowering the engine has dropped the centre of gravity 15mm, so it feels super settled through corners, no roll. Ferrari has really nailed the electric power steering too. Just two turns between locks, but much less hyperactive just off centre and good awareness of the forces building. And the damping is masterful. The roads in the hills south of Maranello are catastrophic – narrow, tight, lumpy, broken, the kind that make you wince and clench in anticipation. No issues. Great control, amazing pliancy. Again think what it takes to achieve that when you’re trying to lay down 600bhp/tonne. Like the brakes and steering, lots of control and adaptability packed into short travel. 

So is it fun? Emphatically. The way Ferrari has managed 4wd, bent huge power over the anvil of electric control, is incredible. It’s a corner slingshot. But it behaves as you expect, feels natural and harmonious. Blitzing a road, then getting to village limits and selecting e-Drive and crawling stealthily through is cool, gives the SF90 a dimension beyond any other Ferrari. It’s not as rich an experience as driving an 812 Superfast, mainly because the noises it makes are so much less interesting, the sense of connection to a pure engine diminished, but as a demonstration of electronic and dynamic mastery, it’s triumphant. 

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo
more on this car
Take one for a spin or order a brochure
Powered byRegit Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5