Ferrari 296 GTB review: Electrifying

Lionel Kong

With any berlinetta (or coupe) from Ferrari’s sportscar line-up, rear wheel drive, a two-seat cabin and mid-engine layout are the traditional elements of the story. Enzo Ferrari used to believe otherwise, but slinging the engine behind the driver is the best way to do things, putting more weight on the driven wheels for extra traction when exiting corners.

But the 296 GTB goes off-script here, as Ferrari itself steps into a new act in which emissions are the central villain of the piece.

This is a car that embodies Ferrari’s attempt to stay not just relevant, but desired. In a world suddenly grown hostile to fossil fuels, even the most famous name in motor racing has to evolve or die, and this is what that adaptation looks like.

And so the V6 engine has a sidekick in the form of a 167 horsepower electric motor, which feeds and is in turn fed by a 7.45kWh lithium-ion pack that can also be juiced up by a wallbox charger. That’s right, the 296 GTB is a Ferrari you can plonk into a parking spot reserved for EVs without fear of condemnation.

More on the plug-in hybrid system later, because the hero of the day is still the combustion engine. Its blocks spread wide, all of 120 degrees, to keep its centre of gravity low, while the turbochargers (one for each cylinder bank) sit within the V, for the sake of compactness. Compared to the V8 that animated the F8 Tributo so memorably, it’s 35mm slimmer and 86mm less tall, not to mention 30kg lighter.

More to the point, it’s a belter. It may be down a litre on the F8’s mighty engine, but the new V6 wrings 663hp from its capacity (just 57 less) and revs 500rpm higher (to 8,500), while the 740Nm peak torque is only 30Nm shy of the old V8’s max.

How the motor and V6 split their task is down to how you jab at the touch-sensitive panel on the steering wheel that Ferrari dubs the e-manettino, pictured here:

To unlock the full 830 horsepower you have to engage Qualifying mode, which leans on the battery hard so that electrons lend maximum support to the engine.

One notch below that is Performance mode, which has the engine running permanently and aims to keep the battery at 95 percent so the motor has a goodly supply of energy to draw on. You get “not less” than 790 horsepower in this mode, a Ferrari man told me.

Most of the time you’ll be in Hybrid mode, which is essentially the Ferrari-as-Prius setting, but if you really want to do the green thing, choose eDrive for up to 25km of silent, emissions-free motoring.

Electric drive is a weird experience in a Ferrari, I’ll say that much. For one thing, it’s hugely at odds with the 296 GTB’s racy interior, with its bucket seats and cockpit-like layout. Or maybe not — the driver area looks like a transplant from the SF90, also a plug-in hybrid.

If you’re all-in on the digital, you’ll love the cockpit for the way pretty much everything is now controlled by touch sensitive switches on the steering wheel, plus two small panels on either side of it for the air-con, wing mirrors, reverse camera, nose lifter and so on, with the driver display housing every bit of info.

I’ll admit to hating it, chiefly because it made me feel my age. I didn’t dare futz with it and risk deactivating the navigation system. I couldn’t even figure out how to recycle the cabin air.

Switching the car on no longer involves stabbing an evocative start button the colour of blood and having an engine burst to life. Instead, you press a haptic panel that merely boots up the car. If you can find theatre in that, it’ll be a private experience, unless you count the low whirr that is the only way an outsider can tell if the 296 GTB is running.

Much more pleasing, at least aesthetically, is the transmission controller, which is entirely electronic while recalling the Ferrari gearshift gates of old.

Anyway, there’s no making the world spin backwards, so I might as well get used to all this digital stuff. Also in need of getting used to is the idea of a Ferrari noiseless on the move, which made more than a couple of Spanish villagers scratch their heads when we passed through. 


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2 seat 2-door 296 GTB Coupe Ferrari Hybrid

About the Author

Lionel Kong

An old hand from the bad old days of crazy COEs, the straight-shooting, ex-CarBuyer editor is back in the four-wheeled world. Rumours that he went to another country to start a Judas Priest tribute band are unfounded.

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