They come from a similar past, but step into the ring from opposite sides. We take the stripped-out, focused Lamborghini Huracán STO for a drive to see how it compares with Ferrari’s SF90.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
The crisp, early morning air accentuates the sound of the STO approaching – especially as there is little traffic in the Winelands town of Franschhoek this time of day.
While still revelling in the aural delights the STO provides, it suddenly attacks another of my senses as it appears around the corner, its bright colours perfectly fitting the noise. A couple of moments later the much smoother-sounding SF90 approaches. It might look momentarily understated next to the sharp and angular STO, but its outright performance numbers will settle any bar fight.
Both Ferrari and Lamborghini’s roots are founded in V12-configured engines – Ferrari’s, as we know, in racing while Ferruccio simply wanted to build his own GT.
Ferrari has stuck to this concept throughout its 75-year history, and so has Lamborghini. But both companies started to offer smaller engines early on in selected models. Today, both manufacturers offer smaller, very high-performance engines. The more outrageous of these two is undoubtedly the Huracán STO. Stripped out to the bare minimum (for a road car), with a chassis set up for ultimate on-road performance, the STO is the pinnacle of what we’ve seen developed over the past 20 years since the Gallardo was launched.
On the opposite side of the ring, Ferrari offers a different concept. In the shape of the SF90 (here in Spider form), we have here a smaller capacity turbocharged engine, the V8 being assisted by a complex hybrid system consisting of no fewer than three electric motors. These add-ons boost performance to a monumental 735 kW and 800 N.m of torque. The Huracán offers 470 kW bhp and 565 N.m, but is lighter. This begs the question, just how different are these two sports cars to drive?
Lamborghini’s commitment to weight saving in the Huracán is very impressive. Take for example the engine cover. In true race car fashion, you unclip this louvred carbon fibre part and completely remove it from the car. No hinges or fancy releases. It has a large rear wing, while the rest of the rear has clearly been designed to allow as much air flow to cool the engine as possible and offer the necessary aerodynamic benefits. There is a lot of visual drama going on here, even when parked and simply walking around the car. Needless to say, there is no mistaking the STO for anything other than a full-fat supercar, the aggressive design putting any doubts to bed.
The SF90 is a complete contrast. Visually, you are never in doubt that there is performance on hand, but the SF90 has a much classier and sophisticated aura about it – dare I say as most Ferraris actually do. The flowing horizontal lines on the front wing focus the eye on the lower part of the nose while the rear with its twin exhaust pipes is pure, but subtle supercar. However, the gorgeous body hides hypercar performance.
As we lift the small engine lid (this is the Spider) I am immediately impressed by how low the latest development of the F154 (FA) engine sits in the chassis. It is really far down in the car, allowing the turbos and hybrid system to also make an appearance. Peering along the side of the car the overall smoothness of the design continues. Even the side air intakes seem quote ordinary and simply flow into the side sculpting.
The manic colour scheme of the Lamborghini undoubtedly draws your eyes towards it, and while the silver colour of the Ferrari is more mundane, it is also classier.
Behind the wheel
As I slide into the Ferrari, the modern and sophisticated approach is immediately obvious. The cabin is luxuriously trimmed in leather and carbon fibre (even the fire extinguisher has a leather cover), the high-end approach to the cabin clearly in line with the contemporary drive train.
Most impressive is the large screen behind the steering wheel. Learning all the functions and settings will take a while, but today there is no time for this – I want to experience the full performance on offer.
I accelerate down the road and short shift into second gear. I decide to not hold back and squeeze the throttle almost all the way down to the floor. With a complete absence of fanfare, the unruffled SF90 accelerates down the short stretch with such a high level of performance that it actually grabs me by surprise, even though I was expecting it to be fast.
The all-wheel-drive system, combined with the turbocharged engine and especially the electric motors, result in a groundswell of torque I have not felt in any other supercar before.
I’ve spent some time in the mild-hybrid LaFerrari and the beauty of that car is the dominant V12. In the SF90 the combination of torque feels more balanced in the sense that, yes, the engine is still by far the star performer, but the turbos and electric motors make for an especially strong supporting cast.
