Ferrari piles on the downforce for its first road-legal, special-series XX model

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It’s almost a decade since Ferrari’s last extra-special-series ‘XX’ car, the La Ferrari-based FXX-K, was introduced. Between that, the original FXX, FXX Evolutione, and the 599XX and -Evo, it’s reckoned that Maranello has so far either made (or, in some cases, remade) fewer than a hundred XX-branded cars in total, only for its wealthiest and most favoured customers.

Lately, however, those favoured few have been distracted by other things. The firm’s ‘Icona’ models have been cars of more jewel-like, showcar-level design appeal than the more brutally purposeful XXs, as well as extra-special engineering. So why rekindle the old track-special lineage now? Isn’t it a backwards step?

Well, it might be - if that was really what Maranello was up to. But, in some respects at least, the Ferrari SF90 XX Stradale looks a little like an XX model in name only. It’s got an XX badge, sure; and it’s got some very special design features and specification upgrades, to which we’ll come. But buying one won’t get you into the ultra-exclusive ‘XX’ trackdays that Ferrari lays on for its VVIP multi-millionaire collectors. The 1400 customers who will buy one of these cars would outnumber the existing ‘XX’ club members by about fifteen to one (and that’d be an awful lot more expensive catering).

The very existence of this car, in fact, suggests that Maranello’s XX experiment may be drawing to a close (although I dare say Maranello will insist otherwise). This, Ferrari says, is more of a tribute to the idea of a Ferrari XX car than a fully paid up member of the track-only model set in itself. And yet it's still a car with some incredible track potential.

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ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 02 panning side

That this the very first road-legal XX model tells you a great deal about it. Previous XX models wore bespoke slick tyres, and made compromises in all sorts of other areas, because they’d never be driven anywhere other than a circuit. But the SF90 XX Stradale can’t be that extreme; and even Ferrari insiders admit that it might have been even lighter and more specialised still if road use hadn’t been on its agenda.

Those same project executives also let on that this car came about in somewhat unscripted fashion. “When Ferrari makes a car like the SF90 Stradale,” explains Matteo Turconi, Senior Product Manager for the XX, “we don’t hold back; we don’t think ‘let’s save that for the special one’. It’s part of the job with a supercar to push the potential of the car to the maximum.”

“So we didn’t originally have an XX model in the plan, no. But, in continuing to develop the car, and experimenting with some of its design concepts, we discovered a significant amount of extra potential in many departments.”

The SF90 XX, then, is an opportunity to deliver on that extra potential, then; but, in doing so, to make it no less road-suitable. This, you could say, is just an attempt at a better SF90. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a significant amount of what makes it different (because the XX, too, can be had in either closed-roof or Spider bodystyles) be grafted onto an SF90M or similar in due course. 

Specifically, the XX gets an extra thirty horsepower for its twin-turbo-V8-cum-three-AC-motor hybrid powertrain: seventeen of them courtesy of a new engine piston crown design and higher compression ratio, the other thirteen from a higher-output battery, with the whole powertrain benefitting from a redesigned, upwards-routed ‘S-Duct’ radiator concept up front. 

The car gets lowered, stiffened coil springs and retuned axle kinematics, too (the XX, like the regular SF90, can be had with either standard magnetorheological adaptive dampers or Multimatic’s special track-spec passive dampers). Modified sound resonators within the engine bay beef up the audible character of the V8 combustion engine; a recalibrated twin-clutch gearbox delivers more positive, dramatic shifts; and bigger rear brakes feature too, as well as a new ‘ABS Evo’ anti-lock braking system that enhances the car’s stability and handling on turn in.

But, mostly, the SF90 XX gets downforce. The fixed wing on the car’s rump is the obvious addition - and it’s the first to appear on a Ferrari road car since the F50 in 1995; but really, that’s just the novelty topper on the cake. There are new diffusers front and rear; a new floor design with bigger vortex generators, to better manage the airflow around the wheels; and then the new wheel arch louvres and various cooling outlets, to evacuate pressure and temperature from where it hurts the car, and direct it to where it helps.

It’s the kind of fine-detail aero that takes months of CFD modelling to perfect; months, very likely, that Ferrari simply didn’t have in time to benefit the original SF90. When you see how it all works and interacts, it’s a really beautiful thing; as little as it may actually improve the performance of the car when it’s not on a circuit.

When it is, however, the SF90 XX Stradale benefits from some 540kg of downforce at 155mph. Not quite McLaren Senna levels, then; but mighty all the same.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 15 interior

Ferrari's updates to the SF90 Stradale's interior are fairly few. The XX gets carbonfibre bucket seats as standard (although you can upgrade them at extra cost, also adding four-point safety harnesses), as well as a carbonfibre-clad dashboard and centre console.

There are carbonfibre interior door consoles also, while the car's cabin design chucks out the carpets of the standard car, replacing them with bare aluminium footwell floors.

The car is a strict two-seater, and it loses what little 'frunk' luggage space the standard SF90 offers as a result of its new radiator design.

The car's primary control ergonomics are good; although Ferrari's now-familiar tendency to crowd secondary controls onto a busily clustered steering wheel boss (not just turn indicators, but also engine start/stop, drive mode, and now powertrain operating mode also) takes some getting used to.

