2023 Ferrari 296 GTS Review: An Open-Top Supercar Stunner

Don't fear the hybrid V6. Maranello's latest speed machine is every bit what a Ferrari should be.

ferrari 296 gtb
Will Sabel Courtney

It's not every day that a new model of Ferrari rolls into the showroom. Granted, the company's push into limited-run variants and new categories certainly means it's sending more new metal out the door than in the past, but at its core, the brand still focuses on a quartet of categories: front-engined V12 supercars like the 812 Superfast; front-engined four-seat gran turismos like the GTC4Lusso and the don't-call-it-an-SUV Purosangue that's replacing it; front-engined eight-cylinder grand tourers such as the Roma and Portofino; and mid-engined, V8-powered super sports cars like the F8 Tributo and Spider.

For many, it's the latter that come first to mind when the idea of a Ferrari springs forth. For decades ever since the 308 GTB first hit the streets in 1975, they've been the tip of the spear for the line — more affordable than the 12-cylinder supercars, but also in many cases edgier and more relatable to the legions of fans who aspired to F-car ownership, or were just getting their first taste for the brand. Besides, nothing says supercar like a mid-engined design, and few carmakers have mastered that shape like Ferrari.

After more than four decades of these mid-mounted eight-pot-powered models serving as one of the pillars of Maranello's Parthenon, though, 2022 saw the arrival of a major change in the land of mid-engine Ferraris. The 296 GTB coupe and 296 GTS roadster have the wild looks and wild specs expected of such a machine...but the contents of the engine bay are quite the change.

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What makes the Ferrari 296 GTS special?
ferrari 296 gtb
Will Sabel Courtney

Well, it's a Ferrari, so that already makes it pretty special right from the get-go. More than that, it's a mid-engined Ferrari — the latest in a line of cars that have helped define the brand, as mentioned. But even by F-car standards, the 296 GTS (and its hardtop 296 GTB twin) are special. The 296 is only the second production Ferrari in history to offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain: first came the all-wheel-drive V8 PHEV SF90 speed machine revealed three years ago, and now, the 296. Combining a low-mounted 7.45-kW lithium-ion battery and a rear-mounted 224-hp electric motor, the electrified end of the system can both enable 15 miles of silent running at speeds of up to 83 mph and boost the power and responses of the internal combustion heart.

Perhaps more shocking, at least for the Ferrari faithful, is the gas engine part of that PHEV system: Ferrari's first production car V6. (The Dino models of yore used V6 engines, but they were technically never Ferraris.) It's a 120º-vee, twin-turbocharged six-pot; Ferrari calls it "la piccolo V12," or "the small V12," in an effort to differentiate it from the legions of lesser V6s in the automotive marketplace. Of course, Maranello could also just lean on the fact that it's one of the most power-dense engines in the car world today; its 2,992 cubic centimeters punch out a stunning 654 horses, should you rev it to 8,000 rpm. (Don't worry — the redline is 8,500.)

Add it all up, and the 296 GTS makes a maximum of 819 horsepower and 546 lb-ft of torque — all of which heads solely to the rear wheels.

Wait, can you explain the name real quick?
ferrari 296 gts
Will Sabel Courtney

Ferrari's naming conventions tend to hop around like the one-legged grasshopper who wound up stowing aboard the car during my drive through Tuscany. Sometimes the brand picks a number based on engine displacement, cylinder count, cylinder displacement, or something else entirely; sometimes they pick a name based on a place, or on a statement of purpose, or just make an acronym; and sometimes they just throw their hands in the air and put the model's name first, or just call a car something like "The Ferrari The Ferrari."

Here's how the name of the 296 GTS breaks down:

296 is a blend of 29, which refers to the engine's displacement in deciliters — in other words, 2.9 liters, although it really ought to be rounded up to 3.0 — and 6, which refers to the number of cylinders.

GTS is an abbreviation of Gran Turismo Spider. Gran Turismo refers to the car's purpose as a road-oriented vehicle, rather than one made primarily for track or competition use; Spider, as many a car fan will know, means it's a convertible, which is a tradition that actually dates back to the days of horse-drawn carriages, when such topless, sporty rides with thin-rimmed wheels resembled spindly arachnids enough for (possibly drunk) 19th Century onlookers to say, "Hey, that looks like a spider."

What's the 296 GTS like to drive?
ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

You may need to invent some new swear phrases to properly express what the 296 feels like from behind the wheel. "Christ on a cracker" was mine. With more ponies on tap than a Dodge Challenger Redeye and a curb weight around 3,600 pounds — one literal 800-pound gorilla than said Dodge — it'd be easy to expect the 296 GTS to be all but uncontrollable, at least by mortals. But the engineers at Ferrari are the automotive equivalent of the dwarves of Nidavellir; they build weapons that not just defy physics, but turn people into gods simply by touching them.

