Ferrari 296 GTB review, first drive - can you daily it in Indian traffic?
It's not very often that someone hands you the keys to a Ferrari and just lets you go for a spin. If you happen to like cars, this is a dream coming true. It's exciting and intimidating in equal measure, you're well aware of the aura around these cars and don't want to mess up your first rodeo. A sense that becomes amplified when the Ferrari in question is a 296 GTB and you are trying to see what it's like in peak Mumbai traffic.
Ferrari 296 GTB interiors, features
To be honest, you can't help but feel a bit dissatisfied that the first Ferrari you drive doesn't have a shrieking V8 in it. But this is a fleeting emotion at best as you contort yourself over the 296 GTB's sill and into the low, cossetting seats. It's quite an event now, in the way that you slightly reach out for the wheel and tuck your feet in deep for the pedals. It's not the most perfect supercar driving position, with the way the wheel is aligned slightly left of the pedal box. But there's no beating it for the anticipation and occasion it creates. A sense enhanced by the focused but still well-crafted feeling that comes from this cabin, the optional carbon trim on this example and the unique vent controls being the standouts.
You hear so much about new Ferrari steering wheels being a handful but you eventually get your head around this. The capacitive touch panels are intuitively placed so finding buttons is easy. The Manettino switch though gives off a sense of occasion, with its crisp toggle action. The smaller panels flanking the wheel could have done with larger buttons. But then again, you have quick access to functions like the climate control, nose lift and screen layout.
In keeping with this heavy driver focus, the driver's display also doubles up as the 296 GTB's main screen. You get the camera feed, and phone projections here aside from all of the driving data but it's never overwhelming. It even manages a good replication of the traditional yellow-backed Ferrari rev-counter. But the passenger isn't completely left out, the small screen here lets them control the audio and navigation functions and will even show the gauge cluster's data so that everyone is fully involved in the experience.
But really the highlight for us is the hefty, lacquered key fob with the bright Ferrari insignia. It's crafted almost to the level of an ornament and can be placed as such in the slim central tunnel. Here you'll also find a modern nod to Ferrari's legendary gated shifter, where the gearbox functions are placed in a chrome H-pattern motif.
A bit trickier is the fact that there isn't a P mode, so you'll need to do some mental rearranging when you first start driving a Ferrari. You shift to drive or neutral via the crisp carbon paddles so at first parking manoeuvres can leave you feeling out of depth.
Ferrari 296 GTB driving impressions, 0 to 100 kmph time, top speed
Also a bit of a shock, considering the 296 GTB makes 830 PS and 740 Nm and has the most power-dense production car engine in its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, is that the 296 GTB starts out in electric power at most times.
The 296 GTB's 7.45 kWh battery pack, nestled right in the middle of the car gives it up to 25 km of electric range while still reaching speeds of up to 135 kmph. So it's not quite as dramatic as you'd want a Ferrari to be on start-up, but it's so sensible in a tight, crowded place like Mumbai. You have 167PS from the e-motor which lets the 296 GTB be a handy traffic machine. Yes, you'll experience that odd sensation of being towered over by regular hatchbacks but the 296 GTB has a fair bit of ground clearance for a committed sportscar. The nose-lift is a must-have for our ramps and speed breakers but this system too is easy to engage and works quickly enough. In any case, visibility out front is good with the wide windscreen and haunches helping place the car easily.
But commuting in traffic isn't at the top of every Ferrari driver's list. So thumb to the performance mode, and the 296 GTB completely transforms itself. The engine growls into life, and there's a raw, angry energy running through the cabin as the quite highly-strung engine starts to build revs. Even at these low speeds, there's a sharp wail filling the cabin as you work through the powerband. Quite unlike the turbo-engines you know, there's little in the way of hesitation with this motor. There's an uninterrupted supply of power, which seems to keep rising in volume as you get nearer to the red line.
The responses are especially sharp, helped by the quick-witted 8-speed DCT that seems to fade away in the background in the best possible way. In effect, Ferrari seems to have managed to recreate the sensation of driving a large naturally aspirated engine, helped by the electrical assistance and the high 8,500 rpm redline. This also happens to be before you unlock the full outputs in the top Qualifying mode. We didn't get a chance to try this out, but here the Ferrari will go from 0 to 100 kmph in 2.9s and reach a 330 kmph top speed. A better sense of this thing's relentless performance comes from the 0 to 200 kmph time of 7.3s.
The ride and handling package is again a touch edgy. Be a bit trigger-happy with the throttle and you will notice the 296 GTB shimmy a little over our uneven roads trying to put all its power down via just the rear wheel. It's exciting in all the good ways, adding some spice even in the urban settings we drove the car in. The quick variable-ratio steering is another great trait that seems to bring some true driving sparkle to the Ferrari 296 GTB. You might think of this being a handful in tight space but in reality, the directness makes it intuitive to use and while it's not brimming with feel, there is a good deal of engagement to be had.
The 296 GTB will make you notice most of the patched road surfaces and cats' eyes you go over, but there's a pliant edge to this that makes it endurable for everyday use. Around smoother, faster roads is where we truly expect this to come into its own. Ferrari has tuned the ABS and other sensors to ensure braking and handling functions remain unaffected by the switch to a hybrid powertrain. The 296 GTB also sits on a 50mm shorter wheelbase than the F8 Tributo it replaces.
Ferrari 296 GTB styling
Make a list of the best-looking cars around right now, and it'll be difficult to leave the 296 GTB out of this. Even in this off-beat deep blue shade, the aura around this quite compact supercar is striking. The smooth, soft bodywork hides a fully functional aerodynamic package which seems to be heavily F1-inspired.
There are air channels to reduce drag and aid downforce but a big departure from Ferrari mid-engined is the free-standing roof design that now acts as an aero-element in itself. Similarly, the spoiler is now meant to increase downforce at low speed and reduce drag as you go faster.
A few touches further enhance the sense of wonder that you feel around this car. The plaque in the quite usefully deep frunk that lists all the options you've picked, or the Scuderia Ferrari badges on the fenders are a must-tick option. But still, the star of the show is the engine block that's presented under a glass cover. This new motor's flat construction and compact size means it's placed deep inside the 296 GTB's chassis which seems to further add to the aura around this car.
Ferrari 296 GTB price, verdict
Prices for the Ferrari 296 GTB start at Rs ex-showroom before options. To answer the question that we set for ourselves, yes the Ferrari 296 GTB can handle some heavy Indian traffic about as well as anything this committed should be able to. But that's just scratching the surface of something that belies its specs of being a downsized hybridized modern supercar. The 296 GTB is stunning to look at, feels like an event to be inside despite some eccentricity and is brimming with the kind of exciting, connective driving experience that we all seem to think will soon be lost.
Starts Rs 4.02 Crore