Ferrari 296 GTB review

Hybrid or not, the new two-seat Ferrari is still one of the great mid-engined supercars.

Pros: performance, fantastic handling, snarling engine

Cons: touch-sensitive switchgear, short electric range, lacking luggage space

The new Ferrari 296 GTB is yet another two-seat, mid-engined supercar from arguably the most famous car manufacturer in the world. Sitting alongside the F8 Tributo – another mid-engined supercar – the 296 looks like a rival for its own sibling, but it has one key difference. In place of the F8’s 3.9-litre V8 engine, the 296 GTB has a 2.9-litre V6 with a plug-in hybrid system. But Ferrari fans needn’t fret; the 830hp 296 GTB is still more supercar than eco warrior.

Ferrari 296 GTB Design

The Ferrari 296 GTB is gorgeous. But although it’s a knockout from every angle, those lines aren’t all for show. The flowing bodywork has been designed with aerodynamics in mind, and it’s performance, rather than beauty, that dictates the way this car looks. Those holes in the headlights, for example, channel cooling air to the brakes, while a little ‘tea tray’ (Ferrari’s words, not ours) arrangement in the front bumper directs air along the car’s underbody, where more aerodynamic attachments help it stick to the road.

One of the few concessions to style – the vertical rear window – required an aerodynamic work-around involving tweaks to the roof that direct air over the back of the car to create a kind of ‘virtual’ rear windscreen that tidies the airflow over the rear end while still providing enough cooling for that mid-mounted V6 petrol engine.

But the most beautiful feature of the 296 GTB is the back. The whole rear surface looks as though it has been scooped out, exposing the rear lights like a vein in a raspberry ripple ice cream. And from that trapezoidal exhaust emits a sound that can shake the Dolomites to their core.

Ferrari 296 GTB Interior

From the moment you slide into the 296 GTB’s supportive bucket seats, it’s obvious this car is set up for drivers. There’s no central touchscreen, as you get in a McLaren 720S, and nor are there many buttons for the passenger to play with. Even the air conditioning controls are on the driver’s side.

The driver also gets a highly configurable digital instrument display that must represent one of the best infotainment systems fitted to any Italian car. It’s pin-sharp and it offers bags of customisation, but the controls are a bit weird. Instead of getting buttons, the 296 GTB uses lots of touch-sensitive, haptic controls on the steering wheel. There’s a handful to control the screen, four for the hybrid system and even one to control the mirrors. The engine start button is touch-sensitive, too, and so are the air conditioning controls.

In fact, main ‘proper’ bits of switchgear are the confusing gear selector controls down between the seats and behind the steering wheel, the manettino rotary switch for the driving modes and the incredibly awkward indicator thumb-switches on the steering wheel. They’re fine on a motorway, when you’re going in a vaguely straight line, but with half a turn of lock on a roundabout, they’re suddenly the wrong way around. Far from ideal.

Ergonomically, then, the 296 GTB is a bit of a nightmare, but it has its plus points. It feels special and spectacular from the moment you open the door, which is crucial to the success of any Ferrari, and although it’s very driver-orientated, there is one concession to the passenger. It’s a small touchscreen on the dashboard that serves up driving data, so you can keep an eye on the driver’s speed, or allows access to the infotainment system, including the navigation and media settings.

Aside from that small (albeit cool) feature, the 296 GTB is designed to do one thing, and one thing only: go quickly. There are no rear seats – that space is occupied by an engine – and there’s little in the way of luggage space. A 201-litre ‘frunk’ between the front wheels sounds adequate, but it’s a very odd shape, and there’s only a small amount of space behind the seats for storage. If you’re after a high-performance two-seater with luggage space to spare, a Porsche 911 GT3 or McLaren GT might be a better choice.

Ferrari 296 GTB Performance & Drive

The 296 GTB’s plug-in hybrid system might sound eco-friendly – and by supercar standards, it is – but performance was very much front and centre in the engineers’ minds. The electrical system comprises a rechargeable 7.45kWh battery, which is small by plug-in hybrid standards, and an electric motor that sends 167hp to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

If you so choose, you can drive around using that electric motor, recharging when the battery runs flat and barely disturbing the 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine. You can, in essence, use this car as an electric vehicle – albeit one with a pitiful 25km range. But the 296 GTB is best when that V6 engine is running. Ferrari calls it the ‘Little V12’, and that’s over-egging the pudding somewhat, but it’s still a formidable engine with an equally impressive soundtrack. On its own, it produces 663hp, but when it works with the electric motor in the sportier driving modes, there’s a total of 830hp on tap. That means 0-100km/h takes just 2.9 seconds and a top speed of more than 330km/h.

But the noise and the performance are not the only things that make this car so brilliant. It also handles fabulously, with pin-sharp responses to steering and accelerator inputs, as well as grip aplenty. The brakes are immensely powerful and the balance in the chassis is nigh on perfect. The car just seems to rotate around its own hips like a dancer, and just when you think you expect it to run out of grip, it bites even harder.

For all the handling prowess, however, the 296 GTB is surprisingly comfortable and capable. Everything’s relative, of course, but the ride is quite supple for a supercar and there’s even a bumpy road suspension setting for pockmarked surfaces. And the refinement is good, too. Ferraris of old had lumpy gearboxes and overly sharp throttle responses that made them tricky to drive around town, but there’s none of that with the 296 GTB. It’s no more difficult to drive than a family hatchback.

Ferrari 296 GTB Pricing

With no dealers in the Republic of Ireland, there is no official Irish price. In the UK, the 296 GTB will set you back just over £240,000 (around €288,000 at the time of writing), but to register it in Ireland will cost significantly more. That makes it noticeably more expensive than the non-hybrid F8 Tributo, but we doubt many customers will mind all that much.

Carzone Verdict: 5/5

The 296 GTB’s hybrid system might steal the headlines, but that’s only half the story. The ability to drive silently is a boon, but the car is best experienced in more performance-orientated settings, which unlock the car’s full potential. But it isn’t just fast in a straight line. The 296 GTB handles like a dream, although you’ll really need to find a racetrack if you want to exploit it legally.

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