By now it’s pretty obvious the machines have won, so bow down before our new robot masters. Technology, however, has been seen as a diluter and polluter of the involvement and interaction that exemplifies sports cars, a notion that dates as far back as the advent of power steering. In recent years the list of high-tech aids has turned into a heap: stability control, yaw control, torque-biasing differentials, electric power steering, brake-by-wire, active aerodynamics, and hybrid assistance. The Ferrari 296GTB has them all and more and yet still delivers a driving experience that feels as pure and uncorrupted as its most analog predecessor. And its hidden cleverness makes piloting this 819-hp part-electric supercar and accessing a high percentage of its towering talents feel almost ridiculously easy.
The biggest news is the arrival of Ferrari’s first road-going V-6 since the 246 GT Dino retired in 1974. And as the Dino never got to wear the Cavallino Rampante shield (at least not officially), that makes this the first V-6–powered Ferrari street car. The new engine displaces 3.0 liters and uses two turbochargers set within the V of its widely spaced cylinder banks, which are 120 degrees apart. Each turbo boosts three cylinders, their potency evinced by the engine’s 654-hp output, which Ferrari claims is the highest per-liter figure of any production car currently on sale.
Electric assistance comes from an advanced 164-hp axial-flux motor that sits between the V-6 and the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. A third clutch can separate the combustion engine from the driveline, allowing the 296GTB to operate solely under electric power, though it can only do this for relatively brief periods at speeds of up to 84 mph. The 6.0-kWh battery pack behind the seats provides an estimated 10 miles of range. Unless locked into its electric drive mode via the steering-wheel-mounted selection switch, officially known as the eManettino, the GTB will fire the V-6 to life if anything more than the top inch or so of the accelerator travel is used.
Ferrari’s engineers dubbed the new engine the piccolo V-12 while developing it, and it does a convincing aural impression of a 12-cylinder under the sort of hard use we couldn’t resist giving it, revving to an 8500-rpm limiter with unbridled enthusiasm. At lower engine speeds, there’s no mistaking the turbocharging, with an induction sound like a rushing stream, until the exhaust note and mechanical symphony grow loud enough to mask it. But the instant response of the electric motor means there is no discernible turbo lag—the electric motor actually dials back its contribution slightly as boost pressures build to keep the power delivery as linear as possible.
With the powertrain giving its all, the 296GTB feels every bit as fast as 819 horsepower suggests. The new car is less quick than the more powerful, all-wheel-drive SF90 Stradale that sits above it in the company’s hybrid hierarchy, but only slightly. Acceleration is wicked, and we estimate launch control will deliver a 2.9-second 60-mph time and a quarter-mile in the nines. And the 296GTB’s 1:21 lap time at Ferrari’s Fiorano Circuit is only two seconds slower than the Stradale (and 1.5 seconds quicker than the V-8-powered F8 Tributo.)
Despite its outlandish output and rear-wheel drive, this Ferrari, shod with street-friendly Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, exhibited colossal grip on Spanish mountain roads—the traction control using varying regen from the electric motor to prevent slip without the need to wind back the engine. On the tight, dusty Monteblanco circuit near Seville, another GTB equipped with the track-oriented Assetto Fiorano package and riding on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires had even better adhesion but stayed benign as its elevated limits were deliberately breached. Raffaele de Simone, Ferrari’s chief development driver, was insistent we experience the 296GTB with its traction control switched off, and the resulting yaw angles were expertly managed by the Side Slip Control system. This car is no harder to drift on a track than a Mazda Miata.
Even among the many other technical highlights, the GTB’s steering and brakes stood out. The rack uses electric power assistance, yet it manages to deliver feedback that feels entirely natural and unfiltered, reporting accurately on everything from surface texture changes to slip angles under the hardest track use. The electrically boosted brakes have removed the direct hydraulic link between the pedal and the calipers that grip carbon-ceramic discs, but the weighting and responses seem just as true. An active feature adds both the ability to pre-charge the system ahead of hard stops and to subtly clamp individual brakes to help shepherd the front end into corners.
The presence of so much technology should probably make the 296GTB feel lacking in emotional engagement, but the reality is anything but. The assistance is invisible—helping the car to slow, turn, and deploy its enormous power, without diminishing the visceral excitement that comes from unleashing so much sound and fury. It isn’t as raw as the V-8-powered F8 Tributo that will sit closest to it in the Ferrari hierarchy, but the 296GTB honestly doesn’t feel like any less of an experience.
The more obvious comparison is with Ferrari’s other plug-in hybrid. The 296GTB’s V-6 and rear-wheel-drive position it below the 986-hp, all-wheel-drive SF90 Stradale; the new car is also a claimed 220 pounds lighter, smaller, and—to our eyes—more elegantly proportioned, especially when viewed from the side. The lack of all-wheel drive also means the GTB never suffers from the slight steering corruption the Stradale sometimes gets from its powered front axle. The 296GTB’s $322,986 price also makes it nearly $200,000 cheaper. It’s definitely not $200,000 worse.
The 296GTB’s cabin feels plenty spacious for a two-seater Ferrari, and there is even a respectable amount of luggage space in the front trunk. At the back, the glass engine cover shows off both the V-6 and, in a very 2022 twist, the orange high-voltage cables that take current to the electrical motor. Complaints are limited to small annoyances: a clumsy infotainment system and Ferrari’s continued enthusiasm for putting all switches onto the steering wheel. The result is ergonomic confusion, especially with audio controls, the headlight flasher, and the windshield washer fighting for space on the back of the wheel. Usability would be improved by a couple of old-fashioned column stalks.
The 296GTB stands as proof that hybridization and increasing technology in ultra-performance machinery doesn’t need to be feared. At least, not when Ferrari does it. It has taken huge effort to make something so complex appear so simple, a digital supercar that manages to feel almost entirely analog. It is both a technical masterpiece and as thrilling as any Ferrari should be.
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