Ferrari 296 GTB: Driven in the Mountains of Spain
Fun to drive. It’s the very definition of The Thrill of Driving, the essence of this magazine, measured by the seat of the pants feel, how hard the heart is racing on the drive, and the maniacal laughs at the end of it. The Italians have taken what was a subjective topic and applied five objective, measurable parameters to it, and then presented it to us on a spider graph to back up their claim of this being the most fun to drive in this segment; if I heard right even the most fun to drive Ferrari.
Tall claims, but first we must talk about the single most important bit on this new Ferrari — it is the first road-going V6 from Maranello. You will point to the seminal Dino 246 GT but that was never badged a Ferrari. Of course Ferrari are no stranger to the V6 — the most powerful engine on the 2022 F1 grid is the Ferrari V6, while the very first racing V6 dates back to 1957, the Dino 156 F2 single-seater, an evolution of which took Mike Hawthorn to the F1 world championship the following year. But this 296 GTB is the first prancing horse to have a V6 motor, it is their first rear-wheel-drive hybrid (the SF90 is all-wheel-drive), it has the highest specific output of any roadgoing powertrain in the world, and it marks the start of a ‘new era’ at Ferrari.
The V6 is a brand-new design with the two turbos nestled in the 120-degree vee-angle making it Ferrari’s first hot-vee. In addition to being more compact the big benefit is immediate responses. The ICE is mated to a 165bhp, 315Nm electric motor that is claimed to adopt lessons from Formula 1 thus inheriting the MGU-K monicker, to produce a combined, and staggering, 819bhp or declutches the ICE letting the 296 GTB run on pure electric juice. The 7.45kWh battery is installed behind the seats and takes an hour to charge — this is a plug-in hybrid! — and with a fully-topped up battery delivers 25km of pure electric range going up to a top speed of 135kmph on electric power. Of course, the batteries also recuperate energy during retardation giving it the ability to creep through villages in silence.
I was expecting full-send to be a monumental undertaking, one needing all the skill, concentration and outsized gonads at my disposal, but once you get over the characteristically-Ferrari super-quick steering, the 296 GTB just… flows. Ferrari point to the 50mm reduction in wheelbase as one of the key elements leading to added agility, and I’m here to tell you this feels like a go-kart. This is Ferrari’s first application of electric power steering and the brakes are bywire, but there’s nothing remote, artificial or disconnected to the way the 296 GTB drives. There’s a beautiful balance to the chassis, all the electronics communicating so clearly you can feel the car rotate under your backside. Lift and the nose tightens into the apex, get on the gas and you feel the outside rear coming into play, a little more on the throttle and Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, Side Slip Control, the e-diff, all work harder letting you slip into oversteer without fear of plastering yourself against the mountainside. The car itself is so compact ― shorter, lower, narrower than the GTBs that have gone before it ― that it doesn’t feel overwhelming on narrow mountain roads. You’re always in your lane, and no matter what you do the 296 always has your back.
I take time to give the Ferrari a proper once-over. You’re of course at liberty to draw your own conclusions but I think this looks epic. A proper Ferrari with all the aero honed bodywork but with definitely more beauty than the F8. There are hints of the sixties 250LM in the flying buttresses and the flat engine cover. On the aero front, the underbody does even more of the work, with a triple vortex generator plus enhanced ground effect saving the bodywork from unnecessary appendages, but there is an active boot spoiler that deploys in extreme handling conditions (high lateral/longitudinal acceleration or high steering wheel angles) to increase downforce on the rear axle by 100 kilos. This is the first time Ferrari are using an active device not to manage drag but to generate extra downforce; at 250kmph there’s a combined 360kg of downforce — 120kg on the front axle and 240kg on the rear axle.
On the inside, there’s been wholescale adoption of tech from the SF90. You press the capacitive ‘Start Engine’ button on the steering, much like the Roma, and all the displays gradually spring to life revealing an intensely technical cabin with a completely digital interface. You have a digital cockpit that shows you everything including maps, infotainment, the CarPlay projection, drive modes you are in, everything. You control it all via two islands of capacitive touch clusters on either spoke of the steering and half the time you don’t know if your prod or twirl or punch has even registered. The steering wheel is a veritable forest of controls and now in addition to the traditional Manettino there’s an e-Manettino that gives you four modes for the hybrid powertrain: eDrive, Hybrid, Performance and Qualify. Default is Hybrid and invariably that’ll have you moving off in pure electric. It’s a strange sensation, to be driving a Ferrari without any noise, but it’s the mature, grown-up, eco-friendly way of doing things in 2022. Punch the red Manettino knob and the bumpy road setting is activated on the magnetorheological dampers which really deliver astonishingly good ride comfort. The 8-speed twin-clutch automatic is mind-boggling in its immediacy yet as chilled out as a regular automatic when you’re pottering around. This is a Ferrari that you can use everyday: comfortable, luxurious, easy-going, quiet, and there is nose-lift for when you encounter nasty speed breakers on the way to the race track.
Ferrari used to talk about zero turbo lag on the 488 GTB and then F8 Tributo, and award after award was showered on that V8 which marked the transition from NA to turbo across the range. Now comes the new era where the turbo-V8 gradually makes way for the hybrid-turbo-V6; a powertrain that Ferrari claim has even more immediate responses. Clearly they’ve taken zero turbo lag to another dimension. They’ve taken agility and immediacy to another level. And they’ve redefined what fun to drive really means.
Check out our video review of the Ferrari 296 GTB here: