2022 Ferrari 296 GTB First Drive Review: Deeply Desirable

Ferrari's hybrid V6 supercar is no less exciting than its V12-powered siblings.

There is an old road testing cliche about being able to tell whether a car is good within the first hundred yards, or by the end of the pit lane or before the first corner. (You get the picture.) I'm sure some savant once even suggested they knew a car was good purely from the feel of the door handle as they went to get in it for the first time. It took me slightly longer with the 296 GTB (you gain entry by depressing a button on the door, which first releases the latch and provides a handle -- it's quite satisfying). However, the first 7 miles were perhaps the most important of my whole day with the 296. You see, I didn't use the turbocharged V6 engine at all.

Leaving the Monteblanco circuit, finding my way along the maze of local roads and then crawling through the nearest conurbation, the loudest sound was of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber on tarmac. Schoolchildren still gawped and waved because the shape of the car is so utterly stunning, but -- and this might be my imagination -- I also felt there weren't many disapproving glances. It's hard to be critical when a car is contributing precisely zero emissions to its surroundings and giving church mice a run for their money.

I remember feeling the same way when I first drove a Porsche 918 Spyder back in 2014. The knowledge that I wasn't going to irritate the neighbors (whom I happened to like) when I left early one morning was a nice change. I also remember the delight (and slight fright) when the Porsche's V8 came to life, the storm after the calm erupting out of its top-exit exhausts. This pleasing contrast is the same in the Ferrari.

A range of about 15 miles on battery power alone might not sound like much, but it's enough to be useful, and the Ferrari seems to quickly recharge when the engine is on. It's quite an engine, too: The 2.9-liter, 120-degree, turbocharged V6 puts out 654 horsepower (adding to the electric motor's 167 hp) and 546 pound-feet of torque. Just as importantly, it sounds rather good.

Ferrari's engineers worked hard on the harmonics of the Inconel exhaust, which funnels into one large outlet, leading the company to refer to this engine as the "piccolo V12." And I can see what they mean: You have to rev it to hear the similarity, but this engine piles on the revs easily, and once you're up above 6,000 rpm there is a definite comparison to be made with the timbre of the 12 cylinders beneath an 812 Superfast's bonnet. It's not as spine-tingling, but it is characterful.

The performance dished out by this hybrid system is deeply impressive. Ferrari claims a 0-to-62-mph time of 2.9 seconds and a 0-to-124-mph time of just 7.3 seconds. That's not a huge leap from a F8 Tributo's specs, but the braking apparently is. The 296 GTB can haul its greater mass from 124 mph to a standstill almost 9% faster. In repeated stops, the hybrid car is said to have made a 24% improvement in braking power.

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