Yes, it’s a plug-in hybrid with a turbocharged V-6 engine. But the only people who are going to hate on the 20232 Ferrari 296 GTB, who will loudly proclaim it a betrayal of all that’s holy at the house of the Prancing Horse, are those who will never get the chance to drive one. Because if they did drive one, they’d know: The 296 GTB is one of the greatest mid-engine Ferrari sports cars ever built.
It certainly looks the part, being beautifully proportioned and surfaced, with subtle homages to the mid-engine 250LM from the 1960s, including the voluptuous rear haunches and a vertical rear screen shrouded by flying buttresses extending from the B-pillar “bridge” that arcs over the rear of the roof. All in all, the 296 GTB is one of the most compact and athletic sports cars from Maranello in some time.
As on the front-engine Roma, the 296 GTB’s rear lights eschew Ferrari’s traditional round format—a move that took a lot of selling from the in-house design team, says exterior designer Carlo Palazzini. The large central exhaust outlet adds visual—and aural—drama. The only active piece of aerodynamic hardware, a vertical spoiler that deploys at speed or under braking, has been ingeniously packaged to slide out from between the lights.
But, but … a turbocharged six-cylinder hybrid powertrain? Seriously? That’s quite a step down the charisma index from the yowling, naturally aspirated V-8s and V-12s that made Ferrari famous. But let’s be clear: Although the 296 GTB might be the first six-cylinder Ferrari road car in history—the gorgeous little Dino 206s and 246s built between 1967 and 1974 don’t count, says Maranello, because they were never sold as Ferraris—it doesn’t sound like a six-cylinder car.
And it certainly doesn’t go like a six-cylinder car.
About That Engine
Codenamed F163, the compact twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 at the heart of the 296 GTB’s powertrain features a wide-angle 120-degree vee, with the fast-responding counter-rotating turbochargers mounted in the vee and the intakes on the outside of the cylinder heads. The wide-angle vee not only lowers the center of gravity by reducing the height between the tops of the cylinder heads and the forged crankshaft, but it also gives the engine a symmetrical firing order.
As a result, the F163 spins smoothly to the 8,500-rpm rev limiter while generating similar third-order harmonics to that of a V-12, which Ferrari engineers have amplified into the cockpit via its patented “hot-tube” system, which takes sound from the exhaust before the hot gases hit the catalytic converters. And it really does sound like a V-12. One full-throttle run is all you need to understand why Ferrari engineers took to calling the F163 the “piccolo V-12″ during its development.
The 296 GTB is also Ferrari’s first rear-drive-only PHEV, with an electric motor/generator, dubbed the MGU-K by Ferrari in a nod to its F1 hybrid technology, sandwiched between the V-6’s block and the compact new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. An evolution of the e-motor used in the SF90, the 296 GTB’s MGU-K develops 165 horsepower and maximum torque of 232 lb-ft, a 20 percent improvement.
The MGU-K can drive the 296 GTB up to 15 miles on pure electric power, drawing from a 7.45-kWh battery pack that stretches across the car between the cockpit and the engine. But its main job is to provide torque fill at low revs and to boost power at higher revs. On its own, the F163 makes 654 horsepower, a specific output of 218 h per liter that is a new record for a production-car internal combustion engine. With the MGU-K lending a helping hand, the 296 GTB’s powertrain punches out a mighty 818 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 546 lb-ft of torque at 6,250 rpm.
The interaction between the internal combustion engine and the MGU-K has been carefully tuned to ensure the powertrain delivers the soaring surge of acceleration, right to the redline, that is the hallmark of the finest naturally aspirated 12-cylinder Ferrari engines. The e-motor’s instant-on torque output is adjusted for each gear to keep the delivery as linear as possible. “We are not using all the powertrain at the lower end yet,” confirms Ferrari test and development driver Raffaele de Simone. “The car can do more.”
What This Ferrari Can Do Now
Ferrari says the 296 GTB will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than 2.9 seconds, and to 124 mph in 7.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of more than 205 mph. But those numbers don’t even begin to describe the extraordinary strength and flexibility of its powertrain. So, chew on this: In sixth gear, the 296 GTB pulls cleanly and strongly from 1,400 rpm—about 30 mph—to … well, we don’t exactly know because we ran out of road at 146 mph, the revs still rising.
A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests the Ferrari had another 25 mph to go before the engine reached its 8,000-rpm power peak. That’s a working speed range of more than 140 mph. In a single gear.
Such flexibility means, although the eight-speed transmission’s ratios are beautifully spaced, you don’t have to be in precisely the right gear to get the 296 GTB to punch hard out of corners. There’s torque and there’s power, whenever you need it. But it’s not just the powertrain that will leave you gasping. The 296 GTB’s chassis is every bit as accomplished, too.
