Can certain supercar makers get away with offering an engine that isn’t an event in its own right?
Undoubtedly, but Ferrari isn’t one of them. You might therefore have reservations about the 296 GTB, driven here for the first time in the UK. This is a car whose hybridisation and 250 LM-inspired design are big talking points but not the big talking point, which is the engine: never before has a mere V6 found a home inside an official Ferrari road car.
In cold terms, it represents something of a downgrade from the V8 configuration the company has used for its mid-engined mainstays since 1973. More to the point, when was the last time anyone gave us an outstanding V6, Alfa Romeo’s Busso aside?
There are other non-trivial concerns. Compared with the Ferrari F8 Tributo it indirectly replaces, the 296 GTB is 35kg heavier, despite its fewer cylinders. The steering has also morphed from electrohydraulic assistance (an attribute retained for the McLaren Artura) to electromechanical, which is generally regarded as being less feelsome. Because of the need to integrate the retardation potential of an electric motor at the rear axle, braking is now by wire, too.
Finally, unlike Maserati and McLaren, Ferrari still refuses to use a carbonfibre monocoque, which is something you might reasonably expect for £240,000 before even the box for £2880 upshift LEDs is ticked. On paper, all this leaves the 296 GTB looking less evocative than its predecessors; less Ferrari. Yet this is possibly also the most complete supercar ever made.
We say only ‘possibly’ because our test car – dolled up in Rosso Corsa and Baby Blue in tribute to the Maranello Concessionaires, take it or leave it –has the £25,920 Assetto Fiorano package. Along with some extra aerodynamic appendages, a lighter engine cover (made from polycarbonate rather than glass) and carbonfibre door cards, it brings the magnetorheological fixed-rate dampers used by the Ford GT and in sports car racing.
These are serious dampers, requiring serious speeds to hit their sweet spot, and otherwise give the 296 GTB the kind of sinewy, reactive ride that, if never outright brittle, feels only just on the right side of abrupt. Porsche 911 GT3 owners will know this level of intensity. However, GT3-ophiles aren’t able to opt for a softer suspension set-up. My hunch would be to leave Multimatic’s very special dampers in the box, although only another test of this Ferrari in its basic form will confirm the benefits of doing so.