close

A Modern Beautiful Steed From Maranello

Ferrari 296 GTB - A Superb Precision Driving Machine That Is Set To Redefine The Genre.

Resident contributor Andre Lam drives the recently launched (Malaysia) Ferrari 296 GTB and accounts for his experiences with the steed around the roads of Maranello.

Ferrari's latest supercar, the 296 GTB looks like it could be the replacement for the F8 Tributo but Ferrari intends to keep both in production, at least until the end of the F8's life cycle. The Ferrari 296 GTB is a hybrid but not like the triple electric motor SF90 Stradale. Instead it is more like a conventional plug-in hybrid with the electric motor mated to the new turbo V6, only driving the rear wheels. 

This is no ordinary V6 as Ferrari uses a 120 degree vee like some race engines, instead of the more common 60 or 90 degree vee engine. Power now tops 830 PS with 167 PS coming from the electric motor and the remaining 663 PS from the turbo V6. In comparison the F8's engine is a 90 degree vee and has just(!) 720 PS. The wider vee provides for a lower center of gravity and facilitates better placement of the turbos in the middle of the vee. 

To recreate the sound of a V12, Ferrari has taken advantage of the even firing order of the V6 and optimised the third harmonics of its evenly spaced exhaust pulse, sounding like a V12 but an octave lower in pitch. It's a decent approximation thanks to a hot-tube resonator transferring the exhaust sounds to the cabin, giving it clarity despite the turbo and particulate filters drowning out much of the lovely timbre. 

It is good that this V6 turbo sounds as good as it does because in Hybrid-EV mode, much of the time there is barely a sound. A synthesised electronic sound but nothing as emotive as a combustion engine. It really feels odd to be driving a silent Ferrari.

It has been equipped with a small 7.5 kWh battery, enough for 25 km if driven gently but more like 10 or 15 km when driven like a Ferrari. It is enough to reach 135 km/h but it won't be long before it runs out of juice at that speed. A new, quicker shifting 8-speed F-1 DCT with a mechanical reverse gear has been developed for this application

Enthusiasts may not like the silence but the noiseless mode will be much appreciated by your neighbours every time you start up the Ferrari. Not to mention, in the crowded city centers where one should be aware that the numerous on-lookers might not always be casting admiring glances at your Ferrari.

With just 167 PS the electric motor might not be too impressive but there is 315 Nm of torque from zero rpm. This really helps this small(er) displacement turbo V6 at low rpm where the 315 Nm readily fills any delay in the V6 power delivery. To ensure maximum efficiency from the EV drive, Ferrari has developed the TMA (Transition Manager Actuator) to disengage the turbo V6 when in full EV mode and to engage to restart the V6 and couple the power-plants for max power. 

Of course I would prefer a naturally aspirated V8 but is the new turbo V6 better than the V8 of the F8 Tributo? On the acoustic side of things, I am divided. Between the muffled turbo V8 and half a V12, it is a close thing. But I think I prefer the sound of the new V6.

The outgoing turbo V8 is really the benchmark motor in terms of power delivery, almost feeling like it's naturally aspirated. But there is even more power from the turbo V6-Hybrid if you do not mind its slightly elastic power delivery. The power and throttle response is fabulous, thanks to the instant delivery of the electric motor. Sure there is a noticeable turbo whistle with an accompanying surge in power but it is so controllable thanks to the attached electric motor. Adjusting and marshalling the total power of the 296 GTB is so much better because the electric motor facilitates instantaneous control via the electronics/electrics compared to the roundabout way of curtailing the power of a combustion engine. 

Under ideal conditions 100 km/h arrives in just 2.9 seconds which seems to be the traction limit of a RWD mid-engine car. A better indicator is the 0-200 km/h time of 7.3 seconds which is a half second quicker than the F8. Full bore take-off on an uneven surface is a far less dramatic event and the 296 GTB is notably better at holding its line during full acceleration. This ability to instantaneously control power no doubt aids stability control and is why the 296 GTB is so well mannered in the corners.

The new bespoke Michelin PS4S in this car delivers phenomenal grip especially the front end grip which directs the car with a level of alacrity like no other. Of course the chassis with its shortened wheelbase works wonders, heightening agility in this car beyond what the F8 is capable of.

In one fell swoop Ferrari has managed to redefine the supercar genre. The electrically assisted steering offers just a modicum of feel but it is well weighted, completely intuitive and delivers instant reactions with such deft precision, directly proportional to your steering inputs. It makes all the others feel a bit cumbersome and dull. Also helping is its superb rear suspension that feels completely as one with the fronts, responding crisply and positively to any input at the helm.

There are now two sets of manettinos found on the center spoke of the steering wheel. On the right is the standard manettino menu of Wet, Sport, Race and CT-Off but on the left side of the steering is the e-manettino where you can select EV, Hybrid, Performance and Qualifying modes for the type of power delivery you want.

Qualifying mode as its name suggests, compels the computer to squeeze every bit of energy from the battery to achieve that one quick lap. Performance mode cuts back on giving everything and juggles with energy recuperation to keep sufficient battery for sustained levels of hard driving. 