Cabin space is respectable enough for two. Taller drivers may struggle a little for headroom when wearing a helmet, but not as much as in some mid-engined hypercar rivals.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 18 ride tracking front

It may be a little disappointing, in principle, for Maranello to have added only little to the standard SF90's power output, or to have saved only little from kerbweight; but this certainly isn't a car that needed any shot in the arm for outright punch.

The SF90 XX Stradale is monstrously fast. It's fiery and dramatic at high revs, in Ferrari's greatest traditions; but, with all that electric torque to tap into, it's also seamlessly brutal when pulling through and away from tighter turns and when working through higher gears at middling revs.

If there's a performance gain to be perceived compared with the standard car, it's probably here, thanks to the extra battery voltage, and instant electric boost, that Ferrari's engineers have conjured. For all its grip, the standard SF90 was already a car to unleash carefully and judiciously, but the XX feels even moreso.

Ferrari claims to have made the car's V8 engine note sharper and more savage, and its gearshifts more percussive and dramatic - but since it didn't permit us to sample the car on the road, or without a helmet on, we'll have to report on those gains later.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 03 cornering rear drift

Our test drive was restricted to Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, and conducted in closed-cockpit cars on standard adaptive dampers. So I can’t say with any certainty whether the XX really is as drivable and mild-mannered on the road as its engineers insist. 

From the way it rode kerbs and ridges on the circuit, and generally handled at lower speeds, I’d guess it probably is still sufficiently calm and comfortable to drive on the road; just about. But much would depend on the particular specification of your car. Multimatic’s Fiorano-pack dampers, we know, already make a standard SF90 overly firm and hyperactive on patchier road surfaces; and Michelin’s Cup 2 R tyres cope notoriously badly in wet weather.

While the Lamborghini Revuelto uses its electric motors to vector negative torque asymmetrically across the front axle under braking, the Ferrari SF90 XX uses its new ABS system to the same ends. I’d say the Ferrari feels keener to turn in, the Lambo more stable.

With the XX, there’s also no nose-lifter to help you on and off sloped driveways and over speed bumps - and the car’s front splitter is lower and even more vulnerable to damage.

On the track itself, meanwhile, our testing suggested that Maranello is gradually taming the complexity of this SF90’s hybrid powertrain and its limit handling, and slowly turning it into a car of the enticing handling balance, poise and adjustability we expect of a mid-engined Ferrari - but also that the process still has some way still to go.

You don’t drive the SF90 XX quite like most modern mid-engined Ferraris (we’ve been getting it all wrong, reader). Instead, the test drivers say, it’s best to brake later and feather the pedal right through the turn-in phase, depending on the new anti-lock braking system not only to slow the car but also to help to rotate it. And then, in turn, to depending on the influence of the electric front axle to stabilise the car as you get back on the power. 

The approach does bear fruit, once you’ve got the confidence to employ it (although ten laps of Fiorano isn’t much time to cultivate that in a 1016bhp Ferrari); and it makes what can otherwise feel like a slightly straight-laced chassis, less naturally poised and more given to understeer in certain circumstances than, say, a 296 GTB or 488 Pista, more animated and engaging when cornering just-so. The SF90 XX’s extra downforce is apparent entering fast braking zones, too, and in keeping the rear axle stable through 4th gear corners.  

The trouble is, it isn’t like a Ferrari to be so prescriptive about how and when it’s really prepared to handle. Typically, they feel agile, alive and engaging in so many different ways. 

The SF90 XX, however, wants to set some ground rules. It can be rewarding when you play by them; and it’s always preposterously quick. But it’s an easy car to overdrive in slower corners, getting scruffy when you don’t quite give it the right input. In quicker ones meanwhile, all of that mechanical and aerodynamic grip, allied to a slightly unpredictable front axle, still makes it a nerve-testing prospect - just as the regular SF90 can be.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 23 static front

With the introduction of this special-series SF90 Stradale, the work of the electrification of the Ferrari supercar - of adding so much performance, weight and complexity, and of vectoring torque at each corner without corrupting the superlative dynamic poise that Maranello has been rightly famed, or giving up a big-hitting ICE engine altogether - goes on. It is, however, a project still some way from completeness.

The SF90 XX Stradale adds even more brutal lap pace to the standard car's armoury, and the way it responds and improves as you learn how best to drive it on circuit makes it an enticing dynamic challenge to decode.

But it still lacks the handling purity and benign adjustability for which mid-engined Ferraris have been celebrated for decades. While dramatic and fast, it's a complex car that's probably easier to drive badly, and to come away from disappointed and confused, than to drive just-so; which isn't something you'd say of the supposedly lesser Ferrari 296 GTB.

If evidence were needed of how restless Ferrari's designers and engineers will be until they have solved this 1600kg, thousand-horsepower, part-electrified Rubik's cube of a dynamic problem, the SF90 XX Stradale is undoubtedly it; and as such, it's a welcome.

While a firecracker of a drive, it probably won't be remembered as the defining SF90; among Ferrari XX cars, it might even be regarded as something of a black sheep. But, while it's a pretty low bar, those who just want a better, faster, meaner-looking SF90 - and there are plenty of owners who will - should no doubt find enough here to justify their interest.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.