Best Ferraris – evo’s favourite road cars from Maranello
Ferrari is a brand with more than its fair share of illustrious highlights, so we’ve recapped some of the best Ferrari road cars we’ve driven
Few car manufacturers have delivered quite as many scintillating road cars as Ferrari, which makes selecting its ten best models all the more difficult. Throughout its history, Ferrari has produced a number of masterful GT cars, supercars and hypercars, and it’s even expanding its reach into the SUV market with the new Purosangue. Needless to say, we were able to decide on our ten favourite Ferraris without including the firm’s Lamborghini Urus rival…
Having driven almost every modern Ferrari road car – and a few from its past – over the years at evo, we’re well placed to decide on ten of the all-time greats; read on to find out which models make the cut.
evo’s best Ferraris
Ferrari 458 Speciale
Specific output figures have grown less relevant as turbocharging has become the dominant force in internal combustion – anyone can whack up the boost and achieve a big number these days. But with 597bhp from a 4.5-litre unit, a figure of 133bhp per litre tells you much of what you need to know about the Ferrari 458 Speciale’s remarkable V8 engine.
What you can’t derive from the numbers is the spectacular sound it makes, nor the wild thrills of extending it to a 9000rpm red line, but Ferrari’s pursuit of weight reduction (the Speciale is 90kg lighter than a regular 458) and carefully-chosen technology and components mean even that engine can’t overshadow its chassis. Fast, focused and never less than a manic and enthralling experience, the 458 Speciale is almost the definition of a mid-engined supercar.
How on earth do you follow up the sensational, era-defining F40? A Formula 1-derived naturally aspirated V12 is a decent place to start, and the Ferrari F50 harnessed this sensational engine within a carbonfibre chassis and an open-top body to culminate in what is – whisper it – an even sweeter road car than its predecessor, and one of the greatest Ferrari road cars of all time.
Contemporary road tests suggested that the F50 was softer and ill-defined alongside the F40, but that simply isn’t the case. The reach and response of its 4.7-litre V12 is sublime, and as a stressed member of the chassis, it pulsates through the cabin from the moment you fire it up. This intensity and focus permeates through to the rest of the car, encouraging you to commit despite the intimidation factor of threading a carbon-bodied, V12 Ferrari hypercar along a gnarly B-road. The F50 simply laps everything up and engages through wonderfully communicative steering and one of the best powertrains of any road car, past or present.
Ferrari 296 GTB
A downsized engine and a heavy plug-in hybrid system weren’t high on our wishlist for Ferrari’s latest mid-engined berlinetta, but perhaps they should’ve been. Squeeze the throttle in the 296 GTB and the acceleration is furious, overlaid by a wailing V6 note that’s actually more tuneful than the F8 Tributo’s twin-turbo V8. The car’s weight seems to evaporate at the first turn of the wheel, too, with a fluidity and lightness of touch that defines the best modern Ferraris. If this is the future of supercars, we’re in for a treat.
The 819bhp 296 trumps the F8 Tributo in terms of raw output, but it's the nature of the delivery that sears into your mind. The electric motor seamlessly augments the 3-litre twin-turbo V6 to give the impression of a much larger engine, and the instant response allows you to drive with real precision. It feels laser-guided without being nervous, and the fiendishly clever chassis electronics freely serve up rewards to drivers of all skill levels. The 296 is modern Ferrari at its best.
Ferrari 812 Competizione
A common theme that links all modern Ferraris is shockingly potent performance. It’s not that Ferraris have ever been particularly slow for their era, more that now we’re reaching up into the realms of six, seven and eight-hundred horsepower, you need nerves of steel to push that pedal all the way to the carpet. And none of them make that experience quite so thrilling as the 812 Competizione.
If the 812 Superfast straddled the line between GT and supercar, the Competizione indisputably falls into the latter category. With 819bhp and a piercing 9500rpm red line it is monumentally, brain-scramblingly fast; the first time you use every one of those horses in second and third gear you’ll utter a string of expletives to make a sailor blush. Taking the 812’s aero package to new extremes with contorted bodywork, flicks and splitters, the Competizione asserts its character before you’ve even turned a wheel. Speaking of which, there’s a new independent rear-wheel-steering system to harness all that power, with revised chassis electronics to suit. The end result is a scintillating yet organic driving experience like nothing else.
Ferrari 488 Pista
Okay, so the Ferrari 488 Pista lacks two very important components that its predecessor, the 458 Speciale, delivered in spades: That spine-tingling shriek of a naturally-aspirated V8, and the searing top-end power that accompanied it. For that reason alone, the Pista will always reside in its shade, but that’s not to say the Pista isn’t itself one of the great Ferraris.