The 296 GTB starts up in Hybrid mode as default. It tries to always move off in EV drive so it is quiet and will call upon the turbo V6 when power demands rise or when the battery is depleted. Unlike other hybrids with a quiet combustion engine, the Ferrari's V6 is rather vocal, letting you know precisely when it cuts back in and this happens rather often, switching from near-silence to aggressive roar.  

However, merely trundling through small towns it usually uses electric drive, useful to help it glide quietly under the radar. Pure EV mode is more of a novelty. It surprises the on-lookers with a completely silent Ferrari wafting by but it is not particularly quick and should you drive it quickly it is not sustainable nor much fun. While I did use Hybrid mode in the mountains, I much prefer the consistency of the traditional power delivery - always full-on. 

I spent nearly five hours in the mountains surrounding Maranello switching between Sport-Hybrid and Race-Performance mode with Bumpy-road activated because of the uneven mountain roads. Sport mode quells any oversteer well but for tail out fun where it is safe, Race mode provides some wriggle room (or giggle room) and CT-Off is best left for the track, where all stability or traction control is completely off. For daily commutes, Hybrid is fine but for enthusiastic driving, Performance mode is the only choice. 

The mountain roads around Maranello are far from perfect but it is precisely where much of Ferrari's chassis development takes place apart from the time spent at their Fiorano race track. Some parts look like they haven't been resurfaced since WWII. In Race or Sport mode, the dampers are too stiff for the uneven mountain roads but with the Bumpy-road setting it uncannily maintains good composure and ride. There were several bumps (more like jumps) that had me cringing, awaiting a sickening crunch but none occurred. 

There are plenty of poorly cambered corners, reducing radius corners and blind corners that seem unpredictable but it is the perfect place to savour the 296 GTB scything unerringly through the corners, doing my (rather antisocial) bidding, refusing to put a foot wrong on such difficult roads.

The clarity of response from this new chassis is second to none and to put icing on the cake there is a new braking system, something Ferrari calls ABS Evo. What it does is give the braking a whole new level of stopping performance. The 1470 kg 296 GTB with the added weight of the electric drive is 35 kg heavier but you would never suspect an extra kilogram. It stops in just 107 m from 200 km/h, an incredible 12 m shorter than the F8 and has a trail-brake function as well, allowing you to stay on the brakes into a corner to gain some rotation as well. 

You have heard the cliché, stopping on a dime before, but until now those were all exaggerations. These brakes are one level up on the F8 or maybe anything Ferrari has used on its supercars before. There is a nice bite on brake application that is directly proportional to what you want and powerful right up to the limit of adhesion and beyond when ABS kicks in. But with such powerful stoppers you would expect some compromise in the slow speed stuff but it is simply brilliant in crawling traffic. Oh did I forget to mention it is a brake-by-wire system? Simply amazing how something so complex pulls this off and feels so natural!

Arguably the most distinctive feature of the 296 GTB has to be the styling. Ferrari's styling maestro Flavio Manzoni's obsession to do without the wings and flaps to gain downforce has paid off handsomely in the 296 GTB. It is hard to believe something this beautiful is capable of generating 360 kg of downforce at just 250 km/h without a wing in sight.

Ferrari is clearly in the forefront in terms of aerodynamics, helping them achieve this level of aero performance yet look so clean and elegant. All the clever aero tricks that flow air around or through the bodywork and hot areas to extract heat and to counter lift are so well managed that you might take it for granted.

It does take some styling cues from the 1963 250LM like the beefy wheel haunches, flat engine deck and the iconic tail profile. Otherwise it is thoroughly modern and sets the tone for the next gen Ferraris. Just do not get too close admiring the styling details because that alone will make you want one, badly.

Ferrari offers a special performance package for the 296 GTB called the Assetto Fiorano. Aside from the paintwork it includes a set of special racing-derived adjustable Multimatic shock absorbers optimised for track use, some carbon fibre addenda for the front bumper that adds 10 kg of downforce, a lightweight Lexan rear screen that removes 15 kg and redesigned bits of carbon fibre trim for the exterior and inside the cabin to help cut about 12 kg. Also available as an option are track-optimised Michelin PS Cup2R tyres.

Every successive Ferrari is expected to improve on its predecessor and this 296 GTB is no different. It looks so achingly good it seems somewhat cruel to subject it to what is really a tarmac rally stage but that is what it excels at doing. It is significantly quicker at their Fiorano track, jumping one class up to match their V12 cars. Being electrified has not handicapped its capabilities, instead the Ferrari 296 GTB has become this superb, precision driving machine that is going to redefine this genre. 

Ferrari 296 GTB

  • Engine: 2995cc, Twin-Turbo V6, Plug-in Hybrid
  • Transmission: 8-Speed F1 DCT
  • Power: 830 PS at 8000 rpm
  • Torque: 740 Nm at 6250 rpm
  • 0-100 km/h: 2.9 seconds
  • Top Speed: over 330 km/h
  • Fuel Consumption: 6.4 L/100 km (WLTP)

Visuals: Ferrari