It’s not just the clean-sheet-designed twin-turbo V6 hybrid powertrain that makes the Ferrari 296 GTB such an outstanding driver’s car, though, admittedly, that’s a big part of the magic.
It’s as much about the car’s inherent agility and responsiveness, which elevates it to an entirely new level in super sports car category.
At the recent international launch event in Andalusia, Spain, which included several hours behind the wheel in mixed conditions that included torrential downpours, twisty semi-wet mountain roads and high-speed runs on autovias, I don’t think anyone in the global press corps expected the first-ever Ferrari-badged V6 to be this accomplished straight out of the box, nor sound as good as it does.
For those that may not have read our review, the numbers alone are completely off the charts, even for a twin-turbo V8, let alone a V6 hybrid with power to the rear axle, exclusively. Peak power of 610kW with a redline marked at 8500rpm, while the torque curve flattens out at 740Nm.
It’s enough to catapult the 296 GTB from standstill to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds and to 200km/h is a mind-blowing 7.3 seconds, via an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, E-Diff and the F1-derived MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit, Kinetic) mounted between the engine and transmission.
And, just for the record, the centre of gravity is lowered by 10mm and the power-to-weight ratio stands at 1.77kg per horsepower (221cv/l), which is a power-output record for its class.
It’s all thanks to the 296 GTB’s hybrid architecture. When the engine reaches its maximum power level, the electric motor assists to generate more power that can be transferred to the ground though the car’s standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres (Cup 2 R if you choose the Assetto Fiorano package).
At low revs the electric motor effectively cancels any turbo lag effect – completely and utterly as per our test drive proved categorically – and from anywhere in the entire rev range.
As on the stratospherically-priced SF90 Stradale, there are two selectors on the steering wheel. The Manettino switch for dynamics and the eManettino for hybrid management across four distinct modes; eDrive, Hybrid, Performance and Qualify.
eDrive enables full electric drive with the engine switched off. In Hybrid drive, electric and hybrid drive are mixed for maximum efficiency, while in Performance mode the car is able to sustain repeated lap performance in track and road use.
Switching to Qualify mode unleashes all-out performance over a single lap but with minimal regeneration. It also presents a significantly higher level of acceleration than other modes and reduces response times by 15 per cent.
The car’s cat-like agility and instantaneous responses are down to myriad engineering calculations and ingenuity including the short wheelbase and dynamic controls fitted to the car.
It’s the compactness of the 296 GTB with a wheelbase of just 2600mm, 50mm less than the F8 Tributo, which makes for ‘unprecedented agility’ according to Ferrari.
The new brake-by-wire system is backed up by Ferrari’s ABS-Evo technology which reduces pedal travel to the absolute minimum, without impairing pedal feel or stopping power at the limit. The result is a reduction of the stopping distance from 200-0km/h to just 107 metres – an 8.8 per cent improvement, and 24 per cent better repeat braking efficiency from the same speed.
More than that, the innovative ABS control module is integrated with the new 6w-CDS sensor which enhances rear tyre grip at very high speeds, which also allows late braking while all but eliminating understeer – even if the driver brakes and turns in late.
Woking in concert with the ABS-Evo is the ‘grip estimator’ that sits in the SSC (Side Slip Control), also gains a second device that measures the electric power steering angle at the same time. So, by crunching information from the EPS and cross-referencing it with the estimated side slip angle from the SSC, the system can estimate the grip of the tyres at every steering movement.
According to Ferrari, “it guarantees that the controllers intervene correctly based on grip condition, whereas on track, grip estimation is 35 per cent faster than previous applications.”
Ferrari also pulled out all stops on the 296 GTB with advanced aerodynamic solutions where function played a key role in the overall design of the car as well as its accessibility to everyday drivers.
The car generates a total downforce of a remarkable 360kg at 250km/h thanks in part to the active rear spoiler which remains hidden in the rear bodywork when not needed.
Up front, integrated into the front splitter, is what Ferrari’s engineers dubbed, ‘The Tea Tray’. It’s an aerodynamic device inspired by Ferrari’s GT-Series cars. Overpressure is naturally created in the zone above the Tea-Tray, also the result of the rear bulkhead and front bumper, which is vented completely towards the underside of the car.
Then there’s the fully-cloaked front-air intakes that are seamlessly integrated into the headlight assembly that also includes the DRL. It feeds fresh air to the duct that leads to the brake calliper to cool the front brakes.
The silhouette of the 296 GTB clearly shows the cabin placed in the midpoint between the axles with a perfectly upright rear screen for excellent rear visibility for the driver. Above, there’s more aero at play with rear faring that directs airflow under over the roof thereby creating more downforce on the rear axle as well as improved heat management for its mid-mounted engine.
Drag is effectively managed via the 296 GTB’s rear diffuser, and the centre channel is not typically concave like most treatments. Instead, there’s a centre kink which realigns the airflow in the direction of the car’s motion, thereby reducing drag.
More downforce is generated through the centre front zone of the car’s underbody to bring the peak intake pressure point lower to the road surface which amplifies front downforce for more confident front-end grip on turn-in.
And, finally, the inspiring sound of the V6 turbo, dubbed by Ferrari’s engineers as the “Piccolo V12”. Here’s the thing. You don’t have to be driving at warp speed or hitting the rev limiter to enjoy the 296 GTB.
Even at low revs, from inside the cabin, you’ll hear the same order of harmonics as a naturally aspirated Ferrari V12, thanks to a complete redesign of the carmaker’s patented ‘Hot-tube’ system.
It effectively pipes in the engine noise from the exhaust gas treatment systems including the air intake. There’s no better engine noise from a mid-engine V6 or any other turbo six.