Here’s something about Ferrari we’d wager you didn’t know. When founder Enzo — all skinny ties and aloof Italian sunglasses — first began selling cars, he did so with incredible reluctance. The man behind the iconic brand never actually wanted to send his mechanical, motoring gifts out onto the autostrada of Italy. Instead, he was pushed into the commercial car market in order to fund Scuderia; the competitive racing division of Ferrari.
Enzo was so hard-pushed to develop cars for customers, in fact, that the first unit he sold was second-hand. Passing off an ex-racing 125 S to a buyer as new, the customer called ‘Muletto!’ when presented with his car — Italian for ‘Test Mule!’. He was promptly given much of his money back.
How times change. Decades later, the horse may still prance as powerfully as ever, but Ferrari’s aspirations are not so singular. Crossing the finish line first and topping the podium are still key concerns for the brand, but it has also learnt to love its customers, legacy and road cars. And, to add to that list, it now appears to have learnt to love the planet.
That’s right, Ferrari has gone and made a plug-in hybrid. Who ever thought we’d see the day? We know, we know, the outrageous limited edition LaFerrari had electric capabilities, but its HY-KERS unit was a mild hybrid at best, and only charged through braking. It has nothing on the plug-in full-hybrid road car that is the Ferrari SF90 Stradale. Bold, beautiful — but just a little quieter than you average supercar — this bright red racer is very clearly a Ferrari. From a low engine cover to those iconic flying buttresses, many of its traditional design touches will be familiar to Ferrari enthusiasts.
But there’s some new nods, too. Lead designer, Flavio Manzoni, admitted that he wanted the car’s design to sit somewhere between a car and a spaceship — and he drew on the design of Scuderia’s Formula 1 DRS (drag reduction system) to achieve this. That twin-rear wing is a first on a Ferrari road car — and it looks just as interstellar as Manzoni intended.
Those headlamps are also new. Moving away from the brand’s signature L-shaped look, these are slim, slender alternatives — and the first time Ferrari has used matrix LED technology to improve visibility in bad conditions. The cabin is more of a bubble than we’ve seen on previous models, all thanks to a long, curved windscreen and subtler A-posts. And the tail lights are different; horizontal luminous rings will now squint back at us through the night rather than Ferrari’s traditional round lamps. Pair these lights with that DRS twin-rear wing, and the back hardly looks like a Ferrari at all.
But that’s not a bad thing. Because this isn’t a Ferrari — not in the traditional sense, anyway. And, while we could talk about its looks for hours (it still is a thing of bellísima beauty), the real talking point is what you’ll find under the bonnet. Or not under the bonnet, as the case may be…
There is power here, as you’d expect. A twin-turbocharged V8 engine, spitting out 769 horsepower, is the lynchpin of the powertrain. Mechanically, it is a continuation of what we saw in the 488 Pista, albeit with an increased capacity and new exhaust. But then, adding another 217 horsepower, three electric motors also bring the SF90 Stradale tearing into the 21st Century.
They’re lithium-ion and set up for regenerative braking. So far, so hybrid. But the real difference with this new car — whose initials spell out Scuderia Ferrari 90th Anniversary; Stradale meaning ‘for the road’ — is the way you control and deploy its new battery-powered boosters.
On the steering wheel, an eManettino dial allows you to flick between four different driving modes. There’s the ‘Hybrid’ mode, which runs the car on both its electric and internal combustion engines. The ‘eDrive’ mode uses just the electric motors — but has only a 25-kilometre guaranteed range. The ‘Performance’ mode uses the engine to charge the batteries, without using any electricity to power the car. And the ‘Quality’ mode throws everything together at full capacity for that full Ferrari experience.
Speaking of, once you slide inside the SF90 Stradale, you’re unmistakably sitting in a Ferrari. If the thought of introducing hybrid technology into one of the most tried, tested and treasured breeds of car on the market was worrying you, prepare for all your reservations to melt away. Yes, this may be a slightly new design direction — with aeronautically-inspired instruments and a projectable 3D head-up display — but the essence of what makes a Ferrari a Ferrari is still here; control and style.
And the best thing about the interior? Ferrari may have one eye on the future, but it’s also savvy — and it knows that people principally buy their supercars because of the way they make you feel. And so, although the hybrid tech may take the drama and romance away for some, Ferrari has designed the cabin so the sound of that twin-turbocharged V8 is now channelled directly at the driver. So, even while your hybrid SF90 is saving the world, that rambunctious Italian burble will never let you forget that it’s a Ferrari you’re driving.
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