Jazz legend Miles Davis once said that in music, silence is more important than sound. Ferrari could embody that approach in its cars. Its appearance evokes silent awe and the distinctive sound of the engine is its most unique feature. The Italian company calls it “audio harmonics”. Sitting between a high-pitched whine and a throaty rumble, it combines both fury and finesse, rising and falling as the car moves. What would happen to the audio harmonics was the biggest question when Ferrari announced it would make a V-6 electric hybrid car, the 296 GTB. Would the Ferrari Sound be affected? The good news is that the electric motor sounds just as nice after riding.
Today, hybrid and electric motors have leveled the playing field between premium luxury cars and high-performance sports cars, but the million-dollar question is what happens to supercars, which combine speed, performance and luxury, when their ICE engineering advantage is harnessed away.
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For Ferrari, which has been the mainstay of pure sports car performance, given its pedigree and multiple F1 wins, nothing has changed. The new 296 GTB (Gran Turismo Berlinetta) reinforces this with its appearance and combines sex appeal with futuristic engineering and technical dynamism. The design is all curves and aerodynamic spheres in midnight blue as opposed to the Ferrari red. It has a shorter wheelbase, a body that looks like it was cut from a single block, and a new engine compartment under transparent 3D glass. The rear has enclosed lights and an integrated spoiler, and is much smoother and more elongated than its counterparts. The headlights are sharper and more jewel-like, a break from the past when they resembled teardrops, and are located next to the air intakes for the brakes.
Step inside the 296 GTB’s cockpit whose scissor-style doors open and the driver is clad in sumptuous Alcantara and leather, minimalistic blends of chrome and plastic, and an all-digital interface and display first seen in the Ferrari SF 90 Stradale. Not a millisecond inside feels cluttered, confusing, or intimidating. As small and narrow as the seats are, they are large enough for reasonably fit passengers.
The refined leather steering wheel, smooth enough to be used for Mont Blanc briefcases, rests on paddle shifters (an F1-derived feature) and features a bright yellow Prancing Horse logo in the center. Surrounding it are a dozen controls that are cleverly spaced and easy to read. For the uninitiated, looking for a start-stop button, which sits on the steering wheel at 6 o’clock.
The hybrid V-6 engine needs charging when not being driven, and while this is the first time Ferrari has gone so small and so light in weight, there has been no shortage of power or performance. Surprisingly, he manages to produce a heartbeat of over 800 horsepower. That’s more than the Lamborghini Huracan, which has 600 horsepower to power its drivetrain. Styled like a two-door coupe, the rear-wheel drive 296 GTB has a three-litre engine that may not seem to perform until it’s driven. In hybrid electric mode you can drive up to 135 km/h and in ICE mode up to 330 km/h. Due to the hybrid character, the fuel-conscious consumer achieves an average mileage of about 15 kilometers per litre.
To the powertrain: You can drive the 296 GTB like an EV, which is really the point of a hybrid as it gives you that zero-emission advantage in cities where it’s needed.
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The hybrid mode is for normal everyday driving, and the other ICE modes allow you to give all the power and driveability while the battery runs out. Start the 296 GTB and it booms to life and feels bonded to the tarmac with glue-like traction. The controls are thick but like a squash racket, a reference to Italian craftsmanship that constantly tries to combine form and function. On the road, even early acceleration clears up any doubts about performance. It’s surprising and powerful, but never terrifying like some older sports cars.
The balance in handling is excellent, as is the steerability. Look at a lane and you’re there, think pulling into a corner and it’s easier done than you think, all with rock solid grounding and plenty of power to boot. There is no rolling or pitching or feeling of instability. On the straights, the 296 springs into action smoothly, gliding as if the roads were made of ice. Is it the prancing horse logo, the V6 800 horsepower engine or the feeling that tells me I can race past anything in front of me? It’s all three.
Ferrari is one of the few car manufacturers to have a dedicated professional race track for testing. The Pista di Fiorano is a 1.86 mile circuit designed to test a vehicle’s chassis, braking and other capabilities. An enthusiast once remarked that the difference between Ferraris and any other sports car was this: the others were in the style of road cars, built and tuned to drive like Formula 1 cars, while Ferraris were Formula 1 cars designed to look like Formula 1 cars. to see and drive like everyday street cars. cars. There is another nuance: all Ferraris are made with unique features that will no longer be available in a few years. This makes them both collectible and unique, even individualistic.
The 296 GTB, one of 10 cars sold by the Italian marque, was launched worldwide late last year and is likely to remain in production for a few more years before giving way to other V6 derivatives or going all-electric.
As I drove back to the Mumbai dealership to return the car, I was told the Ferrari could be heard miles away, all thanks to those unmistakable harmonics.
As Enzo Ferrari, who founded the company in 1939, once said, “Death will destroy my body, but my creatures will live on for years to come.”
Pavan Lall is a Mumbai-based journalist and author of Forging Mettle: Nrupender Rao and the Pennar Story.