Latest in long line of fabulous Ferraris gains EV ability but loses nothing of its drivability. Another benchmark

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When launching any new model, car makers tend to reference the model being directly replaced. That makes sense because the two cars are usually closely related and comparisons easily drawn. So it’s a mark of just how novel the Ferrari 296 GTB is in the eyes of its maker that the very first car referenced in the official press literature is not the recently retired Ferrari F8 Tributo but a 1500cc Formula 2 car from 1957.

Why would they bring up the Dino 156? Because the little single-seater was the company’s first V6-engined car, and the 296 GTB tested here is the first Ferrari-badged road car to use V6 power. This momentous and legislation-charged step-change in approach comes after decades of mainline mid-engined Ferraris powered exclusively by V8, and cylinder count is only one part of the story. The other is hybridisation. Although the sensational LaFerrari of 2013 marked the moment when Ferrari’s electrification strategy leapt from the racetrack to the road, and the technology was substantially developed with the plug-in hybrid Ferrari SF90 of 2019, the 296 GTB brings electrification to mainstream Ferrari supercars. This is now the way of the world: the 296 GTB already has company in the form of the excellent McLaren Artura and both will soon be joined by Lamborghini’s Huracán replacement, with others to follow.

By-wire braking is becoming common on hybrids and electric cars. Here it gives smooth, consistent feel, used for hiding temperature-induced pressure changes.

But what does all this mean for the would-be Ferrari owner? A threat to that most Ferrari of elements – a soulful powertrain? Extra weight that might drain away some of the handling magic? Exorbitant cost? An onslaught in complexity? Possibly all those things. Or none. Let’s find out.

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Range at a glance

Ferrari offers its new mid-engined model in berlinetta and spider forms, with the spider commanding a premium of nearly £40,000. Both use the same PHEV V6 powertrain and the spider has been tuned and set up to behave identically to the coupé, albeit with 70kg of extra chassis bracing and folding hard-top mechanism to contend with. (It does so very capably indeed.)

Both cars are also available with the Assetto Fiorano kit (called the Fiorano Performance pack in the UK), which adds passive Multimatic dampers, weight-saving panels, a larger rear spoiler and stickier tyres. Even so, expect a track-focused, Pista-style variant at some point. 


Ferrari 296 GTB*

Ferrari 296 GTB Assetto Fiorano819bhp
Ferrari 296 GTS819bhp

*Version tested


02 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 rear corner

While the carburetted V6 in the Dino 156 made 177bhp, the ultra-low-slung, clean-sheet unit in the 296 GTB develops somewhat more. A wide-angle design with its 180,000rpm turbos (smaller but faster-spooling than those of the 710bhp F8 Tributo) sitting within the vee of the cylinders, the 2992cc F163 makes 654bhp and spins to 8500rpm. The 1-6-3-4-2-5 firing order is symmetrical and the unequal-length exhaust manifolds have been designed in part to generate the kinds of high frequencies usually associated with V12 engines. Indeed, ultimate power has been sacrificed to ensure this engine sounds every bit as tuneful as possible, and the 296 GTB also features the latest iteration of Ferrari’s ‘hot tube’, which picks up engine acoustics at points before the exhaust gas treatment equipment and channels them into the cockpit.

Downstream of this compact new V6 – which, Ferrari claims, has the highest specific output of any road car – sits an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox and electronically controlled limited-slip differential. But between the two, you will find a slim axial flux motor that contributes up to 163bhp and, in Qualifying mode, takes the rear-drive 296 GTB’s output to 819bhp.

It’s well hidden but there’s an active Gurney flap that rises between the tail-lights. It can increase downforce over the back axle by 100kg. Also, with no screen to smoothly join the car’s roof and Kamm tail, airflow separation has been mitigated by a slender roof fairing.

Borrowing from F1 parlance, Ferrari refers to this motor as the MGU-K, and as well as considerably dialling up the car’s power and torque reserves, it heightens throttle response and can drive the car alone for up to 15 miles, drawing power from a 7.5kWh battery pack beneath the floor. But this hybrid system also adds weight. Ferrari claims a dry vehicle weight of 1470kg – 35kg more than the V8-engined F8 Tributo, despite the new car’s smaller footprint and two fewer cylinders. Note also that there is still no carbon tub, à la McLaren, whose Artura is almost 100kg lighter than the Ferrari in as-tested form.

