Ferrari SF90 XX review: shouldn’t an XX be more aggressive than this? Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Ferrari SF90 XX review: shouldn’t an XX be more aggressive than this?

£673,600 when new
Published: 14 Nov 2023

Wow, the SF90 XX. This is going to break every lap record going!

Hold your (prancing) horses. Yes, the new SF90 XX is very fast indeed. It has 1,016bhp. It has double the downforce of the regular SF90. It’s also lighter. It does 0-62mph in 2.3 seconds. But there’s one main thing that absolutely sets this XX apart from all the others.

What’s that?

It’s road legal. The first ever XX car to be able to drive, well, anywhere you like really. And that means several things. Firstly that Ferrari can sell an awful lot more of them. Secondly, that it’s compromised. A road car contains an awful lot of weight and gear that a track car can happily do without. Hence the chief reason this weighs 1,560kg dry. The old LaFerrari-based FXX K was 1,155kg.

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So why make it road legal?

See point one. They can sell a lot more of them. I suspect this was the starting point. I don’t know if Ferrari thinks the SF90 was already selling as well as it hoped or not, but it’s a curious car in some ways. Using a twin-turbo V8 seemed the way to go back in 2020, but now Lambo has kept the V12 alive in the Revuelto, and Ferrari’s own 296 GTB is a cheaper, lighter, shinier thing to drive with a more charismatic engine and more cohesive styling, the SF90 seems a car in search of a role. Not least because it has sod all luggage space.

So doing an XX version and making it a limited edition kick-starts desirability. And enables Ferrari to jack up the price. In total 1,398 cars are being built, split between 799 Stradales (at £673,584 a pop) and 599 Spiders (each £730,000). A quick reminder that a base SF90 is £376k.

Spider as in soft-top? This all sounds a bit cynical.

Well retractable hard-top, but I take your point. I too have a suspicion that the marketing department dreamt up the idea of making the SF90 into a road-going XX, and then gave the engineering team the task of pulling it together.

So what are the changes over a regular SF90?

The usual: more power, less weight, more aero. Everything we’re used to seeing from more track-focused models. And not that much more. Anyway, let’s talk you through it starting with the drivetrain.

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The twin-turbo V8 has a new engine designation: F154FB. It’s now higher compression, with new pistons and alone develops 786bhp, a 17bhp gain. The electric motors (there are three of them, one for each front wheel another between engine and gearbox) now develop a combined 230bhp (plus 13bhp). There’s a small battery allowing up to 25km (16 miles) of e-range.

Now we get into the curlier areas: weight and aero. All told the XX is only 10kg lighter than a plain SF90 fitted out with the Assetto Fiorano pack. Yes, it has to carry more weight in the guise of the big new rear wing, but don’t think this XX is a really stripped out track car. It’s not. Ferrari hasn’t tried that hard. There’s still audio, aircon, matrix lights, optional nose-lift if you have the adaptive suspension, and plenty more if you indulge the options list.

And now that Porsche has reset our expectations as to how wild a road-legal rear wing can be, this doesn’t look that astonishing. The claim is total downforce of 530kg at 155mph, split 215/315 front to rear, which is all well and good but a McLaren Senna was up around the 800kg mark at that speed, so this isn’t really moving the numbers game on.

But there is a lot of clever work here to shape and move the air around. Those bonnet vents exhaust hot air from the medium temperature radiator, channelling it over the roof away from the cooler engine intake air on the flanks. Apparently it has the most efficient aero of any Ferrari road car ever. I also think the SF90 styling looks more cohesive with the slats, vents and wings on it. Visually it makes a much stronger statement than before.

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And how about dynamically? Is it a fitting addition to the XX model range?

Name drop clang. Chief test driver Raffaele de Simone is showing me round the car: “To get the car faster on the race track 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 all the other areas”. Yes, the Michelin Cup 2R tyres are very grippy, but they’re still street suited. They’re the limiting factor.

But not the first thing you notice. That’s how softly sprung the car is. There’s actual body roll, pitch and dive. I hadn’t expected that. I’m following Rafa, both of us swerving to get some heat in the tyres and there’s way more movement in the XX than I’d expected. It’s not unpleasant, it compresses and releases evenly, but it’s there. And it’s there for a reason as it allows the tyres to work more evenly and maintain their contact patches when they’re not on a super-smooth racetrack.

