2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo First Drive: It's Absolutely Electrifying

Plusher than a Pista, the F8 serves as a swan song to Ferrari’s present day twin-turbo V-8.

MARANELLO, Italy—There's nothing quite like the last days of summer in Italy. The lush, grapevine-covered hills just outside of Maranello, home of Ferrari, are bathed in warmth and sunlight as the people lucky enough to call this place home contentedly go about their day in short sleeves and light summer dresses. It's an infectious state of being that has the music of Ennio Morricone playing in our head. As we soak in the scenery, for a split second it's possible to forget that we're behind the wheel of the 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo, the iconic marque's latest mid-engine, V-8-powered sports car.

Then, suddenly aware of our slower pace, we give the left shift paddle of the F8 Tributo a tug, mostly just to hear that engine braaaaappp! it's way up the tachometer, and then spit and crackle to clear its throat before singing its way toward 8,000 rpm once more. We're not the only ones who love this engine: The F8 Tributo was named in honor of its own powertrain.

The Car: What to Know

Ferrari is understandably proud of its twin-turbo V-8. The distinctive, flat-plane-crank engine has won several awards from the European motoring press and wide acclaim from Automobile for its potency and immediacy of response—even if the turbos temper the raucous sounds of the now ancient-feeling 458. In F8 Tributo guise, it produces 710 horsepower from 3.9 liters, as much oomph as the limited-edition 488 Pista, Ferrari's track-focused variant of the 488 GTB. The additional forza comes via a small bump in compression ratio, changes to the intake plenum and shorter intake runners, more aggressive cam profiles, and reduced rotating mass achieved via hollow valves and lightened titanium connecting rods, crankshaft, and flywheel. It also features a lighter manifold made of Inconel, along with a turbocharger-speed sensor lifted straight from the 488 Challenge race car.

All said and done, around 40 pounds have been shaved from the engine, and some 80 pounds off the car overall compared to a base 488. In fact, Ferrari says fully half of the engine's components are new to the F8 Tributo and despite the extra power, emissions have been incrementally reduced, helping the car pass ever tightening regulations in China, among other markets.

While the rest of the car may look a lot like its forebearer, there are enough evolutionary changes—especially in the aerodynamics realm—to make for a dramatically different experience. The front end borrows the 488 Pista's S-duct to feed air directly through the front end and out the hood, while the front cooling system is lifted from the 488 Challenge race car, feeding air to the intercooler more efficiently. The gaping intakes on the rear fenders are also revised and vortex generators on the car's underside help suck it to the ground. Meanwhile, moving flaps at the bottom rear of the car can stall the diffuser when extra downforce isn't needed, similar to Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari SF90 Formula 1 car.

That's all forward-thinking technology, but the F8 Tributo has plenty of ties to Ferrari's storied past in its exterior design. The rear fascia has been completely restyled with a reversion to quad taillights tucked subtly under the lip of the rear decklid, a signature Ferrari focal point from past V-8-powered cars like the 308 and F355. The rear window is lightweight Lexan with vents cut horizontally, a throwback to the rip-roaring F40 supercar introduced in 1987 for the brand's 40th anniversary. Even the stylized, slightly twisted penta-spoke wheels recall the Cromodora pieces used on the 1969 365 GTB/4 Daytona and most other models well into the 1990s. As has become Ferrari protocol, the F8 Tributo is a more aggressive take on the car that went before it, with a nose influenced by the upcoming, 986-hp SF90 Stradale hybrid supercar and the FXXK-Evo development car. The body cutouts for the front headlights look similar to the 488, but space is now made for air intakes at the top of the 'L' shape to vent fresh, cooling air to the brakes. Ferrari says it's enough venting to keep from needing larger brakes and the greater unsprung weight they bring.

The interior of the F8 Tributo has also been completely revised, with a new dashboard, center console, door panels, air vents, and reduced-diameter steering wheel that Ferrari says is for greater precision—we also appreciated the greater thigh clearance it allows. There's also an optional updated, thin 7.0-inch display on the right side of the cockpit that displays all the vital info from tach and speedo so your passenger doesn't have to lean into your space to see how severely you're breaking the law. We also like that Ferrari has maintained its large analog tachometer, centrally mounted on the instrument panel. It's flanked by two digital screens that can offer speed, navigation instructions, and other vehicle data.

The Drive: On the Track

We started our day at Pista di Fiorano, Ferrari's very own test track that has been used to develop its road and race cars since it was built in 1972. It's hallowed ground and we'd be lying if we said we didn't get a few goosebumps as we pulled onto the track for the first time. The circuit is a mix of high-speed sweepers, a mid-speed right-left transition, two hairpins, and a couple sharp right handers, with two long straights thrown in for good measure. With the F8's Manettino dial switched to Race, we reveled in the F8's throaty exhaust note, which engineers have tuned with longer exhaust runners to allow for more high-frequency notes. Though the sound still can't compare to the shrieking wail of the F355, it's certainly more sonorous than the 488 GTB and the added oomph is readily apparent. Power comes on strong from low revolutions with nary a trace of turbo lag and builds linearly, while the 17 percent reduction in rotating mass in the engine means the car revs out even more eagerly. But more than all that, it's the car's balance and the ease with which it can be driven quickly that makes it a star.

