Ferrari sf90 stradale 2020, Ferrari 2021
launch-review

2020 Ferrari SF90 Stradale review: Track test

Ferrari's first plug-in hybrid is many things, not the least of which is formidably fast. It's also a technical glimpse into the supercar future.
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The numbers alone are mind-bending – the 2020 Ferrari SF90 Stradale is a technological tour de force of epic proportions. And if you expect Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid to follow the traditional brief, you’d be wrong. Ferrari has gone about things quite differently.

The 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 is familiar (albeit revised from the F8 Tributo), but it’s joined by three electric motors and, as mentioned, is Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid. Two motors work the front wheels, while the third (called an axial flux) is fitted in between the V8 and the gearbox. The gearbox in question is an eight-speed, twin-clutch unit. Ferrari calls its control system ‘RAC-E’, Rotational Axis Control Electric. There’s also eSSC, or Slide Slip Control in Ferrari-speak.

Vortex generators assist in delivering more front-end downforce, while there’s a shut-off gurney at the rear to regulate airflow over the body and reduce drag at high speed. Even the flush-mounted door handles were factored into the aero efficiency of the body. There’s little the SF90 does that doesn’t have purpose behind it.

Beyond the technical wizardry at play, though, the numbers are staggering. A claimed maximum power output of 1000PS at 7500rpm and 800Nm of peak torque headline the mind-bending figures. In the new money, then, that’s 735kW with which to torture the tyres. Massive.

0–100km/h is over in 2.5 seconds, 0–200km/h in 6.7. It wasn’t long ago that 6.7 was a respectable time to 100km/h, let alone 200km/h. The SF90 thunders on to a top speed of 340km/h. In any language, this is a supercar that generates serious pace. With a starting price from $846,888 before on-road costs, you'd expect a level of exclusivity and epic performance ability, and that's exactly what you get.

2020 Ferrari SF90 Stradale
Engine3.9-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 hybrid (7.9kWh Lithium-ion battery)
Power and torque 735kW at 7500rpm, 800Nm
TransmissionEight-speed automatic
Drive typeAWD
Dry weight1570kg
Fuel claim combined (ADR)6.1L/100km
Fuel use on testN/A
Boot volume73.6L
Turning circleN/A
ANCAP safety ratingN/A
Warranty3 years / unlimited kilometres
Main competitorsLamborghini Aventador, Porsche 911 Turbo S, McLaren 720S
Price as tested (ex on-road costs)From $846,888

In the centre of the F1-inspired steering wheel, there’s a touchpad where you’ll find the start button – the first indication that Ferrari has approached the new world very differently. When you do contact that touchpad, there’s nothing. Silence. Electric mode is engaged and you’re good to go. In the display, you’ll see the word ‘ready’ come to life in place of the symphony of exhaust anger that normally accompanies a Ferrari at start-up. Very strange. Pull the right paddle toward you to engage first gear and move off.

Creeping out of pit lane in electric silence is weird – not because we’ve never experienced it, of course, but because you’re experiencing it in a Ferrari specifically. There’s no fire and brimstone, and none of the snarl and menace either the styling or the technical brief suggests. Just a gentle, eerily quiet cruise.

I also remind myself that for the time I’m in electric mode, I’m driving a FWD Ferrari. The sedate nature of electric mode is nothing more than a thin veil. Nail the accelerator pedal and know that you'd better be hanging on and concentrating on the road ahead.

The electric aspect of the powertrain isn’t a bit-part player to the internal combustion engine’s starting team position. Rather, it’s a proper plug-in hybrid that delivers around 25km of pure-electric range, and harvests energy back more efficiently than any other hybrid vehicle we’ve tested into the bargain.

The SF90 always starts in Hybrid mode, which defaults to electric propulsion until you ask the powertrain for more. If you do nail the throttle, the internal combustion engine cracks into life, the same as it does when you switch over to ‘Performance’ mode. The e-Drive mode forces the powertrain to stay in electric mode, and while I can’t think of too many Ferrari owners who love the idea of not advertising what they are driving, it will allow you to leave for work early without waking the neighbourhood.

Electric drive alone is only ever sent to the front wheels, and pure-electric propulsion works up to approximately 130km/h. Beyond that, the front motors disengage and the battery pack’s power is sent to the rear motor. Whatever minimal turbo lag there might have been from the conventional engine is gone entirely thanks to the way the electric system assists the engine.

