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Ferrari 296GTS - Blistering Speed in a "Moving Sculpture."



Eight years ago I drove Ferrari’s "moonshot capable" 488 GTB supercar and said it drove like a road-going F1 car.

 

Well, now I’ve driven one better - the 296 GTS. It's lighter, faster, and in the opinion of almost every enthusiast who sees it in the steel and carbon fibre - the most attractive Ferrari yet to hit the road. Ferrari has revived its brief but iconic V6 history with a brand-new 120-degree design fed by twin turbochargers spinning at up to 180,000rpm and an F1 gearbox claimed to snap through the fastest changes in the supercar category.

 


Ferrari’s chief tech officer, Michael Leiters described the design aims as threefold – “sound, perceived acceleration, and a go-kart feeling.” But the feeling that I experienced most was its uncanny anticipation of my intentions.

 


Never before have I driven a car that has such a “C’mon!” attitude. A brief push on the throttle, and this Ferrari instantly flexes its muscles, tightens its suspension and steering, hangs on to lower gears and punches its 1540kgs down the road like, well, unlike anything I’ve ever driven before. Nothing else on the road anticipates the driver’s mood and tweaks everything up to “show me a racetrack” mode.

 

Ferrari rear end
What other supercars will see the most of

How does it do it? Here’s how: “A TMA actuator and 6w-CDS body sensor, plus ABS evo controller and grip estimator integrated with the EPS, plus a revamped brake-by-wire system and “Aero” brake callipers, as well as SMC-FRS magnetorheological dampers.” Phew!

 

In normal-speak, Ferrari’s boffins have married a software package created by race-capable enthusiasts to technology that reads the car’s dynamics multiple times per second and supercharges brakes, suspension, steering, power and torque to maximise performance.

 


The result is a unity of purpose that’s as exhilarating as it is an absolute necessity. With a maximum 610kW of instant power delivered through the rear wheels only, traction and stability is the name of the game for the 296 GTS and its hard-top version, the GTB. The eleven-inch-wide Bridgestone Potenza Sport rear tyres on the test car are among the best in the business, but it takes every volt and synapse in the car’s management system to keep the rubber glued to the road and delivering race-car urge instead of tyre-shredding wheelspin. And the noise . . . !



My drive over two days was swamped by Sydney’s almost constant wet weather, so the GTS's retractable roof stayed mostly shut,



But I still found the opportunity to exploit a fair sample of this Ferrari’s stupefying grip and stability. Broken surfaces, puddles, road markings and constant rain never, ever broke the car’s grip on the bitumen. Admittedly, I often switched the Manettino dial on the right spoke of the steering wheel to “Wet” mode, but even when I turned it up to “Performance” and then “Race” (I didn’t have the courage to select “ESC Off”), the Ferrari kept its good manners while delivering scintillating performance.

 

All of the 296’s urge comes from a power unit – in F1-speak – that combines a 2.9-litre 120-degree twin-turbo V6 with an electric motor/alternator/starter, modelled on the F1 car’s MGU-K, sitting between the engine and the gearbox. However, don't be misled into thinking this is a Plug-in Hybrid in the conventional sense of the term. The 296 electric system is a performance additive, not an economy booster.

Ferrari 296 GTS engine power unit
Powertrain package is a work of art

The ‘flatter’ engine delivers three key advantages; the engine height is lowered compared to Ferrari’s 90 degree V8s, allowing more exotic aerodynamics across the top of the car, the centre of gravity is lower, which enhances stability, and the turbos and exhaust tube are nestled in the ‘V’, with the intake witchery on the cool side of the engine, allowing free travel for the air/fuel mixture and natural heat dissipation. This latter feature was evident in the rear vision mirror in traffic, where a clear heat haze wafted upwards from the engine compartment, just behind the upright window behind the driver’s head. On that point, that window can be electrically lowered, admitting much more of the spine-tingling music of the Ferrari V6 into the cabin.

