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Design Analysis: The Ferrari SF90 Stradale Is the Best Modern Ferrari

I don’t know how many road cars Ferrari has made, but the first one I saw when I was at Art Center 66 years ago was probably one of just a few hundred extant, each one different from all the others—even when that was not the intent. The idea in Italy then was that if a door on one side was longer than the one on the other side, well, you can’t see both at once.

Today, Ferrari’s historical total build must be well into six figures, and its cars coming off the line are rigorously identical in surfaces and panel alignment, unlike that touchingly asymmetrical Touring 166 coupe sitting outside Ernie McAfee’s Hollywood Hills shop displaying side-to-side discrepancies even an untrained student eye could discern. For decades, any Ferrari would have a characteristic, simple egg-crate grille pattern, even the notoriously grotesque Marzotto-inspired Uovo (“egg”) 166 coupe with its perfectly round grille frame. That recognizable grille pattern, shared even longer by Cadillac as a point of identity, has faded away. We have also seen some models that frankly don’t have much to do with the racing side of the firm, like the handsome ’70s 400 GT.

Purely as a matter of personal taste, I disliked the mid-engine F430 that Ferrari unveiled for the 2005 model year, even if its double air inlets related to the ’60s Formula 1 car Phil Hill drove to a world championship. I thought the 21st-century California T, despite the presence of a traditional egg-crate grille texture, rather a disgrace. Indeed, as the purity and classicism of Pininfarina faded away and an in-house body design department arose, I thought some of the newer cars were too technical and not romantic enough but, of course, superior products anyone would be pleased to own and drive; I certainly would be.

Looking at this new hybrid SF90 Stradale, I think it is—of all the many post-Enzo, Fiat-funded industrial-product Ferraris—the most desirable model to date. I think it does need the badges and the letters across its tail to keep clear its identity and legitimacy. But for me this modern Ferrari has all the attributes necessary—proportion, nuance, stance, finish, surprising detail, and tactility (you have to enjoy hand-washing a car for it to be a really good design)—to assure that any teenager who sees it today will remember it fondly two-thirds of a century hence, as I do “my” Touring Berlinetta.

What stands out above all is that this Stradale seems to have potential as an actual normal-use automobile. Oh, of course you can make any car a daily driver if you’re dedicated enough: My Swiss friend Urs keeps an ’80s Ferrari Mondial cabriolet in Hong Kong as his only car without benefit of a garage to keep it in, even changing his own timing belts on the street. But I don’t think you’d have to go that far to be able to run up a lot of enjoyable miles with the SF90, and I’d surely like to try. Who wouldn’t?


1. The plan view of the front is almost a perfect circle, as was the Porsche 918 Spyder in 2013, as the world comes around to Franco Scaglione’s ideas from the ’50s.
2. And the windshield base is back to being half-round, the change hidden in blackness.
3. Giant mirrors are needed for use on public roads (“stradale”) because the backlight is almost useless for rear visibility.
4. Notice that probably more than 50 percent of the glass is painted black.
5. The upper backlight opening emulates the shape of the front outlet duct seen in the hood.
6. Full-width rib across the lower rear façade flattens above the exhaust pipes, as does the transverse rib in front above the central buttress.
7. The pipes are mounted high, as in Pagani and McLaren supercars, and protrude a little.
8. Taillights, apart from being flattened vertically, protrude from the body surface, like the exhaust pipes.
9. They don’t look like much, but you can be sure these little slots have a big role to play in total drag reduction. They’re not just decoration, as once might have been the case.
10. Notice the careful sculpting of the black shapes inside the well, controlling and directing the scooped-in cooling air.
11. Even the door latch is faired in. A great detail, except when the duct is full of snow or ice. But who’d drive an SF90 to Sestrières in January.
12. I really don’t get this shape, but it looks better from above than it does in profile.
13. The breakaway of air inlet and fender profile hard lines happens about halfway along the door skins. Delicate, sensitive, and subtle metalwork over the entire body is a tribute to the designers and builders.

