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      09-14-2019, 07:06 AM   #1
Grumpy Old Man
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First Drive 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo

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First Drive: 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo

A fitting tribute to the brand's mission of building the fastest, most desired cars on the planet

Maranello, Italy — I am absolutely thrilled. I built a Ferrari engine. A real, honest-to-God, no-it’s-not-a-plastic-1/8th-scale-model Ferrari engine or even a LEGO set. It was, in fact, an F154 V8, the same turbocharged monster that has powered the 488 these last four years and still powers the Tributo I will test in a few hours.

Actually, the hardest thing I did was install a spark plug — a rare-as-hen’s-teeth NGK SILZKAR8HKS, by the way — but I did have to use a special tool. I also got to fit piston to cylinder liner — with the best ring compressing tool I‘ve ever sampled — and sintered caps to connecting rod.

That may not sound like much and my specific engine may be just another abused class-demonstration block that will never internal combust in anger. But, I am completely taken by the moment nonetheless. I am in Maranello, I am in the Ferrari factory — in the very same classroom that all Ferrari techs learn their craft, no less — and I just torqued the rarest of rare double overhead camshaft head down. I am quite literally the kid in the candy shop, with minimal — after all, this is Italy — supervision. It might seem trivial. It is almost certainly pathetic. But I am tickled pink and I can’t wait to get back home to show off my “official” Ferrari meccanico overalls to my soon-to-be-jealous pals at Driving HQ.

That is the magic of visiting Ferrari. No place in the automotive world is at once so thoroughly efficient and yet so steeped in history. Cloistered away inside a compound that holds the most modern of manufacturing plants is the little shop, well, let’s call it a hut in comparison to the new plant, where Mr. Ferrari and his small coterie of crazies assembled Testarossas. And what’s that over the there? Oh, that’s the barn he converted into an office to watch the F1 races he was too busy to attend. And, oh my Lord, is that… why, yes it is. A bust of Gilles Villeneuve — located on via Gilles Villeneuve, no less — that serves as a welcome to Ferrari’s famed Fiorano test track. Because, well, Gilles was reputedly Enzo’s favourite racer of all time. What I am trying to say is that, in a country that takes its legacy and heritage seriously, we are standing in its epicentre of hero worship. It’s impossible not to note that giants strode here.

All of which makes the fact that the car we’re driving at Ferrari’s also-steeped-in-lore test facility — the F8 — is also called the Tributo. Quite literally, tribute. Officially, the new F8 is a tribute to Ferrari’s V8 — an engine that originated in the 308GTB — and the fact that it has now been the Engine Technology International magazine’s Engine of the Year four years running and, even more impressively, was voted the finest example of internal combustion of the last 20 years by the same organization. But — and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just been elbows deep in a Ferrari engine block or because I like the new F8 so much — I can’t help but think that this new car is a tribute to Enzo and everything one man managed to create in the Middle of Nowhere, Italy.

That’s because, after the sensibility of the 488 — a great car that made complete sense, but didn’t tug at the heartstrings quite as much as a Ferrari should — the F8 is a return to living large with eight Italian cylinders. It may be based on the same chassis and its engine a kissing cousin to the 488’s, but it’s louder, lighter and more than insouciant enough that it feels (almost) like the return of the 458.

Steering, for instance, feels much sharper than the 488’s. Turn in is tight, no matter how tight the Italian switchback is, the front end, like the 458’s, sticking to a line like a 600-cc superbike. Try as I might — and, Lord knows, you know I tried — I just couldn’t get the front to understeer. That might have something to do with the tenaciousness of Italian tarmac or the tail-wagging nature of Fiorano’s turns, but the F8 stuck to the pavement like Donald Trump to inappropriate handshakes. Ferrari says the hardware isn’t changed — other than a smaller steering wheel that’s supposed to provide more feedback — and all the difference in feel is due to tuning changes in the suspension, steering and electronic differential. Torque vectoring at the rear, as we all know, has an enormous effect on steering precision at the front, which is why Ferrari engineers credit the e-diff with the greatest improvement. Whatever the case, if the upgrade — which, again, is substantial — is all tuning and finesse, where was this calibration engineer four years ago when the 488 was tamed into a benign McLaren.

The engine behind is no less dramatic. What had been subdued is now overtly ferocious. Where the 488’s tone was an F flat, the F8 is an E major. Where other turbocharged V8s seem tamed — I’m looking at you, McLaren — and need, let’s call it aural augmentation, Ferrari’s V8 is all flat-crank, almost-as-vibrant-as-the-458 soul stirring. Sometime soon we will all be driving electric cars and, when that day comes, we will not miss the power — Porsche’s new Taycan EV is just as fast to 100 kilometres an hour — but we will still be lesser for the loss of cars like the F8.

Of course, no EV — and precious few supercars — could ever hope to stay with the F8 after 100 kilometres an hour. Thanks to bigger bump cams, more compression (now 9.6:1) and a truly race-bred exhaust system (made of Inconel), Ferrari has found an extra 50 horses (710 hp in all) in the twice-turbocharged F154 V8 and they are all at the top end. So, while its 2.9-second acceleration to 100 km/h is impressive, the fact that it 200 kph arrives in just 7.8 seconds is even more so. The first is one-tenth of a second quicker than the 488; the second almost half a second. One definitely feels the difference. The fastest part of Ferrari’s test track, in a 488, is all smooth throttle and judicious application of carbon-ceramic disc; jump in the F8 and the same full-throttle rip into Turn 8 is a sweaty exercise in a braking point thoroughly misjudged. The performance gap between semi-super V8 and over-the-top V12’ed LaFerrari continues to fade into irrelevance.

What’s doubly impressive is that, after one gets past all the sound and fury, the F8 is actually more civil — or at least more comfortable — than the 488. The seats, for instance, are extremely accommodating for a supercar and on par, despite their relative dearth of padding, to many luxury sedan seats. The F8 is also surprisingly roomy with more legroom and more ability to recline the rear of seat than, say, the McLaren GT — a supposed Gran Turismo I recently tested. And, will wonders never cease, I took a three-hour trip through far-flung — and under-signaged — Italy and didn’t once get lost, surely a sign that the F8’s navigation system is both faster and more accurate than the 488’s (which was so wayward, I had to Waze my way back to Fiorano). And, in fact, part of all the recalibration of chassis is that, despite riding on the same springs as the 488, the F8’s suspension is actually much more compliant than its predecessor. Anytime you can get better handling and superior ride without changing hardware is a measure of some very impressive fine-tuning. Like I said, where was this guy four years ago?

I guess that it’s better late than never. It may not be an idiom that Enzo Ferrari would ever want applied to his cars, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

What he did say, however, is that “I don’t drive a car just to get from A to B. In fact, I have, no interest in life outside racing cars.” The F8, I think, despite Ferrari’s admonishments to the contrary, is a tribute to that singularity of purpose. His overpowering passion — and Lord knows, it often burned a little too brightly — built the fastest, most desired cars on the planet. And for that we should pay tribute.

The 2020 F8 will be in Ferrari dealerships in December of this year and will start — and I emphasize the word “start”— at $344,570.
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      09-14-2019, 01:57 PM   #2
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Not the greatest car in the world. Just a tribute.

Dinan Shockware, Dinan F3x Swaybars, ACS Springs
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