We all need unutterable beauty in our automotive lives, suggests Iain Robertson, so it might as well be from a quarter of a million quid, part-electric Italian supercar that raises the heartbeat and creates double-takes wherever it is seen, all before you indulge in the driving experience with 830bhp on tap from its plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
As you may recall from the exposition of the hardtop GTB version of this car, a little over a year ago, away from its excruciatingly lovely bodywork, it is the first time since the (non-)Ferrari Dino that a V6 petrol engine has featured in a Prancing Horse machine. Yet, it is no ordinary V6, its 2,992cc displacement being spread across the 120-degree vee of the cylinders that provides space for the twin turbochargers, with maximum engine revs at a screaming 8,500rpm, while bellowing at lower velocities as if it had the heart of a V12…alternatively driving for up to 15mls in complete silence on its electric motor and hybrid battery pack. The charismatic 296GTS is a comprehensively different experience capable of cracking the 0-60mph sprint in a breathtaking 2.6s and covering 0-124mph (200kph) in just 7.2s, en route to a top whack in excess of 200mph. We all know that the locations where such performance can be exploited are few and far between these days, with an even slimmer choice on the cards, should pan-European speed limiters be introduced but it is knowing what is feasible that allows the spirit to soar and dreams to be made.
However, the 296 is a compact supercar, perhaps built more in the vogue of the Lotus Emira than any of its heftier stablemates. Its footprint is just over 4.5m in length, not quite 2.0m wide, not breaching 1.2m in height but tipping the scales at just 1.5t and it looks relatively small alongside rival products, not that it has many of them and certainly none as spectacularly pretty. Its minimalist interior relies on the Manettino steering wheel switchgear, a digital touchscreen and reconfigurable driver’s information display, which is colourful in the present day Ferrari idiom, while seeking to avoid complexity. The 296 is a car of genius intention and purpose, built impeccably well and covered by an inclusive servicing and warranty package that is unprecedented in the supercar arena, a factor that underscores the confidence of modern day Ferrari to the rest of the world.
Despite Ford channelling its RS and ST engine noises through holes in gloveboxes and from behind heating plenums into the cockpit, I can hardly resent Ferrari doing the same thing with its symphonic sounding V6, as it would be a sin not to do so. It is a technological passport of such resilience and composed musicality that the company ought to seek a means by which to bottle it for those of us to whom the 296 will always be a distant dream. The PHEV system that uses an electric motor driving the rear axles of the car is also a technological gift from the firm’s F1 presence, not just developed as a result of it but using the same space-saving hardware to help the car score its phenomenal and class-leading 830bhp. The 8-speed twin-clutch automated transmission provides racecar swift shifts, accompanied by the customary crackles, pops and bangs from the exhaust.
Ferrari has applied some of the aerodynamic efficacy learnt from its SF90 and other models but seriously refined in the 296GTS, which uses flat floor engineering for its innumerable gains. The hottest of components are channelled above the floor, having increased the airflow through the front of the car to ensure that it is ejected as speedily as possible at the rear, while special brake ducting and even transmission heat is dissipated below the floor, using an
active spoiler but minimal flow deflectors elsewhere, which ensures that the design purity is unobstructed and best use is made of stylish ducts and vents cut into the body that now serve purpose for overall airflow efficiency. High levels of calibrated downforce result, while thermal efficiency is optimised.
Replacing the hardtop body integrity involved strengthening A and B-pillars, as well as the sills. Yet, the body’s torsional twist has been improved by around 8%, which ensures that the 296GTS’s handling envelope is as close to perfection as the careful weight management of its rear/mid-engined layout can allow. However, that little lot can be altered significantly by specifying the Assetto Fiorano package, a purpose designed lightening and optimising option that includes damper and even trim changes to accommodate a raft of dynamic improvements. The inclusion of appliques that have been inspired by Ferrari’s 250LM competition history add an appropriate visual twist.
From having been a race competition passport, building enough cars to allow the firm to contest F1 and its various sportscar racing programmes, to becoming a responsible producer of outstandingly competent road cars has taken a little longer than may have been corporately desirable but Ferrari has finally reached its true purpose in life and, by all accounts, there is no stopping it now. While the company still resorts to external styling houses, its own in-house has been able to dip into brand history for design inspiration and the new 296GTS, as well as its GTB stablemate, are among the most fantastic looking cars in the world. Its targeted Euros300,000 price tag may be at the thick end of the wedge for some people, while remaining eminently desirable for others but, if you need to ask ‘how much’, you know that you cannot afford it in any case.
Conclusion: You can always place a price on beauty, despite not wanting to. There are private individuals and companies that can afford to make the investment in a car that is unlikely to depreciate at all and actually makes a fine case for a corporate spend, when there is too much available in the individual pot. A Ferrari 296GTS is a ‘must have’ machine that will experience no difficulties at all in an hugely competitive market sector.