To go full power-of-Thor, click the manettino dial on the steering wheel that controls the whip-smart stability control systems to Race or CT Off, dial the e-manettino in charge of the powertrain settings to Qualify, and click the right paddle to engage manual shifting. The first move releases enough enough slack into the computer's reigns to allow just enough slip to play, but not so much as to spoil the party; the second move uncorks full power from the powertrain, and the third makes you fully involved in the experience. The eight-speed dual clutch gearbox is smart enough to make its own choices, but unless you're going for a lap time, it's far more fun to use the giant carbon-fiber paddles to click through the gears yourself.

Floor the gas, and the power hits like a miracle. There's barely any slip or spin, no sense of the car fighting to control all that energy; it just goes, faster than common sense would have you believe. It’s hard to believe any car can put this kind of power down so well through two wheels on street tires. Sure, that's the same thought I've had after driving Ferrari's 812 and F8, but it still manages to startle every time.

The combination of the electric motor, the twin turbos and the 8,500-rpm redline gives this powertrain a feeling unlike most; practically instantaneous response at almost any engine speed, with acceleration that just keeps on giving and giving as revs rise and the power keeps on coming. The off-the-line performance is as insane as you'd expect — Ferrari's claimed 2.9-second 0-62-mph time feels very achievable — but it's almost more astonishing to drop the 'box down a gear or two then slam the gas at speed, where the full tractability of the power system can be revealed and the V6's engine note — in some ways validating that piccolo V12 nickname with its cry — can be savored.

And the fun keeps going when the turns come, too. The short-ratio steering rack is made for tight, winding roads; you'll practically never need to shuffle your hands around for a better grip, because you can make just about every bend with your mitts still at 9 and 3. There's plenty of feedback and information through the wheel, which is good, because considering the amount of speed it can carry through any curves in the road, you'll want to know as much as you can — and react quickly if need be.

Push too hard through a turn, though, and the result is surprisingly gentle oversteer — a bit of opposite lock brings it back into line and leaves you giggling at the concept of catching slides in a rear-wheel-drive car closing in on the potency of the first Bugatti Veyron. There may be quicker cars on a track, but not many that can beat the 296 on the street — and fewer still that will make the drive feel quite so engaged with the process. It’s a drug, pure and simple — one you crave before you use it, and even more afterwards.

ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

The brakes are by-wire — there's no physical connection between the pedal and the pads under normal circumstances, just a computer and some wires telling the brakes how much to activate based on how hard you press the left pedal. But you'd never suspect it, based on their feel; it feels as natural as a traditional, mechanical system. It's hard not to wonder if Ferrari's engineers got some of Lockheed Martin's drunk one night and picked their brains about how they make fly-by-wire work in fighter jets.

While there are four modes in total for the e-manettino — eDrive, Hybrid, Performance and Qualify — you really only need concern yourself with #2 and #4. In Hybrid, the car defaults to electric drive unless you really poke the throttle hard, so unless you're creeping home and absolutely need to guarantee you won't wake your parents up, there's little need for eDrive. And Performance mode actually limits a bit of the total output of the system in the name of battery efficiency, whereas Qualify gives you the full welly of 819 horses. (And for what it's worth, I found an hour of fast driving in Qualify was still able to completely recharge an almost-empty battery.)

Tooling around town or on the highway in Hybrid mode, the 296 GTS reveals itself to be a docile cruiser. When the gas engine comes alive at low speeds, it kicks in hard, the tach jumping straight from zero to around 3,000 rpm — presumably, assuming that if you need the gas engine, you really need it. But that gas engine does stay quiet more than you might expect, at least until the battery's limited range runs out; the e-motor has more than enough poke for 90 percent of around-town tasks, and it can indeed carry the car along at 80-plus mph.

Honestly, the biggest issue with tooling around town in Hybrid might be the occasional disappointment on the faces of those around you. Cruising down the street shortly after picking up the car, I passed an Italian man who made the international "make some noise" signal as I went. I hope he didn't take offense to the fact that my Italian icon cruised by in silence instead.

Are there any downsides to going convertible with this Ferrari?
ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

There really aren't. Ferrari's designers worked hard to make sure that even the elegant curved glass that provides a glimpse of the engine wasn't lost to the needs of the stowable folding hard top. It'll flip up and down at speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, so you needn't fear getting caught in flagrante delicto with the top half-folded at a green light. And with it up, it looks all but identical to the hardtop 296 GTB from most angles.