On our second hot lap, we toggled to CT Off mode, which removes traction control from the equation, allowing us to try Ferrari's newest version of its Slip Slide Control (SSC 6.1). Ferrari says this latest update decreases the amount of steering effort needed to maintain a drift, and while the threat of balling up an expensive piece of Rosso Corsa machinery demanded we play things safe, we were able to enjoy a lovely little tail-out slide on Fiorano's final wide hairpin before neatly bringing it back in again. The system is transparent enough that we're left to wonder if we should have applied for that Scuderia Ferrari test driver position, if only for a brief second. The recalibrated brake pedal is positive-feeling underfoot, with greater effort—not greater travel—dictating how quickly you come to a stop. The result is a system that feels less grabby than the 488 GTB's with noticeably better modulation, even with carbon-ceramic discs (which remained quiet in all conditions). We didn't notice any fade, though we were limited to a warm-up lap, two hot laps, and a cooldown lap before bringing the F8 back in.

 The Drive: On the Road

As exciting as the F8 Tributo is on the track, Ferrari will be quick to tell you that the 488 Pista is still its most track-focused model. The F8 is designed to shine more on road, where its combination of Pista power and magically plush ride might just make it the quickest, most capable sports car we've driven on real-world roads. More comfortable and relaxed than a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, more compact feeling and confidence inspiring than a McLaren 720S, the F8 Tributo simply devoured the winding, hillside backroads nestled in the Monghidoro hills. We alternated between Sport and Race settings on the road and found that the latter offered a nifty combo of allowing small slides (SCC is engaged in both Race and CT Off) but still a broad safety net without feeling stifling. Press a steering-wheel-mounted button to engage the suspension's Bumpy Road mode and the car remains well composed even on the more neglected stretches of Italian tarmac.

Ferrari's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission feels delightful as ever, with rapid yet smooth shifts up and down the 'box (our on-track test car had the optional wheel-mounted shift lights, while our road car did not) and the column-mounted shift paddles ensure you always know which is up and down even when the wheel is turned past 180 degrees of lock. We also found the redesigned wheel makes the turn signal buttons more difficult to hit accidentally, a gesture that shows Ferrari is sweating the small stuff.

Is a 710-hp car too much for the road? It's easy to think so and certainly, we could have done with less power for road driving. While it's rare that we ever found an opportunity to flat-foot the throttle in search of that claimed 2.9-second zero-to-60-mph sprint (let alone the claimed 211-mph top speed), the car never made us feel that we weren't making good use of its performance envelope, even on narrow switchbacks that seemed better suited to a small Fiat 500.

What didn't we like? Very little, but we will say that the new Lexan rear window, while terrific looking from outside the car, really limits rear visibility. The field of vision is already narrow, but the lightweight plastic material distorts the view and we found ourselves looking through just a single slit of the window to get any clarity. Combined with the wide intakes on the rear fenders, it can be a challenge to tell if the local Carabinieri is coming up from behind. Also, the infotainment interface still isn't the easiest to work with, and the navigation system often suggested that a sharp turn in the road ahead was actually a turn onto a different road.

The Verdict

Though the residents of Maranello are understandably jaded to the sight of yet another Ferrari (the town is full of rental outfits providing tourists brief drives in current and past models), this was not the case as we passed through small towns and villages in more remote areas. Old men drinking grappa in cafés all turn in their chairs, mouths open, to watch the F8 Tributo pass by. Young schoolboys jump and shout as we approach, their genuine excitement possibly bettered only by the arrival of Christmas morning.

On the derestricted autostrada on the way back to Maranello, DRS engaged, we were tailed by an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio for some distance at speeds well into the triple digits. The F8 Tributo remained serene and sublime—but never sterile. While a mid-engine car is always going to require more attention and skill to drive quickly than one with a higher polar moment of inertia, the F8 Tributo is possibly the easiest driving and quickest car we've yet experienced on unfamiliar backroads. Some of those we traveled were part of the old Mille Miglia route, and there's no doubt our 7/10ths pace was beyond that of the full-on race cars that competed in the original events though 1957, when the race was banned for safety concerns.

Of course, all this goodness doesn't come cheaply, especially when there's a cavallino rampante badge on the hood. The base price is $275,580 and if you add in some extras (Ferrari has upped the amount of its optional carbon-fiber offerings by some 50 percent, and they now include a set of 20-inch wheels) you'll likely be at the $350,000 mark without too much effort. That said, rumor has it that the next entry-level mid-engine Ferraris will harken back to the Dino line with a twin-turbocharged V-6, effectively ending a 40-plus-year tradition of mid-engine V-8 Ferrari sports cars. If you're feeling sentimental, you love Ferraris, and you have the means, now's the time to put a new F8 in your garage.

2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo Specifications
ON SALE December 2019
BASE PRICE $275,580
ENGINE 3.9L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8; 710 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 14/19 mpg (city/hwy, est)
L x W x H 181.5x 77.9 x 47.4 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,164 lb
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec
TOP SPEED 211 mph
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