Is the Ferrari 296 GTB the ultimate driver’s car?

The hybrid with a V6 engine and 819 horsepower is supposed to be the sharpest Ferrari yet, but purists may disagree

The clue is in the name: two, nine, six, GTB. As the eagle-eyed among you would have gathered, the latest Ferrari sports a 2.9-litre V6, making it the smallest-engined model from the brand on the market today. Oh, and the GTB stands for Grand Touring Berlinetta.

It’s also a hybrid, which means there is plenty of power to go around. Coupled with an electric motor, which adds 165 horsepower to the proceedings for a total of 819hp, this is one of the most powerful cars that Maranello has to offer.

Expectedly, the UAE remains an important market for Ferrari. Following its global reveal a few weeks ago, the UAE is the first country outside Europe to witness the launch of the Ferrari 296 GTB.

There are several reasons why this is possibly one of the most important cars for Maranello.

The revival

The last road-going Ferrari to pack a V6 engine was the Dino, which, despite the tragic story behind it (named as it was for Enzo Ferrari’s son who died at the age of 24), hardly set the world of sports cars alight. However, the secret weapon in the 296’s arsenal is an electric motor that joins forces with the V6.

Naturally, that gives the 296 GTB sprightly acceleration. So, the Ferrari with the smallest engine headbutts the horizon at a top speed of 338 kilometres per hour and hits 100kph from a standstill in 2.9 seconds. These are rather competitive figures.

Where does it slot in?

This is the curious bit. The 296 GTB is not replacing any model in the Ferrari line-up. In fact, it is being promoted as the most fun-to-drive Ferrari in the range. This is a bit odd. So, what was all the song and dance about driving purity for the past 80-something years?

Design-wise, it’s a mash-up between the Roma and the F8 Tributo, with those annoying touch-sensitive buttons. The interior is bare, and that’s actually rather good, but overall it seems like an exercise in marketing rather than anything more meaningful.

The path of least resistance

Enzo Ferrari famously said that aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines. However, the 296 GTB employs plenty of aero-trickery in its pursuit of pace.

While the 2.9-litre V6 develops a substantial 654hp on its own, coupled with the electric motor it offers head-spinning performance. In fact, the 296 GTB has the most power-dense engine of any production car on the market.

In all-electric mode, it’ll run 20 or so kilometres, but that’s not the point. You’re not buying the 296 to save the planet.

There are plenty of active aero devices to carve the quickest path across any given piece of tarmac. The silhouette is clean, with no fripperies. What Ferrari calls the front tea-tray increases downforce over the front end. At the back, it gets an active rear spoiler a la Ferrari, for additional downforce.

As with any new Ferrari, you’d expect a smorgasbord of electronics saving the driver’s behind when ambition overtakes ability. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

Ferrari has taken the art of electronics and refined it to a degree where it’s nothing short of magic. The Side Slip Control – or traction control, in plain speak – is honed such that the car allows you to have fun without getting tangled in the Armco. At least that’s what Ferrari claims.

Light is right

The 296 GTB is 50 millimetres shorter in wheelbase than previous mid-rear-engined Ferrari V8s. Crucially, it weighs just 1,470kg dry. This is thanks to a lighter engine and pared-down materials throughout the car.

And if you think that’s still too portly, you can opt for the Assetto Fiorano pack. This cuts down the weight even further and brings adjustable Multimatic shocks, carbon-fibre components for the front bumper, and all around.

For the gaudy, there is obviously the choice of a 250 LM-style livery, and Michelin Sport Cup 2 R tyres. That said, does it make this the ultimate driver’s Ferrari? We’re not so certain.

Real-life reveal

At the launch in Dubai, the engineers proudly revved up the car. The engine note, although barrel-chested, is flat and almost industrial at start up. You don’t get the histrionics of a Lamborghini. While it sounds way more aggressive at higher revs with doctored pops and bang, it does not sound organic.

It is promising, but like most new cars there appear to be way too many compromises along the way to qualify it as a genuine enthusiast’s vehicle.

It’s a fast Ferrari. There are many fast Ferraris. This is one of them.

Updated: July 12th 2021, 9:16 AM