Although it may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, the light is clearly shining brightly through the gates at Maranello. Because, emerging through them, is something very new indeed. You could call it a genuine revolution: the very first V6-engined road car ever to wear the Prancing Horse badge, and the first Ferrari rear-wheel-drive only plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).
The 296 GTB’s headline figures are all deeply impressive: a total power output of 830cv; a world record specific power output for a road car production engine of 221cv per litre; an ability to rev to 8,500rpm; and a class-leading weight-to-power ratio of 1.77kg/cv.
But the most significant headlines refer to qualities rather than quantities, because here is a car designed to arouse deep feelings, passions and excitement. To put it in a nutshell, the 296 GTB represents the highest expression of the Ferrari ‘fun-to-drive’ philosophy in its entire range. Another way to express it is: if the SF90 Stradale is all about peak performance, then the 296 GTB is all about peak emotion.
So what exactly does ‘fun to drive’ mean? Michael Leiters, Chief Technology Officer, explains: “We’ve identified three fully measurable elements: sound, perceived acceleration, and go-kart feeling. Each element plays its part to deliver that fun-to-drive feeling – as soon as you start driving, you sense it.”
Starting with the soundtrack, Leiters says: “The V6 reaches a new level for a turbo engine. With our V12 engines, you hear every detonation very clearly, and the V6 reminds me of the V12: it’s more like a naturally-aspirated engine than a turbo engine. It’s like music.”
As for perceived acceleration, Leiters remarks: “Nought to 100 kilometres per hour figures are not the be all and end all for us; it’s about going from low to high revs in a linear progression of power and torque, always increasing. We worked a lot on the turbocharger side to deliver a crisp response and the best combination of power and efficiency without turbo lag.”
And the go-kart feeling? “This is all about how your every command is felt directly and controllably in how the car reacts,” says Leiters. “Our focus has been to make the new 296 GTB more compact, to lose weight and to lower the centre of gravity. The short wheelbase is only possible with the V6, and the low centre of gravity – about 10 millimetres lower than the F8 Tributo’s – is only possible with our innovative 120-degree V6.”
Yet another example of the dynamic focus is the new Ferrari six-way dynamic sensor – a world first. This provides incredibly sophisticated data on precisely how the car is behaving, enabling all the control systems to react in absolutely the most focussed way.
It’s also a remarkable achievement that no aerodynamic appendages interrupt the car’s pure and refined profile, but this belies the level of aerodynamic sophistication on board. “High downforce was a major goal,” says Leiters. “In the centre of the front bumper we use a Formula 1 concept called the ‘tea tray’, which creates vortices to boost downforce. Meanwhile the LaFerrari-inspired active rear spoiler also improves downforce, maximising handling and braking at high speeds.”
Given the 296 GTB’s clear fun-to-drive emphasis, the Assetto Fiorano package is expected to be a popular option. With its track-focussed dampers, high-downforce aero package, Lexan rear screen and weight-saving carbon-fibre parts, it enhances not only sportiness but also design, since it can be ordered in a unique livery.
When asked which aspect of the 296 GTB he is most proud of, Leiters instantly replies: “The V6 engine, for sure. We now have a brand-new engine family and the V6 hybrid concept is firmly at the heart of Ferrari. I am always thinking how to improve the next car and I am very happy with what we’ve achieved overall.”
-Words: Chris Rees / Photographs: Philipp Rupprecht