This is going to be the biggest test of the Ferrari’s front-lift system yet. At the end of the heavily graffitied Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s CBD is the most diabolical alleyway entrance you have ever seen.
Its devilish dip is scarred at its lowest depression with the last wincing moments of many a front bumper. I push the button to raise the nose. Brrrrrr. There’s an audible chime and a small graphic in the cluster advises the front is raised. We’re going in.
The clock has just passed midnight, Monday, November 9, 2020. The date and time matters for Victorians, for these are our first minutes of ‘freedom’.
A virus all-but defeated, the ‘ring of steel’ that surrounded Australia’s second-largest metropolis has now lifted, and we may now venture further than 25km afield.
Not that it really matters much in the grand scheme of an awful pandemic, but for the first time in 112 long, often heart-breaking, difficult but mostly just boring days, we can go for a proper drive, on a proper road; not just to Coles and back.
For now, though, there’s a photographer barking orders at me as I find myself in the broken heart of Melbourne itself. Though lit as brightly as ever, the CBD, as it has been for three months, is still. There’s the hiss of a distant street sweeper; the hum of a Camry Uber gliding past.
At one point, a white council van zooms up to a nearby city bin, the anonymous nozzle of a gurney protrudes from the side door, blasts the bin for a few moments, and then zooms straight back off again. Virus fighters.
In normal times, it would be a novelty to have Melbourne’s iconic Hosier Lane all to myself, but I recall that a tourist hasn’t set foot here since March, about the time the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the last moment.
Just weeks ago, too, our $777,000 (as-tested) Rosso-Fucco-red Ferrari F8 Tributo here at midnight would have probably got me being introduced by Tracy Grimshaw as a segment on A Current Affair.
At the very least, I would have attracted every bored constable within a 10-minute radius. The crime? Being more than 5km from my house, past the 8pm curfew, with someone not from my household (a photographer) and outside for longer than my permitted 60 minutes.
And even in my dingiest exercise garb, and with half a dozen bulging Coles bags in the front of the Fezza, there’d be no convincing The Plod to put the cuffs away, not even for ‘essential work’.
But now, that no longer applies.
“Finball? Fineightal? What do the number plates mean?” asks one passerby, face obscured by a mask. “It sounds a bit rude, doesn’t it! ‘Yeah mate, I bloody fineightalled her good! Until 3am!’” And off into the night he goes, leaving me to wonder if it’s possible to sanitise one’s memory.
The plate is meant to say Final 8, as in Final V8. Not a limited-run car, F8 is basically a 488 facelift with the 530kW Pista engine, and pays tributo to the most powerful production V8 ever fitted to a Ferrari.
And possibly the last, with speculation that a hybrid, twin-turbo V6 is destined to break this previously continuous dynasty of mid-engine V8 Ferraris going back to the 308 of the early 1970s.
While it may yet prove helpful to Ferrari’s marketing department that the mid-engine car that preceded that was the V6-powered Dino, there’s no denying that even with this insanely potent twin-turbo V8, the F8 has been met with some scepticism from existing tifosi, with many customers reportedly preferring to hold on to their current cars than upgrade.
Meanwhile, values of second-hand, naturally aspirated V8 458s continue to rise.
“COVID has meant a lot of clients can’t enjoy their usual annual $150,000 luxury holiday,” said a Ferrari insider. “So they’re wanting to add cars to their collections instead.
"Also, buying a used atmo car means you don’t have to wait a year like you do a new car.”
Some of that, though, is also to do with the reputation the latest twin-turbo supercars have with the people who are lucky enough to be able to afford them, where sound and excitement are more important than performance – with Ferraris especially.
“I’d rather have a 458,” said one buyer of such cars. As for the issue of the price tag, another commented: “Why would I buy an F8 when I can get a second-hand McLaren 720S for $400K, a car that is just as fast but more visually dramatic?” Fair.
Ferrari has recently said it will prioritise excitement, fun and passion for its cars rather than outright performance, which might turn this tide.
How it’ll do that in an emissions-conscious era of heavier hybrids, downsized engines and looming electrification will be interesting to observe, but we should wish them nothing but success.
You could say it’s already started with the F8 Tributo. Completely restyled, this car, to me, is more visually resolved than the 488 (whose front bar, to my eyes, never looked to fit properly around the headlights), and it’s certainly more aggressive, with its ‘fangs’ beneath the headlights like a python ready to strike.
The 20-inch forged wheels front and rear channel the F50 a little, or even invoke the old Globe-style five-spoke star designs of 1980s Ferraris, 308 GTB included.