The two front electric motors are responsible for the torque vectoring at that axle as well. It would take pages to explain in detail the technicality of how the system works, but suffice to say it’s incredibly smart.

The conventional manettino dial is on the right of the wheel and offers Wet, Sport, Race, Traction Control Off, and Stability Control Off modes, but there’s also a touchpad dial (Ferrari calls it e-manettino) on the other side of the wheel. That one toggles through e-Drive, Hybrid, Performance and Qualifying modes. The latter delivers everything the powertrain can generate and focuses on outright performance first and foremost. Acceleration in this mode is, as you would expect, incredible.

The cabin is tight for my six-foot frame with a helmet on, and I struggle to get completely comfortable – certainly not in the driving position I would normally want for an enthusiastic track blast anyway. Still, you won’t be wearing a helmet, day to day, and we think our test car has the seats that don’t adjust down into the cabin – customer cars are likely to have that feature.

Aside from head room, the cabin is stunningly and comfortably executed, though – as premium and focused as you’d expect a Ferrari to be. The cabin is very much F1-inspired beyond the quality of the materials and expense that has undoubtedly gone into making it a special place to be. It’s as luxurious as it is focused, and trimmed to the highest standard.

Within seconds, it’s brutally evident that the performance feels – to both the hands and the brain – as stratospheric as the numbers suggest. The gearbox ratios have been tightened up to make the absolute most of the V8’s never-ending hunger for revs – it’s both an intoxicating and formidable experience.

We only drive the SF90 on-track, of course, but its performance envelope is beyond just about any public road, anywhere in the world, as is the wont of the modern supercar. On-track, though, after a few laps to get your head around just how rapid the SF90 is, and with the bravado to even begin to push it, the focus and ability of the car become immediately evident.

Despite the stupendous power and the missile-like way in which it’s delivered, the 4WD system does an otherworldly job of keeping the blue bullet pointed in the intended direction. Thankfully, because a track is not the time to be swapping ends in a car this exclusive. The 8000rpm redline is something you’ll rarely see, even on-track, so fast does the SF90 build speed. If you’ve driven or owned older supercars, there is a very real chance they will feel slow once you drive an SF90.

We chase an F8 Tributo around Sydney Motorsport Park as fast as I dare, and the pace car is an interesting case study. There is a concern among the Ferrari faithful that the heft of the battery pack, the electric motors and the associated tech will mean the SF90 feels meaty and unbalanced. It doesn’t, and here’s why.

Its dry weight of 1570kg is less than 250kg heavier than an F8 with similar specification – assuming, of course, you’ve optioned every exotic carbon-fibre super-lightweight piece available. Considering the battery alone weighs 72kg, that’s impressive. The end result, crucially, is a car that feels as balanced, as sharp, and as glued to the road as an F8 in every sense.

Having just tested the F8 Tributo on-track a few weeks before driving the SF90, it serves as a valuable reference point for the SF90 drive. The steering precision and front-end balance of the F8 Tributo is at the very summit of supercar performance, and the SF90 feels just as sharp. That’s despite the initial concern that the AWD system might result in understeer or numbness through the wheel. The SF90 responds to inputs, be it steering, accelerator or brake, with razor-like precision.

On the subject of brakes, the SF90 delivers another first for Ferrari – brake by wire. The pedal does feel different, and you’d need more time in the car than we had to properly come to grips with the system. It’s not immediately smooth, and not immediately intuitive – something you appreciate on a track in an unfamiliar car.

The pedal has a lot shorter travel than we’re accustomed to, and is something that also takes a bit of getting used to. Regardless, Ferrari engineers have explained that the system was the only way to combine the work of the Brembo brakes with the regenerative demands of braking through the motors.

So far as the next evolution in supercar performance goes, the SF90 is as technically brilliant as it is superlative to drive. If this is what the future looks like, then more of it please. In the case of rival Lamborghini, hybridisation provides a credible alternative to forced induction. For Ferrari, which has already traversed the turbo path, hybridisation is an addition.

The SF90 is a special car befitting of Ferrari’s first foray into the future. The Prancing Horse could have taken a much more conservative path, but it didn’t, and that’s why we love the brand. There’s little to be afraid of – except the stratospheric power being generated, and that merely demands respect.