The 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale Goes from Silent to Violent
Enzo Ferrari is reputed to have said that he built engines and then attached wheels to them, but what we’ve just seen with the new SF90 is probably not what he had in mind. This new Ferrari, which will sit at the top of the range as a replacement for the LaFerrari, is running almost silently on nothing more than electrons, and the power is going to the front wheels. Even by the mixed-up standards of 2020 that’s strange, right?
Now, before you panic at the thought of an electric Ferrari, we’ll inform you that the SF90 Stradale also has a brand-appropriate twin-turbocharged V-8 right behind the passenger compartment. Working together, the gas and electric systems deliver a mouthwatering 986 horsepower. Even the notoriously grumpy Commendatore might have smiled at that number.
As we witnessed when the SF90 drove under battery power, Ferrari’s plug-in hypercar is capable of running exclusively on electric power at speeds of up to 84 mph. Its 7.9-kWh lithium-ion battery pack gives it a 15-mile range as an EV. The SF90 defaults to EV mode whenever it is started, so buyers will experience the silent Ferrari regularly. There’s also no mechanical reverse gear, so backing up is another time the SF90 is an EV.
We’ll get to the face-ripping g-forces soon, but a brief explanation of the extraordinarily complex powertrain is necessary to understand how it makes its magic. The internal-combustion side is easily dealt with. A development of the F154 twin-turbo V-8 from the F8 Tributo, in the SF the engine receives redesigned cylinder heads, a larger bore that increases displacement to 4.0 liters, new turbochargers, and more forceful direct injection that help the engine reach 770 horsepower. The power is sent to the rear wheels through a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. This works in conjunction with three electric motors, one for each front wheel and a motor sandwiched between the V-8 and the transmission.
This three-motor setup can add up to 217 horsepower of assistance to the gasoline engine, but they also help sharpen the twin-turbo V-8’s low-rev responses and effectively eliminate what little turbo lag it has. To aid handling, the two motors up front can work independently to provide torque vectoring in the front axle. Regenerative braking provided by the front motors helps the brakes, too. The front motors disengage at speeds above 130 mph, but that doesn’t hurt output. The peak 217 horsepower is then sent to the rear motor.
All this complexity delivers a compellingly simple outcome: The fastest Ferrari road car ever made is also among the most usable. Performance is staggering. While it’s hard not to be impressed by a 2.5-second zero-to-62-mph claim that’s likely on the conservative side, that only tells a small part of the story. Ferrari says the SF90 can haul itself from rest to 124 mph in just 6.7 seconds. The Stradale does this in exactly the way you’d expect a range-topping Ferrari to, with acceleration that borders on painful and a soundtrack that would sell out La Scala. Responses are so quick and the quantity of thrust so high that flooring it feels like a genuine achievement; holding it there for more than a second on any of the Modenese hill roads we flogged the car on was impossible. It is like a superbike, a straight-canceling machine.
While the straight-line speed tests your bravery, the handling is remarkably docile for a range-topping Ferrari. The once-top-dog LaFerrari had handling that was as exciting as a firefight and only slightly less risky. But the SF90’s all-wheel-drive system manages to deliver near flawless traction, even under the sort of loadings and provocation that would normally run the substantial risk of tears and insurance paperwork. The SF90 is 529 pounds heavier than the F8 Tributo, according to Ferrari, but those extra pounds don’t make it feel any less responsive to directional changes, and the stability and control were impressive over rough roads.
A more concerning innovation is the arrival of brake by wire, a necessity according to the engineers charged with blending the regeneration elements with the conventional friction braking system. The brake pedal has very short travel, and only gentle pressure is needed for gentle stops, a combination that initially feels strange. The system is better and more natural under harder use. The new eight-speed transmission is a definite highlight, somehow even quicker and more satisfyingly forceful than the seven-speed unit.
After a morning in the hills, and a large lunch at the famous Ristorante Montana—a feature of Ferrari’s press events for decades—there is the equally familiar opportunity to drive on the Fiorano test track and immediately regret the second pasta course. While the SF90’s Stradale suffix makes clear that it has been designed for road use over track times, it still managed to make the 1.86-mile circuit feel shorter than we remember on previous visits, despite the need to lift and coast past a noise restriction on the main straight. Ferrari’s neighbors have been complaining about the music of wrung-out Ferrari engines. While the savagery of the SF90’s acceleration remains the star-billed feature, there’s also the phenomenal turn-in, ridiculous traction, and the high-speed confidence given by Ferrari’s claim of 860 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. Ferrari says that the Assetto Fiorano handling pack, which around half of its buyers will opt for, makes the SF90 a second quicker around Fiorano than the LaFerrari. Without the handling package, the SF90 is only fractionally slower.
Experiencing the eDrive mode isn’t nearly as exciting. If you’re hoping for Tesla-like acceleration, you’ll be disappointed. Think Nissan Leaf, and you’ll be in the ballpark. Ferrari thinks this silent running will be popular with owners sneaking out for early drives and city dwellers who must deal with congestion charges.
Criticism is in short supply and listed here to prove we haven’t drained the entire jug of tainted Lambrusco. The SF90’s aero-smoothed body lacks the visual drama and design-reaching shapes of many of its range-topping predecessors. Other gripes from the notebook: The dashboard reflects in the windshield in bright sunlight, and the HVAC system’s fan was a bit loud for our tastes. You can really hear it when you’re trundling along on electric power. But that’s pretty much it. Ferrari’s plug-in is a technical tour de force and welcome proof that electrification can make hypercars even more hyper. There are many great Ferraris, but this could well be the best one.
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Published at Fri, 26 Jun 2020 00:18:00 +0000