The Ferrari F8 is the Example for Modern, Mid-Engine Supercars

Automorbit, Cars – The F8 is Ferrari’s newest mid-engine, V8-powered two-seater. Like its predecessors, the 458 and 488, the F8 experience is so close to street-legal driving perfection that the $300,000-plus starting price seems reasonable.

In May 2020, Ferrari hit a market value of $30 billion. For a company that makes around 10,000 very expensive cars a year, that’s a high valuation, especially during a viral outbreak that has brutalized so many other businesses. That number meant that Ferrari, which became an independent, publicly-traded company in 2014, was more valuable than Ford, GM, or FCA (Fiat Chrysler), companies that produce millions of vehicles each year.

To oversimplify the reasoning, that figure attests to the power of the Ferrari name. After over 70 years in business, and since expanding into branded watches, laptops, and even a theme park, the name is still evocative of its history of building the most exclusive version of automotive transportation. While the brand plans for its SUV and develops engines to comply with stricter emissions laws, the F8 Spider stands as evidence that Ferrari’s engineers are still dedicated to building, arguably, the most powerful, outrageous, technologically impressive cars you can buy in 2020.

Historical Context

For the last four-plus decades, Ferrari has manufactured a two-seater with a V8 engine set in the middle of the car, behind the cabin. In chronological order, those cars are: the 308, 328, 348, F355, 360, F430, 458, 488, and now, the F8. (Ferrari says the “8” in the name refers to the engine’s 8 cylinders.) To varying degrees of success, these cars are fast, loud, and conspicuous, but mostly everyday-driveable. The best ones provides a driving experience that everyone with an opinion on the topic would agree is as much fun as you can have on civilian roads.

Within this line of vehicles, there was car dork controversy when Ferrari introduced the 488. Ferrari engineers replaced the 458’s naturally aspirated (meaning, no turbo- or supercharging) V8 with a turbocharged V8. Naturally aspirated engines sound wonderful, and are fast, but burn fuel quickly. Turbocharging achieves better fuel efficiency, helping its manufacturers comply with stricter emissions regulations. (Lamborghini, however, continues to hold out with the Huracán’s rakish naturally aspirated V10).

The 488’s turbocharged engine was more powerful than the 458, and the car was faster. But it had to deal with a preconception that the time required for the turbocharger to take effect—spinning vanes that force air into the combustion chamber for more forceful explosions—resulted in a delay that made the car less responsive, and less cool-sounding. The F8’s V8 is the same as in the 488 Pista, which is turbocharged.

The Driving

Does any of that matter? Not really. If there’s any truth to the accusation that the turbos handicap performance and sound, Ferrari has figured how to make sure that few drivers would ever be able to say so in good faith. While driving, whichever gear I was in, whether in automatic mode or using the hand paddle shifters, hitting the accelerator produced sounds and g-forces that left me gasping and smiling every time. As another editor said of the 488, “If you don’t experience driver euphoria, you have problems unrelated to turbocharging.”

But when every two-seater at this price is fast in straights and corners, you have to look at the qualities that spec sheets can’t convey. The F8’s steering, for example, is tuned to this sensitivity that magically pointed the car exactly where I wanted it to go. The chassis’ rigidity and intelligent damping defies physics, keeping the car level and planted through tight turns. Somehow, the F8’s special combination of immediate power, driver feedback, and high-tech help make this $300,000 performance instrument feel inviting, not intimidating.

But if you were to buy an F8, the majority of your driving in Dubai, Beverly Hills, wherever, will be like most of our testing: in traffic. On a congested highway, after a dead stop, I let off the brake to close the gap. The F8 didn’t lurch or otherwise complain about being operated so far below its potential. And at 25 mph, the transmission already up to seventh gear for maximum fuel efficiency, the ride is as smooth as most sensible crossovers. And when you have to park, it even has enough ground clearance that, in our driving, made it so we never had to worry about scraping the lip. (This can be an issue with cars like the more performance-focused McLaren 600LT we tested). The F8 can be as athletic or docile as you ask it to be.

The Interior

There’s some truth to the generalization that Italian cars, especially performance cars like Ferraris, have comically obtuse setups of knobs and screens. For example, even with years of experience test driving new vehicles and reviewing new consumer tech, I gave up after 10 minutes of trying to change the speedometer from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. I tried everything, including checking Ferrari forums. But it was hard to be mad because, surprisingly, that was the only complaint I could file about the F8’s interior. Once you learn the ride mode knobs, you realize that the user interface is is exceptionally logical, for any type of car.

Every necessary function—turn signals, windshield wipers, high beams, engine start/stop, drive mode—is on the steering wheel, like on a Formula One car. Instead of a center-mounted tablet like you’d find in most modern cars, in the F8, you control the music, navigation, and settings on a small dashboard screen to the right of the tachometer, using a small array of knobs and buttons. The only part that the passenger has realistic access to is the thin row of climate controls, which means that most of the the F8’s interior is pleasantly sparse. The idea is, focus on the driving of the thing.

The choice between the coupe or convertible is subjective. If you don’t like being observed, and you think that the additional structural rigidity of the roof makes you faster, go for the coupe. For me, though, this type of vehicle requires an open top for full enjoyment. The extra noise, both from the wind and the exhaust, enhance the thrill—and the driver’s visibility.

The Competition

In this league of six-figure, mid-engine two-seaters, you have the F8 (and its predecessor the 488 Pista Spider, which is still on sale). There’s McLaren’s 570S Spider ($211,300) and 720S Spider ($317,500). And Lamborghini’s Huracán Evo Spyder ($233,123). All are loud, fast, and comfortable enough at low speeds to run errands in a small town. (Seriously, I’ve tried that in all of them, and the only concerns are front trunk space and driveway inclines). All of these cars are rare, with only a few thousand examples of each produced every year.

I give points to McLaren for knowing the value of swing-up (dihedral) doors. For the days that I have tested the 720S, 600LT, and 570 GT, it was a feature that never got old, though I can understand not wanting to add more pageantry to a type of car that’s already so outrageous. Which one drives best? To pick, you need to almost invent advantages and deficiencies. All are high-tech, and so capable that no one except professional drivers on a race track will come close to finding their limits. Picking your favorite requires being deliberately irrational. If a history of cool race cars appeals to you, only McLaren comes close to Ferrari’s legacy. If you want a brand that demonstrates an almost impractical dedication to its niche, Ferrari has not yet followed Porsche and Lamborghini in producing a sedan or SUV.

For me, there’s something to that history. After my day of driving the F8 Spider, I came home, turned on the TV, and Ford v Ferrari was on. Yes, Ferrari loses. But it’s also a reminder that popular culture responds to that name, enough to justify a $100 million movie. Maybe the Ferrari-branded laptops, sunglasses, and theme park have helped keep the name and the prancing horse logo as evocative now as when that movie took place. But after a drive in one of its cars, you realize that none of that history or marketing would matter if the F8 weren’t magnificent to drive. But it is. The legend, turbocharging and all, remains intact.

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