Ferrari’s 296 GTB is not, as some have suggested, the new Dino. But you could be forgiven for thinking this curvaceous coupe is a modern-day incarnation. The 296 GTB is powered by a V-6, just like the stylish mid-engine icons that Enzo Ferrari produced from 1957 to 1976 and named after his son.
The 75-year-old brand hasn’t made a V-6 engine since — until now, with the 296 GTB. The Dino, though, never sported the official “Ferrari” badge. Because it lacked the power and craftsmanship of the V-12 cars Ferrari was making then, it was positioned instead as the gateway car into the world of “real” Ferraris.
The rear-wheel-drive 296 GTB is anything but entry-level, as I found recently while driving through the olive-treed hills outside Seville, Spain. With an engine that goes from zero to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds, a top speed of more than 330km/h, and 819 total horsepower, the 296 GTB goes faster around Ferrari’s test track in Fiorino than even the $1.5m LaFerrari electric supercar, according to the company. And with a starting price of $318,000, it’s a bit more approachable than the LaFerrari’s wallet-emptying seven-figure sum.
The 296 GTB uses plug-in hybrid electric power, with four drive modes that balance how much energy the car uses. Its name comes from its total engine displacement (2.9) and number of cylinders, plus Ferrari’s traditional Gran Turismo Berlinetta moniker for touring sports cars.
So yes, Ferrari is throwing a lot of new ideas into its latest prancing pony, including some questionable design cues — rectangular taillights, for one — but the 296 GTB also offers elegant, hyperquick drivability that will utterly charm those with the means to actually buy one.
It excelled everywhere I drove it, whether on the track or off. During a number of hot laps in Qualifying and Performance modes on the 2-mile-long Monteblanco track, the 296 GTB felt more sublimely smooth and ethereal than anything I’ve recently tested — and that includes a Maserati MC20 and Lamborghini Huracán. At 1,470kg, the 296 GTB is lighter (the engine alone saves 30kg compared with a V-8) and more compact overall than any previous Berlinetta.
And it’s dialled in to near-mystic precision. Ferrari’s trademark “brake-by-wire” system gave off none of the harsh grating and biting often found in sports cars that need to stop hard and often. Its electric power steering and active LaFerrari-inspired rear spoiler kept it balanced and grounded as I tried my best to keep up with the pro driver piloting the car ahead of me.
Whipping around decreasing radius curves had the car dancing so lightly through its eight gears that I expected it to step out on me, fishtailing and understeering its way off course. But its Michelin tires stayed superglued to the ground.
My takeaway after hitting upward of 264km/h on the back stretch at Monteblanco was that you don’t need a professional racing licence to sample this car’s performance abilities, but the ease and elegance of its engineering also pushed me to drive better, cleaner and smoother. I wanted to be a driver worthy of that glorious, unmistakable engine note that roared louder the faster I drove.
Then I took to the streets, where I toggled between its Hybrid and electric-only modes. The single-lane roads that curve through old logging and hunting land in the nearby countryside proved even more revealing about the benefits and challenges of the 296 GTB.
Crawling behind a herd of goats walking a pockmarked asphalt surface probably wasn’t what the Ferrari brass had in mind when they dictated the circuit I drove. But I was glad for it. Other Ferraris are so stiff and low and brittle (the splitters hit the ground and crack) that low speeds and uneven surfaces are downright painful to the psych and the body. The 296 GTB, however, felt comfortable, even accommodating, to the task.
Its supportive, ergonomic seats complemented a chassis primed to be more forgiving than cars meant solely for the track. The front splitter easily cleared multiple divots and dips in the road. And hey, the goats were really cute.
Turning the car around was a different matter, though. It lacks a tight turning radius, and the thick-as-tree-trunks flying buttresses positioned just over each shoulder create considerable blind spots. Electric-only driving lasted just 26km, but the car emitted a simple beep to alert me as it switched easily back over to Hybrid.
I’m happy to say the headroom and legroom inside proved friendly to my 6-foot-tall-in-boots frame. And the front trunk is large enough to maybe even hold two hard carry-on cases, a practical coup for sports cars of this calibre.
The dashboard in the cabin was less delightful. As in the mid-front-engine Roma, Ferrari has replaced dials and buttons with tiny touchscreens on the steering wheel to adjust everything from the side mirrors to climate to navigation. While it made for a tidy dash, it was confusing, distracting and unfulfilling. To my mind, it cheapens the feel of the interior altogether.
Some things remain tactile, operated by dials — but it took several minutes to locate the volume and radio station rollers, which are hidden, maddeningly, at an odd spot on the back of the steering wheel.
Blocky, Corvette-esque taillights and the car’s single round exhaust puzzled me, too. I missed the traditional design found on models ranging from the Testarossa to the Roma.
And then there’s the swooping, opaque glass engine bay cover, which from some less fortunate angles looks — depending on how charitable you’re feeling — like either a gaping black hole or the sensor cover on an old TV remote.
Of course, when I was behind the wheel, none of that mattered. I couldn’t see any of it anyway. And I couldn’t have cared less that the 296 GTB had six cylinders like that now highly collectible Dino. What a difference 50 years makes. If this is the kind of performance a Ferrari V-6 means, count me in.
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