A ferocious sun hung proudly above the vast blue sky with not a single cloud in sight. The ball of fire blazed mercilessly onto the inhabitants below, leaving those who stood outdoors at the Sepang International Circuit more uncomfortable than balmy.
There was a hum of silence on the race track, a rare occurrence that brings forth a mild suspicion that something was not quite right. After all, the Sepang circuit is a hub for motorsports and adrenaline-driven events. Thunderous roars suited it far better. But it was obvious that the silence that befell the observers was laden with anticipation.
Just as the quiet seemed to stretch a little too long, a rakish red vehicle zipped across the track, tearing through the silence with the deafening sound of its six-cylinder engine. Exhilaration filled the air, the kind that sends shivers down your spine and makes your hair stand on end. The bystanders — journalists who had flown in from all over Southeast Asia — agreed that the Ferrari 296 GTB looked right at home on the track.
The 296 GTB is the latest evolution of Maranello’s mid-rear-engined two-seater berlinetta, which aims to redefine the concept of fun behind the wheel. The car’s name, which combines its total displacement (2,992L) and number of cylinders (six) is coupled with the Gran Turismo Berlinetta acronym. It introduces a spanking-new 663cv 120° V6 engine, incorporated with a plug-in electric motor capable of unleashing a massive 830cv of power. This marks the Italian marque’s first road car to be equipped with a beastly six-cylinders.
We were able to take the Prancing Horse for a spin, but not without appreciating its design up close first. The 296 GTB is sporty, modern and compact, partly because of its short wheelbase. Its muscular mudguards, visor roof, flying buttresses and brand-new vertical rear screen give it a powerful sense of volume while maintaining a sinuous and sculpted silhouette. Teardrop-shaped headlights are set into the front of the car while a clear, strong crease line runs along the doors and melds with the large air intakes. A truncated tail, which incorporates a horizontal element that encloses its rear lights and integrated spoiler, enhances its compactness.
The 296 GTB’s driver-focused cockpit was developed around the new concept of an entirely digital interface, which Ferrari debuted on the SF90 Stradale. While, with the SF90 Stradale, the designers wanted to highlight the presence of the advanced technology and underscore a clear break from the past, in the case of the Ferrari 296 GTB, the idea was to clothe that technology in a sophisticated way. One touch of a button is all it takes for the digital components to spring to life, framing the steering wheel and instrument cluster, which taper seamlessly into the dashboard.
Under the guidance of a professional driver, we familiarised ourselves with the track and car. As much as the vehicle suited the environment, the 296 GTB is also made for day-to-day driving. In electric-only eDrive mode, the car can reach speeds of up to 135kph without resorting to its internal combustion engine; in Hybrid mode, the ICE backs up the electric motor when higher performance is required. The transition between the two driving modes is managed very fluidly and can be toggled with the push of a button.
After testing out the different modes, we kicked the car into high gear. If you must know, the 296 GTB goes from zero to 100kph in 2.9 seconds. Crucial to achieving this result was the introduction of the 120° Vee configuration, which offers more space between the cylinder banks so the turbos could be installed centrally. This reduces the unit’s overall size as well as the distance the air has to travel to arrive at the combustion chamber.
“Trust the car and trust yourself,” our instructor advised. Two laps in, we gritted our teeth, put the pedal to the metal and maxed the accelerator, hitting well over 200km in a matter of seconds. White knuckles and sweaty palms aside, the Ferrari feels cheerfully stable no matter how high the numbers climbed, and it did so linearly. The LaFerrari-inspired active spoiler integrated into the rear bumper plays a big role in that; it allows the car to generate a high level of rear downforce when required. The brakes deserve a mention too — they possess tremendous stopping power so you always retain a sense of control, especially at sharp corners.
The 296 GTB also revs like a dream. It harmoniously combines two characteristics that are normally diametrically opposed: the force of the turbos and the harmony of the high-frequency notes of a naturally aspirated V12. As such, even at low revs, the soundtrack features the pure V12 orders of harmonics inside the cabin. At higher revs, that unmistakable high-frequency treble resounds.
Driving the super coupe feels most intuitive and approachable, not to mention exploitable when pushed to the limit. It can be noiseless when it needs to be or deafening when the situation calls for it. But if you want to experience the vehicle at its utmost power, there is the Assetto Fiorano package to consider, which ups the aero content while reducing the weight.
The Ferrari 296 GTB is available from a base price of RM1,228,000. Contact the Ferrari Malaysia Showroom at 03 7956 8599 for details.
This article first appeared on July 25, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.