Threading this beauty through the first couple of corners confirms what I had expected – grip levels are high and the car is predictable. Although this is a mostly smooth road, I immediately also sense the ride quality is spot on, complementing the high levels of general comfort and impressive sound deadening. Dare I say it, even the engine sounds a little subdued. It doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that the SF90 is a superbly rounded package.
I park the SF90 and walk over to the STO (abbreviation for Super Trofeo Omologato). The intensity of the Lamborghini continues when you climb onboard. The seats are firm and very supportive. There are no carpets; only small patches of rubber underneath my feat. The rest of the cabin is mostly carbon fibre (more so than in the SF90) and Alcantara, while the focused nature of the car is again highlighted by the small roll bars behind the seats – something Ferrari seems to stay away from in their road cars.
Press the start button and the engine barks into life like only a naturally-aspirated engine can. Although I only had a few precious moments in the STO, memories of my time with the Performante came flooding back. This car is the Performante, but on steroids. In front of you is a digital display with an arch across it that highlights the rev range at the top – another indication of where the focus of this car clearly lies.
The raw intensity of the STO is experienced the moment you pull off, no matter the aggressiveness of your getaway. As with most mid-engined performance cars, you sit close to the nose with a near-perfect view through the windscreen.
Although there is enough torque to short shift and still feel most of the performance on offer, because of the nature of the car you can’t help but chase the redline half way to 9 000 rpm at every given opportunity, no matter how docile your mood. The engine revs freely around the clock, with gearchanges through the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission being slick and quick – quite unlike that of the previous-generation Superleggera.
Having driven this road in several sport- and supercars before, it quickly became apparent that the electronically controlled magneto-rheologic suspension soaks up road irregularities better than the hardcore 991.2 Porsche GT3 RS I drove a few months ago. The exceedingly firm buckets seats keep you in place and they contribute to an incredibly close physical connection you soon develop with the car.
The addictive howl in the cabin from the high-revving 5,2-litre, V10 engine further contributes to your connection with the car. The exhaust pops and bangs from the high-mounted, centre exhaust ports which reverberate off the cliffs, scaring a few birds away in the process. It will take time, but I think over the course of a few days or weeks, you will learn to trust the STO more and more through very fast sweeps, partly thanks to the downforce clearly at work. There are very few cars that demand the same level of concentration and offer the same kind of thrills as a superbike, but the STO comes tantalizingly close.
Two different approaches
The Huracán STO left me yearning for more time behind its wheel, which, believe it or not, isn't always the case with sports- and supercars. In fact, few vehicles I've sampled over the past 16 years have managed to serve up the dynamic thrills I experienced in this car.
It may not offer the same degree of everyday usability of the SF90, but that's far from the point of this car. From the pure adrenaline experienced behind the wheel to the bold exterior design and the excitement its soundtrack elicits from every single person who hears it, the STO sits in a league of its own - serving up an intense and undiluted driving experience that draws you back, time and again... with the occasional stop to catch your breath, of course.
On the other hand, the SF90’s outright, more sophisticated performance leaves one impressed by what can be achieved nowadays by employing high levels of technology. Here today it is clearly the more modern approach and you will be less tired after a five-hour drive in it compared to the STO – and so will your passenger!
To some eyes the SF90 will also move under the radar, which on its own might be appealing to some owners. After all, even if you order the STO in very humdrum colours, it will still grab attention wherever you go.
Although both cars offer top level of performance in each of their respective "categories", the approaches are now rather different. Where the SF90 indicates, probably, the way forward, the STO clearly shows what we’ll be missing.
Lamborghini Huracán STO
Weight: 1 339 kg
Engine: 5.2-litre, V10, petrol
Power: 470 kW at 8 000 rpm
Torque: 565 N.m at 6 500 rpm
Top speed: 310 kph
0-100 km/h: 3.0 seconds
Gearbox: seven-speed, automatic, RWD
Ferrari SF90 Spider
Weight: 1 670 kg
Engine: 4.0-litre, turbocharged V8, petrol + three electric motors
Power: 573 kW at 7 500 rpm (+ 162 kW)
Torque: 800 N.m at 6 000 rpm
Top speed: 340 kph
0-100 km/h: 2.5 seconds
Gearbox: eight-speed, automatic, RWD