Ferrari 296 GTB Drive 2022 Review : Little Big Adventure
Maranello, Italy – When the Prancing Horse drops a last minute invite to drive one of its latest models, there's never any hesitation, because you know it'll always be a revelation.
There's nothing same-old-same-old about the Maranello-based brand's sportscars and every launch drive is a real adventure, especially since the one thing you can always expect... is the unexpected!
If there's one thing we've learned, it's that Ferrari never does the predictable.
It's one of the few brands that doesn't try to flog the proverbial dead horse as far as trim specials and spurious limited editions go.
The star of the show? Ferrari's latest plug-in petrol-electric hybrid coupe, the 296 GTB. (Note: At time of writing, Ferrari has just launched the drop-top variant, the 296 GTS).
Ferrari's naming convention has almost always alluded to engine and body-type.
In this case, '296' refers to the turbo'd 2.9-litre V6 (it's actually closer to 3-litres, but if you ask us, the Peugeot-esque 306 moniker sounds far less evocative) and 'GTB' stands for Grand Touring Berlinetta.
The 296 GTB ushers in a new V6 era for the brand, because it is the first V6 used in a series production Ferrari.
There have been motorsports applications with turbo'd V6s and a V6 was also found at the heart of the Dino 246 GT, but don't forget the latter was never officially badged a Ferrari.
In this case, the turbo'd V6 is complemented by a compact, rear-mounted electric motor (dubbed MGU-K, or Motor Generator Unit Kinetic, after the F1 system it is derived from) to produce a system combined output of 830hp and 740Nm.
At full pelt, this combination is good for 2.9secs in the 0-100km/h stakes and a top speed in excess of 330km/h.
The full 830hp onslaught can be enjoyed with the e-Manettino in 'Qualifying' mode, which taps on both ICE and e-motor to deliver maximum performance.
We're told there's enough juice to last an estimated six or seven laps of the Fiorano circuit.
Although there's a short overlap with the F8's production (and in case you're wondering, the order book has closed for the F8), we reckon the mid-engined/rear-drive 296 GTB segues neatly into that niche, even though we're unequivocally told it isn't intended to replace the F8.
We like that Ferrari isn't fixated solely on the horsepower arms race, because one of the big points it's bandying about for the 296 is that it is 'fun to drive'.
Too many brands focus on the fast these days without delivering on the fun, often thinking that big horsepower and mega-aggro-aero make for a fun drive.
Hard figures and the raucous snap-crackle-pop are click-baity smoke-and-mirror fodder for the 'Gram, but driving enthusiasts much prefer the invigorating intimacy that comes with an engaging drive.
We drive the lightweight, track-focused 296 GTB Assetto Fiorano on the Pista di Fiorano circuit
The yardstick for this? That ear-to-ear grin on your face as you're carving up a series of convoluted corners and relishing the fluid progress and organic flow of the sportscar after you've achieved a holistic equilibrium with the machine.
Longtime readers should already appreciate that the TopGear Singapore team has never equated fast with fun. In fact, there are many examples where stupendously fast machines have proven to be surprisingly sterile, but we're not here to talk about those.
The 296 GTB's whopping performance stats tell only a small part of the story. The other ingredients to this compact sportscar are no less compelling: a nippy 2600mm wheelbase, 1.5-tonne kerbweight and a rear-drive powertrain (the first Ferrari PHEV to be rear-driven, vis-a-vis the SF90 and LaFerrari).
Ferrari makes no bones about the fact that the electric motor is intended to boost the engine's performance in the 296 (as opposed to the yada-yada-yada about being clean and green) and it accomplishes this with devastating effectiveness.
If you recall, the ballistic 1000hp SF90 proved a real brute that could be manhandled through the corners thanks to the potent combination of AWD and trick torque vectoring.
In contrast, the 296 GTB is a finely-honed precision instrument capable of intense surgical strikes directed at your favourite winding roads with a fabulous lightness of being to its dynamic shenanigans in terms of both chassis and performance that defies belief.
Aside from the enthusiastic exotic car spotters and petrolheads, a flashy sportscar in Singapore these days is the object of a lot of unhappy attention. Gone are the days when other road-users would give a passing sportscar a big smile and a thumbs-up.
Instead, such passionistas have been replaced by intolerant herds of Karen No-Funs and Johnny No-Mates, who keep their eyes and dash-cams peeled for 'misbehaviour'.
Any footage collected is typically submitted to one of the many toxic online vigilante portals that have sprouted up to pander to the lowest common denominator.
Needless to say, with so many easily-bruised and thin-skinned detractors around on their high horses out and about in Singapore, even the whisper of the High Horse's V6/V8/V12 halfway to redline is enough to get the Cancel Brigade apoplectic and frothing at the mouth.
It's been some time since our last visit to Maranello, so we threaded our way through the city with some trepidation, expecting the 296 GTB to attract the same sort of resentful attention in response to this display of conspicuous consumption.
How wrong we were! If anything, things haven't changed since our last trip... and this was some years ago pre-COVID.
You can't believe the pomp and pageantry that accompanies your journey as the 296 GTB heads towards the outskirts of the city and onwards to the adventure of the winding roads.
Passers-by stop to gawk, gesticulate and grin, kids wave enthusiastically, young adults and grown men mime for you to “rev it harder!”