For a start, everything else that made the Speciale… well, special, was carried over or improved upon with the Pista. That includes evolutionary improvement to the 458’s already incredible dynamics, with handling so approachable you wouldn’t believe it possible from a car that’s putting 711bhp to the rear wheels. It remains awesomely exciting too, when you’re harnessed into a beautifully-trimmed bucket seat and in control of that kind of thrust, yet Ferrari’s expertise in damping makes the car as unexpectedly usable on the road as it is spectacular on a track.
Ferrari 550 Maranello
Like the 456 that had emerged earlier in the decade, the 550 Maranello was frequently compared to the Daytona. If anything, the comparison was more relevant with the later car – its sharky styling wasn’t as admired at the time as it is today but was just as sharp-nosed as the 365 GTB4, and like the Daytona the 550 was a two-seater, where the 456 made room for four.
It served not as a GT though, but as an effective replacement for the Testarossa-derived 512M, and next to that car it was a revelation, both in terms of its modernity and its accessible handling characteristics thanks to a front-engined layout. The transaxle arrangement gave it ideal weight distribution and the 478bhp, 5.5-litre V12 gave it considerable power. It was a fabulous super GT, and even made its mark in racing, with numerous privateer entries in GT series around the world, and a GTS class win at Le Mans in 2003 with Prodrive.
Ferrari’s California and Portofino front-engined V8 models never quite hit the mark, but the attractive and accomplished Roma shows it wasn’t the formula but the execution that was lacking. It’s perhaps the car those two always should have been – classically good-looking with subtle curves in place of Ferrari’s more recent aggressive shapes, free of visible aero addenda, and impressive grand touring abilities courtesy of a restrained and comfortable cabin and excellent ride comfort.
Most importantly though, it rolls genuine Ferrari driving characteristics into the mix more convincingly than the Portofino with which it shares much of its underpinnings. The 612bhp variant of the front-mounted, twin-turbo 4-litre V8 kicks hard, the handling is precise, and Ferrari’s typically quick steering doesn’t feel nervous here. The ride quality is tyre-dependent (we found it better on the Pirelli option) but the Roma hits far more than it misses.
Few cars truly encapsulate the term ‘race car for the road’, but sitting in the spartan cabin of a Ferrari F40, with its fuzzy fabric dashboard, strips of green body sealant and drawstring door handles, it feels like you’re a suit and helmet away from being an IMSA driver. The reality is that, for its reputation as one of the most raw, unadulterated road cars of them all, the F40 doesn’t bite unless you really provoke it.
The ride is surprisingly supple, the steering is light and while the gearshift and heavy clutch require some thought, it responds well to a deliberate driving style. Drop a gear and the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V8 flares up and provides a relentless frenzy of power, but the F40 can be tamed with fine throttle adjustments and quick hands – it’s no more taxing than most other supercars in this regard. The F40’s square-jawed, brutal styling, motorsport feel and analogue approach to turbocharging gives it arguably the most distinctive character of any Ferrari, and we suspect this could hold true for some time.
Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano
A recent influx of models to the market (and an even greater number said to be on the way) has blurred the line between supercar and hypercar almost beyond definition, but we’ll draw a line in the sand and say the SF90 is very much a hypercar. Its styling isn’t as wild as the LaFerrari it technically, if not spiritually, succeeds (it’s a series production model, rather than a limited-production special), but with 987bhp, could it be anything but a hypercar?
If there’s one issue, it’s that opportunities to meaningfully enjoy its performance on the road are so few and far between that it gives us that same sense of existential confusion as Chirons and Sennas. We’ve previously struggled to unravel the web of electronic trickery that makes the SF90 feel slightly disjointed on the road, but later examples – particularly those equipped with the Assetto Fiorano package – have been extraordinary to drive on track. Even so, the 296 GTB makes better use of its hybrid system as a tool for fun, where the SF90 reaches for ultimate performance.
Ferrari Daytona SP3
In some ways, the Daytona SP3 is a modern reincarnation of the iconic F50. With extravagant, swoopy lines, a removable roof and a V12 in the middle it has more parallels with the 1995 hypercar than any other; that is until you drive one. Nearly three decades of development has moved its performance and character into an entirely new stratosphere, although outright involvement is another matter altogether.
As the first mid-engined non-hybrid V12 Ferrari since the Enzo, there’s an organic feel to the way the SP3 responds. You plant the throttle, control the wheelspin and pull gear after gear as the V12 shrieks towards its 9500rpm rev limit; few cars can match its primal hit of adrenaline. Thankfully, the SP3 has that typical Ferrari trait of inspiring confidence despite its monumental performance and eye-watering value, with an E-Diff and electronic aids borrowed from its series production cars. All 599 examples are already spoken for, and we can see why.