 

Ferrari 296 GTS cockpit
Cabin wraps around you like a glove

I had little chance to experience the pin-sharp steering in high speed corners, but can confirm this car goes exactly where you point it, almost regardless of the road conditions. Having a shorter wheelbase pulls the front wheels back to alongside your ankles - a true go-kart steering response is the result. The 6w-CDS body sensor in the car’s brain melds with aerodynamics that emphasise downforce.


Of course that extends the car's front lip - the electric front suspension lift became a necessity on suburban roads littered with speed bumps.



There is no doubt that the 296’s svelte styling projects business rather than just a stunning shape, but elegance supercedes aggression in the detail. The 296 is a beautiful car – chief design officer Flavio Manzoni calls it a “moving sculpture.”

 

That’s why, even though the performance numbers equal or better its competition, owning this car delivers a level of excitement only accessible within the Ferrari name and the tradition it carries, whether on the road, on the track, or simply standing still.


Worth selling the house for? Mmmmm . . .

 


Behind the Wheel

 

Only a handful of fortunate West Aussies will reward themselves with a 296 this year. So for the rest of us – let's go for a ride:


Settling into the race-formed leather seat, you place the Ferrari key fob in the custom-made slot alongside your left elbow. Set the seat position and steering wheel height.

Foot on the brake and press the ‘Engine Start/Stop’ haptic switch immediately below the central horn button. The dash lights up and lets you know things are working. Press it again - the car hums and clicks as systems start up. The screen confirms you’re ready to roll.


Pull the right-hand gear paddle and press the throttle. The 296 moves away – SILENTLY! You have 25kms and up to 135km/h on tap without so much as a burble from the single cavernous tailpipe.


Stuff this – touch the ‘H’ symbol on the left-hand side eManettino and then tap the checkered flag symbol. Ferrari’s 488kW V6 explodes into life and now you’re cooking. Instantly the throttle response ratchets up to ‘Let’s Go,’ and a true Ferrari is uncloaked.


Touch the "Quali" symbol just above the "H" and the car ratchets up to another level - qualifying mode. The eManettino now deploys everything the hybrid system has at its disposal in tandem with the V6. Instead of the high-voltage battery just supporting the hybrid system, the powertrain will surge all the electric charge to the power unit to deliver maximum performance. In other words, it puts you in orbit. In this mode it is possible to run the battery down, at which point the eManettino reverts to Performance mode and the system recuperates energy quite quickly.


The centre console has the gearbox mode sliding switches. Slide the centre one to ‘M’, hold the left rear window switch so the vertical rear window opens and flick the giant paddles each side of the steering wheel to listen to a rock concert of revs and gears. Or slide it back into “A” and the F1 gearbox will handle it all for you.



Meanwhile, if you have access to the track, and it's not wet! – Try the wild side. Slide the right hand switch to ‘L’ and engage launch control. Footbrake on, throttle jammed hard, brace yourself and release the brake. Wham! A whisker over three seconds later you’ll be exceeding WA’s maximum speed limit. Less than five seconds later you’d be passing 200km/h (in just 107-metres) on the way to a top speed of 330km/h, all the way tingling your spine with the glorious sound of half a V12 Ferrari engine on full song.

 

The Race Version - 296 GT3

WA’s Arise Racing introduced the first two 296 GT3 cars in Australia at Phillip Island in April - lap record in qualifying, fastest laps in both races, and 1st and 2nd place in the first round of the Fanatec GTWCA competition. At the second round at The Bend in South Australia, despite a boost reduction and further 10kg weight penalty, the cars still managed second and third in each of the two races, behind an AMG GT3 and an Audi respectively.

 


 

Model: Ferrari 296 GTS Berlinetta Spider

Price: $668,146; $802,000+ as tested

Engine: 2.9-litre twin turbo V6

Output: 488kW and 425Nm

Electric: 122kW and 315Nm

Combined Output: 610kW and 740Nm

Performance: 0-100km/h – 2.9 secs; 0-200km/h 7.6 secs; maximum >330km/h

Transmission: Ferrari 8-speed F1 tech DCT

Wait List: 18 months+ (subject to level of personalisation).

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