There’s a bit of LaFerrari about the rear glass and how the beltline rises up, especially on this car with an optional blackened roof.
While the Lexan engine cover with three slats is meant as a nod to F40, there’s something about the rear styling, with the quad tail-lights mounted as high as they are, that doesn’t do it for me. Overall, though, I love it.
What does do it for me, especially, is the way air has sculpted the F8’s seductive new bodywork. A new ‘S-duct’ in the bonnet, a la 488 Pista, vents air from below the numberplate – you can put your hand up through it, just – presumably reducing front lift.
The radiators, meanwhile, fed by the large front bar apertures, are laid almost flat at the front of the car to reduce drag.
Out back, an enormous carbon fibre diffuser has three small, active flaps, which can focus airflow at higher speeds, also reducing drag. Most of the downforce is created under the car with a flat floor and six vortex generators, three per side, sucking the car to the road.
Rocketing the F8 to speeds where downforce matters is the Pista powerplant – a masterpiece of modern turbocharged engineering.
At 3.9 litres, the dry-sump, all-aluminium flat-plane-crank, twin-turbo V8 has 50 per cent new parts compared to the 488’s V8, bringing more power and revviness, and less weight.
There’s a lightened crank, flywheel, and titanium conrods, lowering engine inertia (and quickening eagerness to rev) by 17 percent; there’s a new, much lighter Iconel superalloy exhaust manifold; more aggro cams and shorter inlet runners and a small bump in compression (from 9.4 to 9.6:1).
There are slightly bigger air-to-air intercoolers, too, all bolted to a seven-speed ‘F1’ dual-clutch ’box and ‘E-diff3’ electronically locking diff.
At around 18kg lighter than the 488’s V8, the Pista engine produces 530kW at 7000rpm and 770Nm from 3250rpm, while redline remains 8000rpm – perhaps too low for those still harping on over the heady 9000rpm highs of cars like the sublime 458 Speciale (and I don’t blame them).
Fuel consumption, for anyone who’s curious, remains a claimed combined 12.9L/100km. Kerb weight has also dropped a decent 40kg, from 1475kg to 1435kg.
Of course, it’s faster. Ferrari claims 0-100km/h in 2.9sec, 0-200km/h in 7.8sec, 0-400m in 10.2sec and a top speed of 340km/h; versus the 488’s 3.0sec, 8.3sec, 10.45sec and 330km/h.
All numbers that need contextualising with the right foot, which we’ll get to. (And numbers, it must be said, that in my experience at other magazines, cannot be matched or bested without a jockey who hasn’t eaten, a mate at Pirelli, a dream surface and, possibly, a tailwind.)
Time for us to hit the road proper. I’m a bit stressed. While no, we didn’t jet from our CBD night shoot straight to a driving road, we are up early the next day – the first day of no-25km. But there’s a problem: in the last three months I’ve really only driven 500m to the local supermarket, and in a Ford Transit (for the 2020-sized toilet paper purchases, you see).
Suddenly, I’m in a red Ferrari that’s giving $800K a nudge (its MSRP is $484,888, meaning it’s wearing a lazy $292K of options). One that feels as snug in its lane as I do in my jeans after six months with nothing to do but eat.
Threading this car in surprisingly heavy traffic (seems everybody in Melbourne is leaving) is tricky given it has all the visibility of an LMP1 car – and nobody lets you in.
But it’s okay, because we are, at last, putting the city in the rear vision mirrors.
Things get better on the Hume Highway, crossing places there were police checkpoints just yesterday – and watching, with glee, as 26km ticks lawfully over the tripmeter.
Having gotten used to some ergonomic oddities – all the major controls, indicators included, are buttons on the steering wheel; fun, but I’d prefer stalks probably – the first thing you are struck by about the F8 is the ride quality.
In Bumpy Road mode, the F8 smooths the road surface with a beautifully supple, long-stroke damper feel. Comfortable? You bet. Speed bumps – where you can get a hit of those high-tech adaptive dampers – are almost a pleasure.
The F8 feels to raise the bar for Ferrari refinement, too, although there’s still room for improvement. Build quality feels better, but there’s a light shunt through the car most times the clutch engages as you tip in the throttle from a standstill.
There’s quite a lot of tyre noise at freeway speeds. The sound system, too, isn’t amazing. All minor things, for sure, but they may be a bother. Until you put your foot down.
Half-throttle in the F8 is enough for a staggering rate of utterly effortless acceleration. There’s audible hissing as the turbos, with their titanium turbine impellers, quickly and effectively cram in their maximum 22psi boost (up 2psi on 488). But full throttle is what you want, and that takes some planning.