The 296 GTB is notable also for having the shortest wheelbase of any mid-engined Ferrari since the 1990s and the driver is duly positioned 14mm closer to the front wheels than they are in the F8 Tributo. The 296 GTB is less visually aggressive than its forebears, too, and the cab-forward silhouette marries well with the Ferrari 250 LM-inspired haunches. Its kerbside presence is surprisingly cultured.   

Under the skin, there’s an arsenal of chassis electronics that precisely control how torque is distributed by the e-diff and how its effects are shed under braking. A new ABS system is also said to offer even better braking performance, and ensures pedal feel remains consistent and appropriate to any situation. Those looking to use their 296 GTB on track can also consider the Assetto Fiorano package, which for nearly £30,000 saves 15kg via an ultra-lightweight Lexan rear screen as well as adding downforce and GT-racing derived Multimatic dampers. Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tyres are also included in the pack, though our 296 GTB wears the more versatile, standard-fit Pilot Sport 4S.


09 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 dashboard

The 296 GTB’s cockpit mirrors that of the more expensive Ferrari SF90, although it isn’t quite so sculptural or spacious. It also feels more conventional than the bubble-like, monocoque-defined confines of the low-scuttled McLaren Artura and Maserati MC20 and lacks the pillbox flamboyance of the Lamborghini Huracán. However, this cabin is refreshingly grown-up in the context of supercars, being ergonomically sound and, aside from one or two questionable chromed elements, of high perceived quality, with some sumptuous leatherwork. This is an environment that deftly treads the line between luxury and sporting cues, and manages to excite without imposing any real inconveniences.

You can, of course, tailor the ambience to your tastes. An Assetto Fiorano-equipped car – with bare carbonfibre door cards, high-sided racing bucket seats, an Alcantara dashboard and LED upshift lights on the steering wheel – will feel considerably more spartan and serious than a tan leather and aluminium specification, but the 296 GTB lands both approaches easily enough.

The chromed gear-select panel supposedly references the open-gate shifters of bygone manual Ferraris but isn’t anything like as romantic. The fob holster is useful.

No matter which path you choose, visibility through the rear screen is superb. And while the driving position could perhaps do with more reach in the steering column, it’s easy to get comfortable and develop that instinctive awareness of precisely where all four corners of the car are at all times.

Drawbacks? Two come to mind. Ferrari’s tendency to put as many controls as possible on the steering continues to grate, especially in light of the utter purity of the Artura’s helm. There’s also very limited cabin storage space, although this goes with the supercar territory, and the 296 GTB does at least have an adequately spacious ‘frunk’, unlike the SF90.

Multimedia system

The current-generation Ferrari models use an entirely digital instrument binnacle consisting of a single, crisp 16.0in display, all of it clearly visible through the steering wheel. To navigate it, you use your thumbs to swipe touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel. It’s not the most intuitive or responsive set-up but scrolling between navigation, media and comms menus becomes easy enough with familiarity.

It’s within these menus that you can also command the 296 GTB to charge its drive battery while on the move, should you want to be more incognito at some later stage of the journey. You can also cycle through three display modes, although the standard layout is best in our opinion, with the rev counter front and centre. (You can choose the background colour, too.)

In the UK, Apple CarPlay is a standard feature, which is good to hear because Ferrari has charged heavily for it in the past. However, Android Auto isn’t available at all. UK cars also come with wireless smartphone charging as standard.


17 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 engine performance

Ferrari hasn’t just incrementally heightened the performance potential of its mid-engined offerings with the shift to hybrid power but executed a quantum leap. A handful of statistics. The 5.1sec it takes the car to hit 100mph is half a second quicker than the time managed by the Ferrari 488 Pista, a track-day special of monstrous speed and aggression. The 1.9sec in which this new Ferrari will lunge from 30mph to 70mph is just one tenth shy of the time recorded by the 987bhp, four-wheel-drive SF90 (also PHEV) and only two-tenths shy of the 1184bhp Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. So yes, mid-range accelerative savagery that was once reserved for the world’s fastest and most expensive car is now available in an ‘entry-level’ V6 Ferrari.

