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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

Anyone familiar with modern Ferraris will recognise this car’s manettino drive mode selector, which is used to switch between the usual Wet, Sport, Race, CT off and ESC off settings. Opposite that on the SF90’s steering wheel is a touch-sensitive panel, where you select its powertrain operating modes. The car ‘starts’ in its default Hybrid mode (and so the V8 piston engine doesn’t typically fire when you hit the starter, which seems very odd at first). But it can then be switched to all-electric eDrive mode if you like, or into Performance or Qualify modes. 

Dial up Qualify mode and you tee up every shred of power the car can muster and its most aggressive traction and launch control regimes. Warm its tyres first and in that mode, if you find somewhere appropriate to sample it, the SF90 can accelerate phenomenally quickly.

I was sceptical of PHEV tech for supercars, but the SF90 is encouraging, and not just because the integration is so good. Its ability to do the first and last mile or two of every journey in silence and relative subtlety is brilliant.

Until this road test, the fastest car to feature in a full Autocar road test – the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, in 2011 – hit 60mph from rest in 2.6sec, 100mph in 5.0sec and a standing quarter mile in 10.1sec. Those numbers have survived for a decade, unbothered by cars such as the Ariel Atom V8, McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918 Spyder. The SF90 managed 2.5sec, 4.8sec and 9.9sec respectively. The Veyron was quick, but it didn’t record a single 20mph in-gear acceleration increment, in any gear or from any speed, in less than a second; the SF90 did so twice.

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This is a car of unprecedented performance, then, at least as far as our timing gear has ever verified it. It feels enormously potent from within, but smooth more than savage. Launching some turbocharged supercars might be compared to bumping down a steep rock face; this one feels more like freefall on a horizontal plain.

Traction is huge but immaculately managed; torque is instant and unrelenting until you’re well into three figures on the speedo. The gearchanges are much easier to hear than to feel, and once your body has got used to the longitudinal g-forces, you look down and you’re doing 120mph. And then, somewhere along the line, you remember to breathe.

On the road, that kind of outright pace and supreme, undiluted and responsive torque can feel borderline obscene – but it’s not all the SF90 can do. Drive the car in Hybrid mode and its character softens; you can use more of its accelerator travel without feeling so sociopathic.

The integration and blending of motors and engine and the way they combine under your right foot really is sophisticated. The by-wire braking system juggles friction braking and motor regen just as cleverly, even at low speeds, and so much better than many ‘performance hybrids’. The car feels natural and consistent whether its V8 engine is running or not.

And then, when it’s permanently shut down and the SF90 is running in eDrive electric mode, the SF90 will cover about 16 mixed-road miles before its battery is fully depleted and will hit about 85mph before the engine restarts. It’s not a fast or exciting car to drive thus, feeling somewhat estranged from its usual dramatic persona, but it has enough performance to deal with most everyday situations and negotiates the urban environment well.

You could, in short, use this car in any number of settings. Unlike some of the world’s fastest production cars, it needn’t feel brutish in, or ill-suited to, heavy traffic or city streets – the real world, as you might think of it. And yet it’s not the versatility of the SF90’s character that really strikes you; it’s the way in which it wields its electrified mechanicals to create truly incredible outright speed, all the while imbuing that with the usual V8 drama and soul.