IT’S CLEAR some oligarchs will reduce. May I suggest the new Ferrari 296 GTB, the company’s new mid-engined berlinetta, with a plug-in hybrid V6 powertrain? This delicately gorgeous two-seater ($475,000 as tested) has V12 performance like Arby’s: 0-124 mph in 8 seconds, a top speed of 205 mph. The car’s flexed rear haunches make me feel funny inside.
But, thanks to its advanced hybrid harness, the central 3.0-litre V6 consumes less fuel and pollutes much less. In fact, with a rated all-electric range of 15 miles, this plug-in Ferrari would be welcome even in London’s zero-emissions zones. Otherwise all its buyers.
I traveled to Spain last month to air out the 296 GTB on fabulous country roads around Seville and the long, fast and dreamlike Circuito Monteblanco. Well, that was more like a siesta: as the car is a plug-in hybrid, the 296 GTB can maintain maximum power (819 hp) for just two laps, in what Ferrari calls Qualify mode. After that, power drops about 40 hp, to 779 hp. Alas, the weight of the car (about 3,700 pounds) remains the same.
“The big question remains: how can Ferraris consume less?”
A creature of conformity and compromise, a future artifact of transitional technology, this weird, wonderful, switch-infested spaceship is easy on the eyes but hard to fall in love with. At least at the start. By its very nature, the operation of the hybrid powertrain, in particular the state of the 6kWh battery, is always central to the experience.
Walnut soup. In normal circulation (hybrid mode), driving quietly, the Ferrari oozes from an electrically powered stop and then, if demand exceeds a certain parameter (which depends), the petrol engine fires up like a regimental drum corps. On the track? If you plan on activating Qualify mode, you can either pull over and hook up or set the regenerative braking level to high. It has all the spontaneity of Viagra taken at dinner.
Are you a lover of lo-fi, analog, stick-and-rudder things? For the price, you can have 20 to 30 lightly used Mazda MX-5 Miatas. The 296 GTB has not one but two manettinos (rotary selectors) mounted on the steering wheel, one for hybrid powertrain modes (eDrive, Hybrid, Performance, Qualify) and one for chassis dynamics. Choose wisely.
Ferrari’s vehicle control systems have moved from hydraulic to electric actuation, including steering and brakes (brake-by-wire is almost a necessity with regenerative braking). Sandwiched between the V6 and eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the axial-flow engine (165 hp) provides electric boost and fills fleeting moments of reduced power during upshifts with
Oh yes, the 296 GTB has rhythm. My hosts strapped me into a track-prepped car fitted with miracle Michelins (Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires). With most safety interventions disabled (Performance mode) and its electric afterburner enabled (Qualify), the 296 GTB jostled me much like the pioneering LaFerrari hybrid (2013-16), but in a smaller and more easy to set of corners, with six cylinders less – the same thrust of tight corners, the same passages at full power lubricated with the tears of a thousand engineers. At the end of the 960 meter main straight from Monteblanco, I saw 280 km/h (173 mph). The sun broke through the clouds. Pleasant.
Buried deep within the chassis, under the sculptural transparent engine cover, the 120-degree twin-turbo V6 even sings a bit like a V12, only sotto voce (a consequence of stricter European vehicle noise standards). From the outside, this bratty supercar is remarkably quiet. Inside, a sound pipe brings expensive induction and exhaust notes from the engine compartment to the cabin.
I get it: that’s what it takes to make a supercar legit for the streets, in markets around the world. Well done, Maranello. Still, that all seems like a lot of overhead for a fairly modest net efficiency, especially when compared to the added weight of the hybrid battery.
The 296 GTB raises other questions: how can Ferraris consume less fuel and still be coveted by a trophy culture that celebrates excess? How to transform a dull regulation into an object of desire? And how can Ferrari remain relevant to a new generation of enthusiasts in a world where
and Lucid sedans are getting faster and faster?
Styling. Inspired by the sport racing 250 LM of the 1960s (note the haunches and rear air intakes), the 296 GTB is simply magnificent: smart, subtle (the active aerodynamic surfaces are well hidden), small, useful. Richies would buy this car if it ran on whale oil.
Ferrari has another problem: its steering wheel. Shared with the SF90 Stradale and, I suspect, some future Ferraris, it’s nothing short of terrible, a human factors failure of epic proportions. Because Ferrari clings to the idea that all switches should be accessible without the driver moving their hands, the steering wheel is cluttered with paddle shifters, headlights, corner switches and windshields, volume and scan controls (on the back). Do people have more fingers in Italy?
On the side spokes reside two of the dumbest, dumbest, moodiest capacitive switches anyone made. Hello? Olaaaaa?
At no point should the reader feel sorry for someone named Ferrari. It’s not the Commendatore in the sunglasses and the raincoat over there in Maranello, you know? The 75-year-old motor racing and manufacturing company is now a hugely profitable luxury goods conglomerate, which also rakes in hundreds of millions from Formula 1 racing every year. Ferrari is now preparing to build this once unthinkable thing, an SUV, named Purosangue. They will be fine.
I wish I could unravel for you the intricate dance of physics and codeware at work in these two hot rides. But my puny wetware was overloaded enough to try to keep up with the professional Ferrari driver ahead of us. My memory of these towers is a blur that pivots on the horizon, that crosses the eyes and that saws the wheel.
And it was over too soon.
Ferrari 296 GTB
Base price: $317,986
Price, as tested: $475,000 (estimate)
Powertrain : Gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid with 120-degree twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6; 164 hp axial flux electric motor; 6.0 kWh lithium battery; weight-speed dual-clutch transmission; rear wheel drive with torque vectoring rear differential.
Length/wheelbase/width/height: 179.7/102.4/77.1/46.7 inch
Unloaded weight : 3,700 pounds
0-60mph: 2.9 seconds
Top speed: 205mph
EPA Fuel Economy: 18/22/20 mpg, city/highway/combined (est.)
Electrical range: 15 miles
Cargo volume: 7 cubic feet
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