There is breadth and consistency here, too. Sixth gear will propel you all the way from 30mph to 190mph in one unrelenting wave of force, the car taking just 3.0sec to go from 30mph to 50mph and only 2.6sec to surge from 130mph to 150mph. The consistency is truly remarkable.

The enormous gearshift paddles are appropriately dramatic. Note that the aluminium ones are heavier and more satisfying to pull than the carbonfibre ones.

Yet if the scale of the 296 GTB’s performance is outrageous, the integration of the electric element is almost as impressive. The solitary 164bhp motor sandwiched between engine and gearbox provides sharp but natural throttle responsiveness that in combination with fast-spooling turbos gives the 296 GTB a sense of precision and linearity that the excellent old blown Ferrari V8s can’t hope to match.

Boost builds quickly but doesn’t automatically overwhelm the driven wheels with an explosion of torque, which is in part down to some very finely tuned chassis electronics, although the car rarely seems to overly rely on these. Indeed, excellent traction and a sense of predictability are two of the most pleasing attributes of this wildly powerful Ferrari.

The new engine also sounds superb, and not just by the standards of turbocharged V6s. It blends high frequencies with the pneumatic exclamations of forced induction and spins out to 8500rpm almost as if it was atmospheric.

And yet, when you haven’t got the bit between your teeth in the Performance or Qualifying powertrain modes, and you’re not pulling for whip-crack upshifts, the 296 GTB is as easily drivable as any mainstream sports coupé. In Hybrid mode, the car dips in and out of pure-electric driving as necessary, and our only complaint is that the V6 could fire up with marginally less throttle travel at times when you unexpectedly want to get a shift on.


18 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 front corner

Ferrari has cultivated a particular style of free-flowing dynamism in its supercars, and this continues with the 296 GTB, and then some. You might even argue that, with a hybrid-enabled degree of throttle responsiveness not seen since the days of the naturally aspirated Ferrari 458 Italia, along with the latest iteration of Ferrari’s Side Slip Control, the 296 GTB is the most expressive car ever to leave to Maranello, at least in handling terms.

On the road, wearing Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, the chassis exhibits a level of thrilling but manageable on-throttle adjustability that few if any mid-engined cars at any price point can match. This is not a machine whose vast reserves of power need to be treated with almost fearful respect but one whose talents shine when those reserves are untapped generously and often, ideally in the CT Off Manettino setting. And much of the magic of the 296 GTB lies in how easily it instils in its driver the confidence to do just that.

There’s ferocious, mid-range acceleration but the 296 GTB also gives you the confidence to play with its throttle adjustability in corners, or not, as the mood takes you.

The light, electrically assisted rack in the 296 GTB is as quick and delicate as you need it to be but not an iota more. Turn-in is phenomenally cohesive: there’s never any doubt about what the front of the car is going to do, and the manner in which the dynamic hotspot then shifts to the driven rear axle is gloriously seamless.

Granted, true road feel and fluctuations in steering weight are short of what you would experience in a Porsche 911 GT3 or McLaren Artura, and in general the Ferrari plugs you less directly into the road than those cars, filtering your environment more heavily. But the driving controls hardly want for integrity and the throttle and by-wire brake pedals are beautifully calibrated. It’s more slick aristocrat than street fighter but lovable all the same.

So you drive the car mostly on instinct, finding that on autumnal roads front-end grip is excellent, and when it is overcome with either speed or power, there’s the exact same sliver of faint understeer before the car either stabilises or really begins to rotate – the choice is yours. There’s a simple delicacy about the 296 GTB, which overlays playfulness on an almost complete command of pitch, squat and roll. The result is perhaps the most accessible and rewarding supercar experience currently on sale, although there’s depth here, too.

Comfort and isolation

19 Ferrari 296 gtb rt 2023 rear corner 0

There is a case to be made that the 296 GTB has better compliance on British roads than the Ferrari 812 Superfast, which is a V12 super-GT and therefore ought naturally to be the much more fluent car on your typical A-road. On its standard-fit magnetorheological dampers, the new mid-engined car really is as supple as you like, once you’ve activated the car’s softer damper mode. Even if you haven’t, the 296 GTB in general cuts an unflustered figure, remaining in step with the topography of the road but never being a slave to its inconsistencies. And while the Ferrari is no quieter than an Artura at speed, over distance it’s possible to retreat from all the excitement and temporarily forget that you’re embedded inside an extraordinarily quick supercar, which isn’t the case with the McLaren.