There's a general air of carnival conviviality, with our procession of five cars a veritable parade of Prancing Horses.
Cars speed up not to race you or cut-you-off, but to pace you for a better glimpse at the 296 GTB and to soak in the vibes of the Scuderia.
A common sight in the rear mirror is seeing the guy driver talking animatedly to his female passenger, with the girl resignedly filming us from the passenger seat.
This made the 296 GTB's ability to go 'stealth' in all-electric mode even more rib-tickling, because the drone and low-speed rumble evaporates instantly as we go full-electric.
And finally the roads open up and the 296 GTB is allowed to stretch its legs... and lungs. Pedal-to-metal, you quickly appreciate why the soundtrack of the 296 GTB is referred to as ‘piccolo V12’!
It's good for a range of 25+km (at speeds of up to 135km/h), which is plenty for entering/leaving the city limits. It certainly confounded the tifosi following us, because we could see them winding windows down and sticking their heads out to check-out what happened to the 296's mellow bellow!
This clean-sheet V6 (the first in the F163 engine family) features a 120˚ angle with 'hot-in-V' IHI turbos, a configuration that benefits engine mass and centre of gravity. Needless to say, there's a trickle-down of technology from the SF90 plug-in hybrid V8.
However, we hesitate to refer to this car as a baby SF90 (as so many like to), because it's such an explosive bundle of fun that stands loud and proud on its own two feet... or should we say, four-wheels!
If the SF90 is the Death Star capable of destroying whole planets, the 296 GTB is a lightsaber – “an elegant weapon for a more civilised time.”
Thanks to the TMA (Transition Manager Actuator), which works on the transmission, motor and inverter software, the 296 is engineered to deliver seamless and very rapid transitions as it switches between ICE to hybrid and all-electric modes.
This means that power delivery remains predictable and progressive when you're pressing hard – no spikes mid-corner, no incontinent spurts, no sudden movements except those you've orchestrated.
The 296 GTB's quoted dry-weight of 1470kg is academic until you experience its seriously nimble reflexes on the winding roads.
Part of the lightweight measures includes a single electric motor that drives the rear-wheels (as opposed to the SF90's 4WD powertrain)... which is perfect for us driving enthusiasts thankyouverymuch!
Flat-out, the 296 GTB lunges towards the apex like a blazing bolt of greased lightning and its decided lack of inertia takes your breath away even as you're enjoying the rapture of its mechanical symphony as you egg the V6 towards its 8500rpm redline.
Truth be told we were initially sceptical of its PHEV V6 credentials, but the sound, the speed, the slideways shenanigans and the scintillating thrills that come with pushing the 296 GTB hard on both road and track pretty much cement its status in the brand's roster of stellar mid-engined berlinettas.
Lesser brands may think it is adequate to merely 'make-up' the performance surfeit in switching from a V8 to a V6 by giving the latter more punch, but there are a lot more tactile and emotive nuances involved in the league that Ferrari operates in.
All the driver touch-points are engineered to deliver the correct, measured responses as demanded by the passionate driving enthusiast.
This means there's constant communication between man and machine, be it brake/gas pedal, paddle shifters, steering and even butt-feel through seat-of-pants.
The 296 GTB is lively, energetic and very, very fit, with an eager attitude that will gladly accommodate your most salacious desires.
Notwithstanding the brand's evergreen special edition sportscars that transcend time and space, (i.e. Challenge Stradale, F430 Scuderia / 16M, 458 Speciale, 488 Pista etc.), it's safe to say that for the 'regular' models, the best Ferrari in any respective range is always the latest, because that's simply Darwin's theory of evolution at work.
Don't get us wrong though, this isn't the sort of nervous, always-on-edge visceral feel like you'd get in the special models mentioned above. Rather, it is balanced, holistic and easily exploitable.
However, don't for one second think it is dumbed-down and easy-to-drive, because the 296 GTB can be as challenging or as benign as you want it to be.
You interact and engage intimately with it, as the electronics work in the background to aid, abet and uplift your driving efforts without the abrupt rap on the knuckles of a less refined intervention system.
The ability to distill complex concepts and technology into simple language is an arcane art that many attempt, but very few perform well.
This makes Ferrari's engineering work on the 296 so remarkable, because the technology never overwhelms driving fun.
The engaging, back-to-basics driving feel of the 296 GTB is the result of an arsenal of tech working in the background to deliver an organic, natural expression of this evocative relationship between man and machine. For instance, the steering might be electric but the input in programming it is pure analogue.
Instead of the savage but sterile speed you experience in many modern 'fast' cars, we enjoy the sublime sensations of the perfect synergy between 296 GTB and driver in our sojourn along the winding roads.
I don't know about you, but for me, the point of technology to serve and stay in the background, not take the limelight, much less make driving 'easy'.
Thanks to how Ferrari has successfully engineered emotion, the driver takes centrestage in all your adventures with the 296 GTB.
Ferrari 296 GTB
Engine 2992cc, V6, twin-turbo, electric motor
Electric Motor MGU-K, 7.45kWh
System Power/rpm 830hp/8000rpm (e-Manettino in 'Qualify' mode)
System Torque/rpm 740Nm/6250rpm
Transmission 8spd F1 DCT dual-clutch
Top Speed >330km/h
Fuel Consumption tbc