I have many animated discussions with the younger members of the DRIVEN team about horsepower versus kiloWatts. Because they are young, watch too much British/American automotive YouTube content and aren’t aware that the Weights and Measurements Amendment Act made New Zealand metric in 1976, they think horsepower is still an appropriate way to describe a car’s power output.
It’s not, especially when there are so many different types: British brake, German (ps) and French (cv), all ever-so-slightly different. The kW, on the other hand, is neutral and consistent around the world. But hp is always a larger number than kW, hence the juvenile appeal.
Now, here’s the exception that must prove the rule, because the Ferrari SF90 Spider has 1000cv, which is a landmark and really nice round figure. And yes, cv is the unit favoured by Ferrari (which, like ps, is actually a metric version of horsepower).
With 735kW, the SF90 is the most powerful Ferrari road car ever made. It’s also the first production Ferrari Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), with 25km of pure-electric running from an overnight charge of its 8kWh battery.
With an F8 Tributo-derived 4.0-litre engine and three electric motors (one rear, one for each front wheel), it’s also the first mid-engined V8 Ferrari with all-wheel drive. The company’s press presentation hilariously calls the powertrain “pretty complex”.
The SF90 is a very different kind of top-level Ferrari. We tend to think sonorous V12, exquisitely balanced chassis dynamics and an engineering priority on the purely mechanical. But the SF90 is a real science experiment that showcases every piece of electrified and electronic technology the company has at its disposal. It’s a snapshot of the future for the marque, which says the design of the SF90 is “midway between a racecar and spaceship”.
The company also says the SF90 is “not just about pure performance, but responsiveness and ease of driving”. It’s still crazy fast, though: 0-100km/h in 2.5 seconds, 0-200km/h in 6.7sec. It just doesn’t necessarily feel it. It’s “only” a V8, but the electric power fills in the bottom end beautifully, meaning acceleration is astonishingly linear; speed builds at such an exquisitely measured rate, you just don’t realise how fast the km/h are piling on. Meanwhile, the scenery outside has gone into hyperdrive.
That focus on ease of driving is significant and what has prompted a little pushback from some commentators, who don’t feel the car offers the driver as much scope to do his or her thing as other Ferraris. Fair point, but the flipside is that the SF90 can cover ground faster than any other Ferrari (it’s a second quicker around the company’s Fiorano test track than LaFerrari), while providing a complex safety net of AWD and clever torque vectoring from those front electric motors.
Make no mistake, it’s still Ferrari-precise. The steering is fantastic (albeit extremely quick for road use), the chassis communicative, the soundtrack still superb. Even the brake-by-wire system, a first for Ferrari and a potential red flag, is progressive and full of feel.
You still get the Ferrari manettino drive-mode control on the steering wheel, but the SF90 also has a touch screen “e-manettino” that allows you to configure the plug-in power – everything from pure-electric driving, to performance/track optimisation that gives maximum power at all times.
If you apply the Assetto Fiorano option pack (signified by our car’s “hammer” livery at the front) you get extra aero, lighter weight (by about 40kg), passive dampers in place of the active suspension and titanium springs. It all screams “track special”, but thus equipped it’s surprising how usable the SF90 remains on the road.
What you don’t get with the Assetto Fiorano pack is a front lifter, which means you spend a lot of time worrying about that precious carbon fibre front spoiler. Then again, there’s a lot of carbon fibre to worry about: bonnet, seats, bumpers, engine cover. Even the wheels on our car were carbon fibre, which could curb your enthusiasm for expensive extras.
The SF90 is sensational and every bit as special as you expect a Ferrari to be. But why have 25km of silent FWD driving in one of the world’s most extreme supercars? It’s an acknowledgement of changing times and it’s a way to allow owners to drive in urban areas in a less obnoxious and utterly surprising way (it makes a cool sci-fi noise as well). But it’s also now essential if you want to enter some European city centres.
Ferrari is notoriously prickly about pricing, perhaps justifiably so when every car is built to order and the options list covers pages (each car gets a plaque in the tiny frunk showing exactly what boxes were ticked). The base price you see here is, at Ferrari’s request, simply a Kiwi-dollar conversion of the Australian sticker. But nobody buys a base Ferrari; the company won’t even give a local price for the Assetto Fiorano package (it costs about NZ$80k in Europe). With that and the 36 other individual options fitted to our review car, we’re talking well over a million dollars.
Don’t think of the SF90 as necessarily departing from Ferrari tradition; think of it as pointing the way to the future. This is one of the world’s fastest supercars, yet it has an official emissions figure of 149g/km – about the same as a petrol Toyota Corolla. Saying any Corolla owner could drive and enjoy this car this car at speed doesn’t do the virtuoso dynamics justice, but it’s true nonetheless.
FERRARI SF90 SPIDER
ENGINE: 4.0-litre turbo-petrol V8 with plug-in battery and triple electric motors
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 2.5 seconds
PRICE: $994,980 (base price)