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

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That the Ferrari SF90 XX wasn't in the original production plan for the Ferrari SF90 tells you something about its gestation. Ferrari had made a near-as-darnit 1000bhp plug-in hybrid supercar and yet it never quite clicked with customers in the same way that its lighter, cheaper, less powerful-mid engined supercars did.

The XX model, then, feels reactive. Made, dare I say it, in the most unusual of ways for the maker of the planet's current best sports cars: on the back foot. "What do we do about the SF90?"

The answer has been to go harder and use a formerly very exclusive programme name. It’s a decade since Ferrari’s last extra-special-series XX car, the La Ferrari-based FXX-K, was introduced. Between that, the original FXX, the FXX Evolutione and the 599XX and 599XX 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.

In those respects at least, the Ferrari SF90 XX, tested late in 2023 as a Stradale (coupé) on track only and in April 2024 as a Spider (on road only) looks a little like an XX model in name, mostly.

It has an XX badge, sure, and it has some very special design features and specification upgrades, to which we will come. But buying one won’t get you into the ultra-exclusive XX track days 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 15 to one (and that would be an awful lot more expensive catering).

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Yet it's still a car with some incredible potential.


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 XXs wore bespoke slick tyres and made compromises in all sorts of other areas, because they would never be driven anywhere other than a circuit. But the SF90 XX can’t be that extreme, and Ferrari admits that it could have been even lighter and more specialised 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 be grafted onto an SF90 M or similar in due course. 

Specifically, the XX gets an extra 30bhp for its hybrid powertrain (featuring a twin-turbocharged V8 engine and three AC electric motors), 17 of them courtesy of a new piston crown design and a higher compression ratio, the other 13 from a higher-output battery, with the whole system benefitting from a redesigned, upwards-routed S-duct radiator concept up front. 

The XX gets lowered, stiffened coil springs and retuned axle kinematics too (like the regular SF90, it 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; a recalibrated dual-clutch gearbox delivers more positive, dramatic shifts; and bigger rear brakes feature, 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 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 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 XX benefits from some 540kg of downforce at 155mph in coupé form and 530kg in Spider form. 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 carpets of the standard car have been chucked out, replaced by 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 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 mode too) takes some getting used to.

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

As a Spider, obviously there's unlimited head room with the electric roof retracted, a process that takes little time and can be done at road speeds of up to 30mph.

The small rear window can be dropped independently to let in more engine noise. Through dark tunnels, the way lights shine off of the interior's more reflective surfaces feels very special.

The climate control is powerful and easy to use.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 18 ride tracking front

​The SF90 certainly isn't a car that needed any shot in the arm for outright punch.

On a circuit, the XX 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; the XX feels even more so.

Ferrari claims to have made the V8 engine note sharper and more savage and the gearshifts more percussive and dramatic, but without a back-to-back test, it's hard to say how big the difference is. But you certainly notice a kick in the back even on steady-throttle upshifts on the road if you're controlling the flappy paddles yourself. 

In full electric mode, which the XX will keep up to 70mph, progress can still be brisk, albeit seamless and whirry. In engine-on automatic mode, the gearshifts come early but progress is swifter still. We found it natural to upshift at little more than 3000rpm, such is the urgency of the engine, supplemented as it is by motor torque at low revs.

Using all 8000rpm on the road is gloriously diverting but, if you do it with a full throttle, very brief and not unfraught.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 03 cornering rear drift

Our test drive of the XX coupé was on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track late in 2023. We drove the XX Spider exclusively on the roads of the area a few months later, in April 2024.

Both were on the standard adaptive dampers. 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. Our Spider drive was on friendlier all-round Bridgestone Potenza tyres.

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

On the coupé, there’s no nose-lift to help you on and off sloped driveways and over speed bumps - and the front splitter is lower and even more vulnerable to damage. The Spider, however, does have one.

Our track drive 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 that we expect of a mid-engined Ferrari.

You don’t drive the SF90 XX quite like most modern mid-engined Ferraris. 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 depending on the influence of the electric front axle to stabilise the car as you get back on the power. 

This approach does bear fruit, once you have the confidence to employ it, 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 fourth-gear corners.  

The trouble is that 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 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.

On the road, some of those handling traits still apply, even though speeds are much lower and downforce won't be playing a part. But on twisting roads, the XX likes to be braked deeper into a bend, where it turns more readily than if you don't, and with instant electric boost available to supplement a cracking V8 soundtrack on corner exit. 

It rides well, too. The roads around Modena are almost as bad as the UK's, and it's surely one of the reasons Ferraris ride as compliantly as they do. Even an XX on 255/35 R20 front and 315/30 R20 rear tyres rolls over, rather than lumping into, bumps and ruts.

You can tell a little that some chassis stiffness has been given away in the conversion from coupé to convertibe. That's inevitable in just about every drop-top except a carbonfibre-tubbed McLaren. But once you've stopped noticing a small shimmy of the rear view mirror over big lumps, you can forget it quite easily.

Wind buffeting in the XX Spider is only modest, too.


ferrari sf90 xx stradale 2023 23 static front

With the introduction of this special-series SF90, 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.

The XX adds even more brutal lap pace to the standard SF90'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.

Arguably it still misses out on some of the handling purity and benign adjustability for which mid-engined Ferraris have recently been celebrated. It's a complex car that's harder to get the best out of than the supposedly lesser Ferrari 296 GTB

It's feasible that it works better as a road car than a track car, because it retains terrific ride deftness but gets the requisite drama turned up satisfyingly. So among Ferrari XX cars, it might even be regarded as something of a black sheep.

Either way, for those who want a better, faster, meaner-looking SF90 - and there are plenty of owners who will - should no doubt find plenty 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.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.