Ferrari 296 GTB Drive Review : Live Wired [COTY2022]
Singapore - It’s well past midnight and we’re ghosting quietly down the last 800m that leads home without worrying we’ll wake the neighbours… and more importantly, the missus!
Apart from the Tron hum of the electronics on the inside, you’d be hard-pressed to tell we’re in Ferrari’s latest sportscar, the 296 GTB, a svelte, agile mid-engined rear-drive precision instrument that can be roused to a boisterous 830hp/740Nm during red-mist driving!
Oh, and the other thing? It’s a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid that can switch effortlessly between refined and FULL-RAGE.
We can imagine the green brigade foaming at the mouth right about now, especially after hearing Ferrari is making no bones about the fact it is exploiting the 7.45kWh MGU-K electric motor for maximum performance – any low-emissions and green-impact is a happy coincidence.
If you’ve been following Ferrari’s development in petrol-electric technology, you’ll recognise the 296 GTB isn’t Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid sportscar.
There’ve been the Ferrari ‘The Ferrari’ LaFerrari (from way back in 2013), the LaFerrari Aperta, SF90 Stradale, SF90 Spider and now the 296 GTB with its drop-top sibling, the 296 GTS.
If you think that PHEV naturally means Prius, us petrolheads are glad that the 296 GTB (and the other Cars of the Year winner, the McLaren Artura) have upturned the ‘natural’ order of things.
When an electric motor is wielded in anger, say buh-bye to boredom!
This is because the torque gap from standstill to whenever the turbos kick-in is ruthlessly eliminated, as the instant response from the electric motor tides you over until the turbos spool up.
In the case of the 296 GTB, that’s a whopping 830hp and 740Nm when you toggle the e-Manettino to ‘Qualify’ mode and enjoy the full hybrid hit from the electric motor and twin-turbocharged 2992cc V6 (hence 296, geddit??).
This is technically the brand’s first series-production V6 (the Dino 246 GT wasn’t technically badged ‘Ferrari’) and we’re categorically told the 296 isn’t intended to be the F8’s replacement, even though all its vital statistics suggest otherwise!
If you’ve been in the SF90 (one of our Cars of the Year from 2021) and Roma (Cars of the Year 2020 alumni), you’ll recognise the digitalised cockpit and haptic interface for the e-Manettino and the ‘Engine Start/Stop’ trigger.
Our 296 GTB test-car adds the optional passenger display to the screen tally in the cockpit so your passenger can keep an eye on the car’s stats, navi and entertainment functions.
If the SF90 Stradale delivers its 1000hp like Thor’s mighty Mjolnir, the 296 GTB is a lightsaber, an elegant weapon from a more civilised time that is nevertheless capable of shocking brutality!
Yes, we know this is a repeat of what we said after our First Drive Review in Maranello, but we find it even more appropriate now that we’ve had the opportunity to drive it around a familiar track (the Sepang Circuit) and on familiar roads (in Singapore).
The 296 will ramble around happily (and quietly) in full-electric mode (it’ll travel up to 25+km at speeds of up to 135km/h), but when the red mist takes over, the 296 GTB demonstrates it has plenty of bite as the V6 barks to rude, rowdy life.
Also, compared to the SF90’s 4WD drivetrain, the 296 comes in every avid driver’s preferred rear-drive configuration to deliver a fun-to-drive experience.
Too many brands focus on the fast and/or the frugal, but lose sight of the fun, so it’s fab that Ferrari continues to place as much emphasis on ‘fun’ as fast with recent models like the Roma and 296.
The 296’s hybrid powerplant isn’t just about going green, because it’ll turn your passengers green too!
And we’re not talking about green with envy either, but from the amount of gs the car is capable of pulling in terms of both straight-line acceleration, as well as going sideways!
The demo-car features a gorgeous butterscotch interior, which is a stunning contrast to the Rosso Corsa body-colour – it really is a pretty car both inside and out.
The driver ergonomics are spot-on, with snug support from the sports buckets – that grip you tight and are comfortable for long distance touring duties – as well as great front/side visibility for precisely placing the car.
Steering inputs translate to instant responses, with no laggard responses from the 296.
Flat-out, the pace is stupendously furious, with the 100km/h sprint from standstill coming up in under 3secs. However, this isn’t the sort of car to brag about straight-line drags in – where’s the fun in that?
The 296 boasts a lively chassis that has a preternatural ability to cut deep into the corners, yet is pliant enough to take on cross-country road-trips.
It’s always on high-alert, so it’ll not just morph from mild to manic in a heartbeat, but also boasts a devilish propensity for going sideways that will keep the driver on high-alert.
The folks who accuse hybrid sportscars of being soulless clearly haven’t driven the 296 GTB in anger, because the feelsome and fluid responses are a fine throwback to a bygone era of driving engagement.
There’s such a richly textured analogue feel from the controls it’s hard to believe the 296 is a digital native.
At full pelt, the combined soundtrack from the ‘hot-in-V’ turbos and V6 is a thrilling, throaty conflagration of mechanical music that is commonly likened to a piccolo V12.
Few brands can fire-up dreams and aspirations as much as Ferrari can, because its range of sportscars is the stuff of every petrolhead’s octane-fuelled fantasy.
The brand’s dreamy, dream driving machines are always at the cutting edge of technology, yet are lovingly engineered to retain the driving and design ‘feels’ that tug at one’s heart-strings (and for the lucky ones, purse-strings!).
Despite having driven so many desirable sporting machines, it’s always staggering when you consider how Ferrari manages to tick-off so many items from every petrolhead’s checklist, as well as maintain a distinct dynamic profile for its different models.
You’d only say you aren’t a fan of the Scuderia to be contrarian, or simply haven’t been in a position to exploit the electrifying performance of this veritable live-wire.
Because if you did, an ear-to-ear grin would permanently be wired into your face.
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
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 6.4l/100km