If you do intend on using your 296 GTB regularly, carefully consider your choice of seat. The carbon-backed buckets look fabulous but their firmness and lack of lumbar support can take a toll over distance. The regular seats, which cup you almost to perfection, are more than adequate for road driving and are comfortable for hours. Consider also the need for the fixed-rate Multimatic dampers that come with the Assetto Fiorano pack. In truth, they are surprisingly easy company most of the time but punish you over rougher surfaces by transmitting plenty of noise and vibration into the bodyshell.

Track notes

Track notes ferrari 296 gtb rt 2023

For those of us who are not Ferrari factory aces, a quick lap time in the 296 GTB involves switching off the traction control, familiarising yourself as best you can with what 819bhp can do even to ultra-hardcore Cup 2 R tyres operating at optimum temperature and getting comfortable with oversteer, because you will be taming it almost the entire lap.

The combination of an extremely direct front axle and so much power and torque makes this Ferrari easier to rotate than any of its rivals, and while this makes for phenomenal agility and speed, it can be hard to feel fully dialled into the track surface, as happens so naturally with the McLaren Artura. The two cars really are chalk and cheese in this sense.

Get it right and the result is wild pace. The 296 GTB matched our fastest-ever lap – 1min 3.6sec set by the SF90 (with Assetto Fiorano pack). Less weight and understeer, perhaps. 


1 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 Lead Richard Lane

The 296 GTB is priced well in excess of what you will pay for the McLaren Artura or Lamborghini Huracán Tecnica. However, there are some justifications for this, such as the fact that the car’s performance level exists in a stratum above those rivals and owners will get seven years’ servicing included, with no mileage restrictions.

Recent Ferraris have also tended to hold their value very well indeed, which hasn’t always been the case for McLarens. So assuming you can afford to get hold of a 296 GTB in the first place, the true cost of ownership over three to five years may come out favourably. Consider also that the least you will currently pay for a second-hand F8 Tributo – the model the 296 GTB supersedes – remains stubbornly around the £220,000 mark for cars with a high-four-figure mileage.

Don’t feel obliged to option racy seats if you don’t intend on doing track days. They lessen the all-round usability of the car. Elsewhere, less is probably more with carbon interior trim, although the rear diffuser in carbon does look good.

As for usability, this is a supercar that, in more modest specification (so no Assetto Fiorano pack, thank you), one could use day to day without much constraint at all. The capability for all-electric driving gives the 296 GTB a degree of first- and last-mile subtlety of which its predecessors could only dream, and our touring economy of nearly 38mpg shows this talented new V6 can be frugal enough to make touring convenient. A Porsche 911 Turbo or front-engined Ferrari Roma this latest mid-engined Ferrari is not, but with fine visibility and easy drivability, it’s probably the most accessible full-blown supercar money can buy. 


21 Ferrari 296 GTB RT 2023 static

In Formula 1, there’s nothing like a rulebook overhaul to unseat the top dog and this is something they know plenty about in Maranello. In the street car world, grand changes to the playing field aren’t so clear cut but they still happen and superiority shifts. It’s what makes modern Ferrari so inimitably impressive. Since the 458 Italia, the company has been at the top of its game, time and again delivering mid-engined supercars of breadth, soul and unrivalled dynamic exploitability – class leaders all. 

But we’re now in the midst of an F1-grade regulatory shake-up that has obligated the arrival of this plug-in hybrid 296 GTB, with its downsized six-cylinder turbo engine. It takes its maker into an unknown, faintly controversial technological era, and at what cost?

On the basis of this test, little if any. The new car is remarkable. It picks up where the V8 lineage ended, seamlessly blending in the advantages of electrification with precious few of the drawbacks we’d feared. Benign and adaptable but also wildly quick and expressive, the 296 GTB is spectacular to drive and the V6 also sounds stunning. It is usable yet oh so special and its clear manner belies its complexity. Ferrari continues to set the standard.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Ferrari 296 GTB First drives