The 296 GTB’s 102.4-inch wheelbase is the shortest in the current Ferrari lineup, and the compact dimensions were deliberately chosen to deliver maximum agility. The new EPS system—the first used on a rear-drive Ferrari—has half the compliance of the previously used hydraulic systems, improving steering response, and learnings from the EPS-equipped SF90 have enabled Ferrari to carefully tune it to filter unwanted road shock while retaining maximum feel and feedback.
Helping the rear axle support the fast-reacting front end are specially developed 305/35 ZR20 Michelin tires—Pilot Sport 4S in standard spec, or the Pilot Sport Cup 2R, which comes with the optional, track-focused Assetto Fiorano package. Whereas most recent mid-engine Ferraris have had a 30 percent aspect ratio rear tire, the taller sidewall of the 296 GTB’s tires help smoothly ramp the initial load response into the rear suspension, says de Simone.
It’s not just geometry that makes this Ferrari feel preternaturally alert yet supremely composed, however; Maranello has delved deep into the electronic dark arts to give the chassis the dynamic range to exploit that extraordinary powertrain.
Underpinning the chassis hardware is the latest version of Ferrari’s superb Side Slip Control (SSC) system. Unlike most stability control systems, SSC is not interventionist but expansionist, using its vast array of sensors and actuators not to tell the driver off when they make a mistake, but to help them achieve what they’re trying to do. Each iteration of SSC, which made its debut on the 458 Speciale in 2013, has been better, more seamless than the last. The 296 GTB’s version helps you brake like one of Ferrari’s F1 aces.
The 296 GTB’s 15.7-inch front and 14.2-inch rear carbon-ceramic rotors are modulated by a sophisticated brake-by-wire system and next-generation ABS that allows precise control of the braking efforts at each individual wheel; so precise, in fact, it will allow you to keep your foot hard on the brake pedal all the way into the apex of the corner while it works with all the other systems to ensure the car stays on the line you want.
Think of it as a trail-braking aid. It doesn’t rewrite the laws of physics, but it’ll have ol’ Isaac Newton scratching his head as the Ferrari barrels deep into corners with your foot hard on the brake pedal, tracking true right to the apex. It’s at this point where you may have to adjust your driving style slightly to make the most of the 296 GTB: Get too ambitious with the throttle before you’ve begun to open the steering, and the front end will push slightly, such is the enormous traction from the rear.
It’s so fast, so agile, this Ferrari. And yet everything happens with such sublime control and communication, precision and predictability, it creates time for the driver to analyze and adjust its every move. Old-school purists might be wringing their hands over the fact it’s a plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder engine, but the Ferrari 296 GTB makes you feel like a driving god. It’s utterly brilliant.
The familiar manettino switch on the right side of the steering wheel controls the 296 GTB’s dynamic systems. On the left is a touch-panel e-manettino that controls the powertrain modes.
There is an eDrive mode that allows pure EV driving at speeds up to 84 mph. Performance mode ensures the V-6 is always kept running to make sure the battery is always fully charged. Qualifying mode—yes, that’s what it’s called—cuts the amount of time spent recharging the battery to always ensure the maximum powertrain output.
Default start mode is Hybrid, in which the car rolls on pure electric power as far as possible before the engine fires up with—at least for the first time—a disconcerting bellow that lasts until the catalytic converters have warmed up. The system then mixes and matches ICE and e-power to achieve the best combination of efficiency and performance, though whenever the V-6 is running, the powertrain is ready to produce maximum power and torque on demand.
The Home Stretch
The transitions between e-motor and ICE are smooth and seamless. This is a Ferrari you could happily drive every day, even if you’re just mooching through slow-moving traffic. The digital cockpit offers all the graphic pizzazz and high-tech connectivity you expect in a modern luxury automobile, and the “bumpy road” function, accessed by pressing the switch on the analog manettino, smooths the ride when the tarmac gets rough. The 296 GTB is available with Ferrari’s seven-year maintenance package, and service intervals are set at yearly intervals or every 12,500 miles.
Those who want a 296 GTB with a little more edge can order the Assetto Fiorano package, which includes Multimatic shocks optimized for track use, a revised aero setup that adds 22 pounds of downforce on the front axle, and lightweight components that reduce the car’s overall weight by 33 pounds. Those seeking the ultimate weight saving can order the optional carbon-fiber wheels, which trim a further 70 pounds from the car.
The 296 GTB is the product of a coolly confident Ferrari at the top of its game; a Ferrari that’s not afraid to embrace cutting edge, even controversial, technologies to create the best-performing, best-handling, best-driving sports cars it knows how to build; a Ferrari that fully understands the potent market power of its traditions, its myths, and its legends but is at last refusing to have its cars trapped by them.
The first cars are scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in the third quarter of this year, with an MSRP of $317,986.
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