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Staggeringly powerful plug-in hybrid is now available with a retractable hard top

The Ferrari SF90 Stradale claimed a number of Autocar honours when we attached our timing gear to it at MIRA for a road test – a new lap record on our dry handling circuit and a new acceleration record among them. Yet it didn’t receive a five-star verdict.

Those incredible performance gains from this 1000 horsepower (986bhp) car over its mid-engined V8 stablemates came from the addition of hybrid technology for the first time on a series-produced Ferrari. It added plenty of good things (remarkable performance, mind-boggling responses) but at a cost (added weight, electronically manipulated handling). We therefore came away full of admiration for a new performance benchmark and technological showpiece but also a little concerned that the sweet, delicate, free-flowing nature of mid-engined Ferraris would evolve into something a bit less fun in the coming hybrid world.

Then we went and drove the grininducing Ferrari 296 GTB, the Ferrari F8 Tributo’s replacement and itself a hybrid, built around a V6, and stopped worrying. With such an incredible and alivefeeling mid-engined hybrid supercar in the same line-up for considerably less money, where does that leave the SF90 Stradale? It’s a question that a customer who doesn’t only want the most expensive or most powerful (or, less cynically, the most advanced) Ferrari may well pose.

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We’ll leave that to them to mull over and turn to the latest addition to the Ferrari range, the SF90 Spider. You guessed it: it’s a convertible version of the SF90 Stradale, the two sharing a chassis and powertrain but the new entrant gaining a retractable hard top that can be opened or closed in just 14 seconds at driving speeds of up to 30mph, to allow you to experience everything from silent electric-only running around town to 200mph-plus all with the wind in your hair.

Ferrari claims that its clever folding system takes up only 100 litres of space to store, compared with a usual 150-200 litres, but don’t expect to get those 50-100 litres back: luggage space remains just as stingy as in the coupé, with a 75-litre front boot big enough for the charging cable, a small rucksack and perhaps a pair of shoes. Which might already be a deal-breaker for some.

If this SF90 Spider looks familiar, you’re among the most attentive of Autocar readers. Yes, this is the car that our Matt Saunders specified for a feature earlier this year. He will fill you in over the coming weeks on what a dealer handover at Ferrari is like as the next part of that story, so for now let us consider the miles driven as part of this review as a key part of the running-in process.

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Saunders’ spec includes one key difference over the SF90 Stradale that went through our road test: the absence of the Assetto Fiorano package, which transforms the SF90 into a more hardcore machine with a whole series of performance and lightweight upgrades, most notably the fixed Multimatic race dampers that are optimised for track use.

On the standard suspension set-up, the SF90 Spider does a surprisingly good impression of a high-end grand tourer. It’s unexpectedly comfortable and refined, an excellent companion over long distances. When you hear ‘1000hp’, you expect intimidation and a white-knuckle ride to follow, but they really don’t. The powertrain sophistication extends to the chassis. It’s just as well that it’s not spooked or thrown by bumps in the road, as your first, second, ninth and lasting impressions are of just how quick the car is and how quickly the road ahead of you appears.

A new volume of the thesaurus is needed to try to describe its pace and responses in almost all gears, driving modes and speeds. Let’s settle on this: a few years ago, I drove a drag racer at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and memories of that came flooding back whenever my right foot was planted downwards in the SF90 Spider. That was also true of the SF90 Stradale, of course, the chief difference here in the SF90 Spider being the possibility of putting the roof down and enjoying the spaceship whirr of electric power at lower speeds – or (far more likely given the limited electric-only range and, let’s face it, the three electric motors and battery’s main purpose being simply to add thrust) the bark of the V8 engine. The car being topless certainly adds even more drama to an already epic experience.

Plenty more is familiar from the SF90 Stradale: the incredibly quick steering and sharpest of turn-ins as the torque-vectoring front axle does its thing, the huge levels of traction and the speedometer’s ability to make you do a double take at your cornering speeds, such is the stability and effortlessness at which you can carry speeds confidently into corners.

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Better than the SF90 Stradale, then? As a road car, yes: there’s no obvious dynamic compromise over the coupé on the road and you can enjoy it all with the roof down. What’s not to like? Yet driving on public roads brings speed limits that quickly curtail progress just as the SF90 is clearing its throat, let alone starting to sing, something true of either coupé or convertible. Its capabilities extend far, far beyond anything you could ever do on a road, so you really need a track.

With grown-up performance levels has come grown-up handling and limits in a whole other world. Perhaps the underlying usability point is a problem with modern supercars in general, not just the SF90 Spider: as exhilarating as it may be, there’s perhaps too much power and chassis complexity. And these traits might well continue as the hybrid era gathers pace. But the existence of the 296 GTB suggests otherwise: you can have laugh-out-loud fun on the road in a modern hybrid supercar and exploit its playfulness, if not its limits.