It is hard to be objective and practical about cars like the Ferrari 296 GTB, but it’s part of my job to view things with a neutral perspective. Sports cars are quite impractical, considering India’s road conditions. They are low-slung, which means large speed breakers and/or potholes are an issue. They also have a taut chassis with firm suspensions to handle well, which means a hard ride. They seat mostly two persons. Still, it is hard not be completely drawn in. They light a fire in your belly and spark love in your soul. They tug at your heartstrings with their performance, open your wallet with how they look and make you feel like a superhero when you are behind the wheel.
The Ferrari 296 GTB is not only all that, but also one of the most practical sports cars I have driven. Intrigued? Well, so was I.
I set off from the Ferrari showroom at Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in search of a short stretch of empty road. Trundling through the traffic and the under-construction roads, the first thing that strikes me is the silence I move away in. There is no snorting exhaust at start-up. The 296 GTB is a plug-in hybrid with two electric motors responsible for this silent getaway. You can run up to 25km on electric power alone. Silent Ferrari? Don’t jump to conclusions just yet.
Those electric motors also provide an additional boost, so there is no turbo lag and immediate power on tap. Sound? I will come to all that in just a bit, but there is another surprise for now.
The ride quality is way better than I expected. I quickly looked down at the Mannatino ( dial) on the F1-like steering wheel and turned it one notch up, hoping to move from comfort to sport, but I was already in sport, and then it went to race. I dial it back to sport, impressed that this ride is quite comfy over the moonscape I am driving on. Luckily, the AC is cooling me down efficiently as I battle the BKC traffic. Sitting one storey lower than everyone else on the road, I can see all the heads turning around me. Phone cameras are clicking away, and I feel like a superstar. Of course, it is the 296 GTB that’s creating the buzz. It is drop-dead gorgeous. The rear haunches flaring out, with those massive air intakes I can see in my rear-view mirror, the bonnet dropping away from me. The tail flicks upwards, and the swoopy lines flow seamlessly from one end to another. It is stare-worthy. The heart is breathing gently, lying under the glass and mesh cover at the back. The deep shade of navy with bright yellow accents and yellow callipers has a more understated appeal than a bright red Ferrari.
On the first short stretch of empty road, I pin my foot to the floor. The engine kicks in with a raspy growl, I get pinned to the back of my seat, my heart slams into my rib cage, and there is a wide grin on my face.
The 3.0 litre V6, combined with the electric motors, produces a whopping 830 hp and 740 NM of adrenalin-inducing torque.
Every short spurt I get, my foot is flat to the floor, and the view through the windows is a blur in seconds. The beauty of all of this is how usable it is with all the power. It can serve up heart-stopping performance, and battling traffic is easy as well, with the electric power cutting in at low rpms. This also means the 296 GTB fuel efficiency figures at 27.7 kmpl, making it more efficient than a Maruti Swift. I race from one end of the town to the other in spurts of silence and hard, growly acceleration, wishing for an empty German autobahn to truly unleash the full potential of this car.
As I ride back to the showroom, cocooned in a luxurious cabin, which is cool and comfy, I wish I had a short stretch of winding road to enjoy this car. I do not doubt the drive would have been genuinely engaging with the responsive, meaty steering. But honestly, I have done a drive that probably most of its owners would do. The ride has already notched up brownie points, and the drivability some more. The true test lies ahead of me: a mountain of a speed breaker. I gingerly edge over it, especially since I feel like I am sitting on the road. The Ferrari sails over it with aplomb; the next one, I am a little braver, not going sideways, and it still goes over easily. I am truly impressed.
The 296 GTB scores big on every count. It’s a sports car that will thrill you to your bones with its performance but is not too hard-edged over the Indian roads. It clears all the obstacles with ease and, honestly, negates all those impractical arguments. All good things come at a price, and the Ferrari 296 GTB starts at ₹5.4 crore.
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine
Electric power: 167hp
Max power: 830hp
Fuel efficiency: 27.7 kmpl
Price: ₹5.4 crore onwards
Renuka Kirpalani is consulting editor, Autocar India. Write to us at email@example.com