It’s out of the city we get our first shot, and the accelerator pedal is not so much a device to adjust speed as it is a very lit wick getting pressed ever closer to an enormous powder-keg.
On the manettino, there are five modes: Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off. In Wet and Sport, your throttle input is whatever traction control deems possible, and at times – cold tyres especially – the F8 may as well have 350kW.
In Race and CT Off, it gets a bit more ‘exciting’; power more in your hands, first gear all about applying as much throttle as warm rear rubber will allow.
Second gear, a tiny bit more again, third flat, fourth flat, disappearing quite quickly, at which point you’ll be swearing in a language you didn’t know you knew, followed by a desire to stop to have a lie-down.
For power and acceleration, the F8 has a venom like few cars; it would make an Audi R8 V10 feel like it was towing a drag chute.
What gets you is the brutal torque available instantly almost regardless of where you are on the tacho; and the way the ECU ‘steps’ the torque out as you go up the gears, to give the rear tyres a fighting chance.
The effect is unrelenting acceleration, no ‘tapering off’; shut off the taps after a prolonged hit and you half-expect your phone and whatever other interior detritus to start floating about like you’ve made low-earth orbit.
Does it sound good? It sounds better than a 488 – the turbos are less vocal – and you’ll want to put the windows down in a tunnel, but it probably won’t have the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention.
It’s loud and angry, especially at start-up, almost like a sports bike, with an undeniable flat-plane-crank V8 note. But it’s no atmo V12.
In fairness, V8 Ferraris since - and including - the 458 Speciale have been more rock band than symphony orchestra.
With mountains joyously appearing in the windscreen, we roll through Bright, turning heads like the car is feathered, before getting our first hit of corners on Tawonga Gap Road – 25km of bliss racing up and over a ridge with a view of Victoria’s highest peak.
Having adjusted to the very fast steering – a modern Ferrari trait, with just 1.9 turns lock-to-lock – it’s again the suspension that initially stands out, by being completely unflustered by any bump whatsoever.
No matter the speed, the F8 sits flat and calm, with rock-solid stability. Great for confidence, not a single bump could cause the F8 to lose its cornering cool during our entire test.
The tyres do need some temperature before the F8 can give its best, though. With 530kW hurling those two rears at corners, the F8 feels like it’s on spacesavers with cold rubber, pushing gently into understeer.
But as the P-Zeros heat up, you can carry increasing amounts of speed into corners, the front-end grip letting you clear the brake pedal earlier and earlier and get stuck into the throttle sooner.
At which point, you’ll want to dial in the half-off ESC mode, CT Off, which permits a cheeky bit of controlled throttle steer out of corners, making you feel like you know what you’re doing.
The brakes, too, with the pedal mounted perfectly for left-foot braking, are mega: a lot of the time it feels like your eyeballs will be swilling around the footwell sooner than you’re able to trigger any ABS.
The engine is as responsive as the transmission is swift, with only the tiniest amount of turbo lag. But while it can rev to 8000rpm, with a Christmas tree of red and blue LEDs atop the steering wheel signalling time to pluck another gear with those tall, column-mounted paddles, there’s no real reason to: you’re not getting much difference at 8000rpm as you are at 7500.
You end up naturally short-shifting most gears, but not feeling really short-changed for it.
Somewhat sooner than we expected, we reach the top of Falls Creek, where we stay until the sun has disappeared. After months of sitting at home, it’s more than a bit overwhelming. I haven’t seen proper stars in a long, long time. Or a lake.
Pootling back to our accommodation in Falls Creek gives me time to consider a verdict on the F8.
No doubt, it’s a masterpiece of sports-car engineering. The suspension has gifted Ferrari’s mid-engine marauder with a new, unexpected touring ability, while its engine, with unbelievable response and grunt, is easily the current pinnacle of turbocharged performance.
In isolation, the F8 earns admiration from me for feeling to provide all the power in the world, and the chassis to match. I love it, although I do wonder what it would be like in the company of a slower, but purer, 458.
But bunking down at Falls Creek village for the night, and knowing we have the return trip the next day, I’d probably still opt for this F8.
Fun, actually quite easy to drive fast, exciting and offering insane performance across the board – and with, it turns out, an ability to tackle the gnarliest driveways you’ve ever seen.
Ferrari F8 Tributo specs
Engine 3902cc V8 (90-deg), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo
Max Power 530kW @ 7000rpm
Max Torque 770Nm @ 3250rpm
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 4611/1979/1206/2650mm
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h 2.9sec (claimed)
Economy 15.0L/100km (estimated)
Price $777,350 (as-tested)
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