Five-star road test verdicts are not normally awarded to cars merely outstanding in their class, though the Ferrari 296 GTB is absolutely that. To earn full marks, said car usually needs to move the game on in some meaningful way, or redefine the class parameters.
Quite evidently, this is another box the new ‘entry-level’ mid-engine supercar from Maranello emphatically ticks. It’s already an all-time great.
A bit of context. If we cast our minds back to our first taste of the four-wheel drive SF90 Stradale super-cum-hypercar in 2021, the experience was one of slack-jawed wonder at the 986bhp pace of thing laced with disappointment at the undertones of weight and faint handling inertness, but also with hope because the integration of its two electric motors was so damn seamless. It was a complex car in terms of both concept and driving sensations, with a notable lack of practical appeal.
Most road testers felt that if Ferrari could ask less for something similar to the SF90 but more versatile in its abilities and purely rear-driven – therefore expressing the same on-demand dynamism found in the 488 GTB and 458 Italia before it – it could have an extraordinary machine on its hands.
The 296 GTB is that car. With 819bhp at its disposal, it matched the SF90 Stradale’s record-breaking road-test lap time at MIRA, which is in itself remarkable, though also something of an irrelevance. This plug-in hybrid supercar is about so much more than raw speed. The linearity of the new twin-turbocharged V6 is revelatory and is matched by the consistency and fluidity of the handling.
And while we’re certain many owners will come to love the ability to flick their 296 GTB into near-silent, all-electric running at the touch of a button, the real genius of the car’s novel hybridisation is the way in which electrons and hydrocarbons act as one.
The new V6 is already demonically responsive and so shapely for something heavily blown, but electric power covertly fills any holes in the delivery while also, very naturally, augmenting the performance at your disposal.
The car’s real achievement is that it allows its driver to forget about all the complicated calibration and multiple sources of propulsion. You can intuitively steer the 296 GTB on the throttle, reach for the 8500rpm heights of the engine without feeling reckless, and it's as broadly usable as any supercar has ever been. It disguises the mass of its battery pack better than does the McLaren Artura, and it rides more silkily than a Porsche 911 GT3. Quite simply, it is now the benchmark in the supercar class.