986bhp hypercar experience gets even more intense in roofless form
- Mesmerising V8, expertly integrated hybrid system
- Styling isn’t Ferrari’s finest; you need to pack light
It’s not your stomach that wants you to back off when you launch an SF90 Spider – well, any SF90 for that matter – it’s the soft squidgy bit between your ears. Its immediate response to you being carefree with your right foot and first gear engaged is to immediately stop it. Just lift, bring the car to a halt and have a word with yourself. But you can’t because you’re already well through second gear and the shift lights are illuminating as quickly as the numbers on the digital speedo are becoming a blur before your eyes. Then third gear arrives and by now your right foot is at last beginning to listen to the sensible advice from above. Enough.
Nine hundred and eighty-six bhp has that effect on you, and removing the roof panel from an SF90 only heightens the eye-widening experience that is driving a modern hypercar. Removal of said roof from the coupe’s body doesn’t leave you with a wibbly mess of a chassis or the shakes, either. The SF90’s underpinnings were designed from the outset to work with or without a couple of square metres of aluminium or carbonfibre above the driver’s head, and removing them means you feel a step closer to that ferocious performance that feels so unnecessary but also impossible to ignore every time you drive it.
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Not unnecessary because it’s wild, uncontrollable and all but unusable as a road car. The coupe example we had on evo Car of the Year last year might have been all those things, but this Spider version and subsequent coupe examples we have driven on both road and track have felt like very different machines, and all the better for it. Ferrari says no changes have been made, and that there was nothing wrong with the car we drove on eCoty, other than in hindsight the more road-biased Bridgestone tyre would have been the better fitment for the conditions than the Michelin Cup 2 that had been selected. However, within a dozen miles and after the first foray into the Spider’s performance capability it’s clear that there are plenty of rewards to be had without the fear that a very big accident is waiting for you at the end of the next straight.
It’s still a big car as you approach it, low and wide at the front and just big all over at the rear, the high position of the exhaust pipes giving it a functional look rather than it being a piece of design that follows Ferrari’s regular form. And there’s still no luggage space, bar room for a laptop bag and a packet of Haribo in the nose. Pack light or have your luggage sent on if you’re planning a road trip.
Roof panel electrically stowed above the twin-turbocharged V8 – which sits so low and so far under the bulkhead you can only assume serious maintenance is an engine-out job or requires a technician to be suspended from the workshop ceiling and lowered into the engine bay – the resulting opening is relatively small, more targa than convertible. Despite this, there’s a chunk more buffeting across the top of the car and behind your head than you are expecting. At typical speeds outside of urban areas you’ll need every window up, including the retractable glass screen that sits between the rear buttresses, and to sink a little lower into your seat to keep you out of the jetstream.
Not that this matters when you start to wind the SF90 Spider up, because your focus is elsewhere. Once you’ve bumbled out of a town in electric mode, the V8 erupts into life with an unapologetic bark and gruffness, served with a side order of ‘you better be ready for this’. Truth is, you never really are ready for an SF90 if you give it everything. To do so you’ll need to switch out of Hybrid mode and select at least Performance or ideally Qualify for the full Leclerc Saturday job experience.
Unlike fully electric cars, which deliver everything in an instant followed by a tailing off to not much, performance hybrids still build momentum like a traditional ICE sports car. There’s a double kick when you open the taps. First the turbos spool, the cylinders take a huge intake of breath and the 98 RON is fired through the injectors. Meanwhile, in a timeframe your brain can’t compute, the two electric motors on the front axle and the single unit on the rear have already drawn up every last kilowatt of power and dispensed it through Cup 2 rubber that, even on dry, smooth asphalt, can be felt pawing at the surface. The tail digs down, the nose goes light and the steering wheel wriggles in your grasp as the air fills with the bark of an angry V8 that’s now dominating the soundwaves, wind noise forced to play second fiddle.
From the driver’s seat you might laugh at the absurdity of what’s going on: the speed at which the horizon crashes through your vision, the straight that looked to be never ending now feeling like part of a kart circuit. You’ll need a runway if you want to see the shift lights in any of the top four of the eight gears.
Its footprint means you’re always conscious of the room the Spider needs on the road, and while you don’t need to manage its weight as such, you settle into a rhythm where you sweep the car into a corner and let it run its course through and out of it. It’s not a Ferrari to be hustled; it feels a little clumsy if you try. It’s not as precise as a 296, either, its front-end response slower, so you soon learn to knock the pace back a few percentage points when preparing for the turn. The steering’s still lightning quick compared to other marques’, but compared to what you’ll find in other modern Ferraris it feels a little calmer, more measured but without sacrificing its alertness. Load the car up through a series of curves and it takes a seemingly unbreakable grip of the surface, with just enough roll to lean against and poise to settle on, but all the time you’re constantly reminded that on the road you’re simply scratching the surface of the SF90’s capability, roof or no roof.
As a technical exercise the SF90 remains a marvel of engineering and a car that, regardless of your thoughts about machines that deliver horsepower figures that were once the sole domain of F1 paddocks, is an enigma. You can’t help but be drawn to it, almost blind to what it represents. A 296 GTB is a better, more rounded, more involving car, but for some the SF90’s top-billing status will appeal above all else, and if it does, you won’t get any criticism from us. Just be prepared to hold on.
|Engine||V8, 3990cc, twin-turbo, plus three electric motors|
|Power||986bhp (combined) @ 7500rpm|
|Torque||590lb ft (V8 only) @ 8000rpm|
|Weight (dry)||1670kg (600bhp/ton)|