I spent my time driving with the top down, because, well, that's what you're supposed to do in roadsters. (Unless it's precipitating or so hot you absolutely need the A/C, a convertible top should always be down while driving. Fight me on this, I dare you.) At 80 mph on the highway, the wind roar is loud enough to make conversation a bit strained, but that's easily rectified by raising the windows.

What's the 296 GTS like inside?
ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

While the powertrain may be revolutionary for a series production car from Maranello, the interior is much more familiar to anyone who's sampled the brand's other cars — especially the newest models, like the Roma, where screens and touch-sensitive electronic pads have replaced physical displays and control is most cases. It's a stylish, driver-focused cabin, with elegant flowing lines and everything in its place. (One caveat: don't opt for light color stitching or contrast leather on the dash unless you like seeing its reflection on the road ahead in the windshield.)

The 296 GTS is a strict two-seater; any bags, gear or other accoutrements too big to go below your passenger's legs will need to be dropped into the frunk, which is large enough to hold a couple good-sized backpacks or small-to-midsize carry-on bags. There is, however, a very sizable cupholder, so there's no need to cut that large-iced-coffee habit in the name of Ferrari life.

As with most Ferraris (indeed, most fast Italian cars), my six-foot-four frame feels as though it's on the edge of the driver parameters the car was designed for. Legroom is at a premium; even with the seat as far back as possible, my knees remained bent the entire time; after a couple hours in the saddle, stretch breaks became required. The sharp-looking racing seats in a car outfitted with the track-focused Assetto Fiorano package provided a bit more legroom while still feeling comfortable overall; that said, I only tried them for a minute while the car was still. (Another journalist who spent a few hours driving that car found the seats a bit harsh, so, y'know, try before you buy.)

ferrari 296 gtb
Will Sabel Courtney

Infotainment duties are handled not by a central screen as in most modern automobiles, but by the all-glass instrument panel, which enables the driver to cycle audio, navigation and car data through small, medium and large viewing slots on both sides of the tachometer, which defaults to a digital recreation of the analog gauge that's defined the view of Ferrari drivers for decades. (There's also a full-screen mode that blows up the nav to fill the entire instrument panel, and a racing mode with a more modern track-focused layout, but any design other than the good-old-fashioned center-mounted tach just feels heretical.)

The steering wheel still maintains some physical controls, thankfully; the shift paddles, volume and tuning buttons, turn signals and wiper controls, among others. But fiddling with the nav, radio or anything else on that central screen requires using a track pad and associated capacitive buttons on the 3 o'clock spoke of the wheel. It's a reasonably intuitive system, once you get used to it — it reacts quickly and precisely, and having it right below the screen in your eyeline makes it feel more efficient — but it still would be easier to use if it were controlled by hard buttons, rather than a touch-sensitive pad.

What does the Ferrari 296 compete against?
ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

Taken somewhat narrowly — i.e. "other plug-in hybrid mid-engined V6-powered exotic sports cars" — the 296 GTB and GTS's obvious competitor would seem to be McLaren's Artura, which is also new for 2022, and packs a very similar powertrain. That said, dive a bit deeper, and differences arise; the Artura is McLaren's entry-level model, priced significantly lower than the Ferrari and packing 148 fewer horses. (The Artura also doesn't come in a droptop version yet, although that seems more or less guaranteed.)

Viewed more broadly in the realm of one-third-million-dollar super sports cars, however, the 296 GTB and GTS have a fair number of potential rivals. The Lamborghini Huracan remains an alluring naturally-aspirated counterpart to the future-facing Ferrari, while McLaren's more traditional 720S is also a strong contender even five years on. And, of course, there's no denying the pull of Porsche's 911 Turbo S, which delivers comparable performance for two-thirds the price.

And, for folks who might still have difficult with the idea of a hybrid V6 in their Ferrari, there's still the F8, at least for a brief while longer. But if you might be leaning that way yourself, well, I'd highly recommend reconsidering. The 296 GTS doesn't feel at all like a compromise in the name of tomorrow; it feels like the perfect next step in Ferrari's journey.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a Powerball ticket.

2023 Ferrari 296 GTS
ferrari 296 gtb convertible in blue

Base Price: ≈$350,000

Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 + electric motor & 7.5-kW battery; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 819

Torque: 546 lb-ft

Fuel Economy: Better than you'd expect, but let's face it, you also won't care

Seats: Two


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ferrari 812 gts george washington bridge
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