1. The transverse blade on the nose is assertive but not aggressive. But it needs the prancing horse badge because there are no clear marque characteristics.
2. Front and rear wheel openings are perfectly circular, centered on the wheel center…
3. …with, on both front and rear, a vertical section generating a little surface crease that disappears by hub height.
4. The blacked-out A-pillar looks enticingly slim from the outside but in fact is quite massive.
5. A shark-fin antenna is effective and amusingly announces the predatory capability of the ensemble, a small sign for a big message: “Don’t mess with me.”
6. Yes, this is the backlight as well as a transparent engine cover. Rear visibility must be really bad, but it does look great in profile.
7. I love the blunt, strong warrior’s shields that make up the rear bumper and underbody diffuser. It’s a nice way to cover up the gaping holes that let heat escape from the engine.
8. There’s a lot of delicate, imaginative surface development with crisp transition lines adding character. This one defines the rear fender profile, nearly meeting…
9. …the low point of this one that loops around the huge well that ingests cooling air.
10. This upswept line allows an exit channel below, but is there a duct through the door for hot air from the brakes? It’s probably just a styling flourish.
11. The huge wheels are astonishingly delicate, almost exiguous, yet clearly strong. Great.
12. The black baseplate is a clear visual reference to F1 cars and justifies the horizontal cutoff of the painted panel above it.
13. This powerful diagonal straight line recapitulates the incline angle of the rear bumper. Altogether, the whole body is a nice lateral composition.

1. The concave side section begins right at the front of the body.
2. Looking like the intakes of an old-school jet fighter plane, the necessary rear cooling inlets are really big yet unobtrusively sleek in side view.
3. The transverse roof section is quite rounded, in marked contrast to many flat-roofed Italian supercars from the Lamborghini Miura onward.
4. There are crisp peaks on all four fenders to delineate the car’s profile.
5. Sergeant’s stripes? The look of the headlamp cluster is new for Ferrari and handled beautifully as it integrates into the overall form.
6. The lower body blade is artfully twisted upward at the ends to make a kind of low winglet, a beautifully sculpted detail.
7. This huge hood-top air outlet is modified by a high central section that carries through into the full-width inlet as a black buttress. Nicely done.
8. If this badge weren’t present, you’d know the national origin but not necessarily the maker. This is a break from the past, which could be good or bad, according to personal preferences. It’s a really good design, whatever your choice.
9. This sharp trailing edge is excellent visually and aerodynamically.
10. The F1-style baseplate is a new styling cue for supercars and allows a slimming of the painted body sections above the greasy parts, like the earliest Ferrari roadsters.

1. Yes, it’s something of a black hole, but subtle red stitching throughout relieves the cockpit’s somber aspect.
2. Everything is centered on the driver, with the preponderance of controls actually on the steering wheel itself, F1-style.
3. Is the inside mirror bigger than the backlight transparency? Not really, but there’s seemingly not much in it. At least it doesn’t block the forward view.
4. The A-pillar does block the forward view, a bit. It’s clearly not as delicate from the cockpit as it seems to be from the exterior.
5. The little shelves below the outboard fresh-air vents are elegantly shaped.
6. The seats are notched as if to accommodate a racing-oriented fifth seat belt strap, a reminder of Ferrari’s racing heritage if nothing else…
7. …as is this evocation of the GTO’s iconic shift gate.

1. Rear reflectors are mounted in the bumper face, presumably inset enough to protect them.
2. Ferrari has done a lot of advanced aerodynamic work in the past several decades, so we can be certain this vertical outlet slot is highly beneficial both for reducing drag and increasing downforce.
3. Ferrari designers, like BMW and Corvette shapers before them, have decided to modify the traditional round taillights to increase visual width.
4. Two filler caps, like old Jaguars, or one for liquid fuel, one for electrons.
5. There must be a functional reason for this slot, but it’s not for the center brake light…
6. …which is embedded in the spoiler lip below the backlight.
7. The rear bumper-cum-outlet air deflector is part of the rear diffuser molding, which…
8. …incorporates flow-straightening fins at the bottom.
9. The innermost fins carry the bumper profile downward, parallel to…
10. …a painted hood that recapitulates the central buttress on the front end.

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