Speaking of which, did you get to drive it on the road?

No. Sore point. This was a track-only drive – and yeah, the car is more suited to circuit use, but I reckon it would have been more comfortable and yielding on road than a GT3 RS, Senna or 765LT for instance. There’s more suspension travel, it seems more pliant.

The flip side of this could be a car that squirmed and struggled for traction on circuit as it tried to contain weight transfer. Yet it strikes a pretty happy medium. In terms of suspension manners it comes across more like an Alpine A110: quite limber and smooth.

Turn in isn’t hyper-aggressive, just incisive. The front bites cleanly, carries loads of speed. I suspect that if they had made the suspension tauter and edgier the road tyre would have struggled. As it is, it has to call for back-up as soon as you get on the power.

You mean electric back-up in the guise of traction control?

I do. Because 1,016bhp packs a gasping wallop when it’s unleashed. There’s practically no lag – Ferrari has always been good at eliminating that from its blown motors – the XX just attempts to transfer all the power, all at once. The traction control is your catch net.

It does interrupt proceedings, you feel the car stutter, but once it has traction it just leaps forward. Third and fourth are consumed in a blurry fury. I short shift to fifth, but there’s so much torque acceleration is still eye-wideningly vivid. There’s a reason for that. Ferrari has programmed the electric motors to work out where they can help most around the circuit and, provided you’re in Qualifying mode, they then deliver instant torque hits coming out of slow corners. The front end is very well managed, rarely understeers.

Ferrari claims to have made the gearshifts punchier, the engine noise more pronounced (mainly artificially, via a sound tube that runs behind the cabin), but I can’t say that, from within a helmet, I noticed that much. The new seats - with a deep cutaway between your legs, so it’s like sitting on a horseshoe - are great though.

Rafa insists he’s quicker in Race mode with the electronics engaged. I’m sure I would be too, but you have to be very smooth and precise and not upset the car to get the quickest laps from it.

Let me guess, you can’t be bothered with that?

Nope. The thing with current Ferrari’s is that they have this remarkable playfulness and controllability at the limit which, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have when they’re toying with over 1,000bhp. CT off mode will doubtless give you a few moments (it did me, through Fiorano’s only three-figure curve), but you get more sense of the car.

It’s light in your hands, with quick, low effort steering but firm, strong brakes. It dances and uses the incredibly complex 6W-CDS dynamic ‘brain’ to make you look like a hero. I’d come to this having just driven the GMA T.50. They are worlds apart. The T.50 is analogue, the XX uses software to interpret inputs and flatter the driver.

Did you come away thinking it was a proper track car?

Hmm, no, not really. It’s not as aggressive as I think it needs to be to justify the XX badge. This is Ferrari’s holy-of-holies and I can’t help but feel that in making this a road car and making it supple, they are devaluing what XX stands for.

And that’s before we consider the numbers. Until now, over the 18 years the XX programme has been running, only 116 cars have officially been made (30 FXX/FXX Evo, 44 599XX/599XX Evo and 42 FXXK). And now Ferrari is building ten times that number of a road car that dilutes the extremes that the XX programme was set-up to exploit.

It’s an XX in name only. And it’s not eligible for XX programme events. I think the engineering prowess that’s gone into it is impressive, but even so, it doesn’t have the leap in lap time you expect.

Didn’t Rafa do a lap time in it while you were there?

Yeah, I was there when he set the lap record. Did it in one single flying lap, a 1.17.3, making it Ferrari’s fastest-ever road car around Fiorano, 1.7s ahead of the SF90.

But also the slowest XX car ever bar the original FXX back in 2005. And easily the heaviest. I don’t know how Ferrari will find a way back for the XX badge from here. This seems like a short term move and likely marks the end of XX as an exclusive programme for its best customers. Because after all, why would Ferrari need it when its next move is the 499P Modificata?

Okay then, it’s not a track car, but is it Ferrari’s best road car?

No, because if I was given a straight choice between this and the 296 GTB or GTS, that’s what I’d have. It’s a corker. And, of course, we haven’t driven this XX on the road yet. As it is, we can only say it’s a better, more agile and searingly fast SF90, but at a considerable price.

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