Chris Harris on the Ferrari 296 GTB: has it rewritten the fast car rulebook? | Top Gear
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Wednesday 29th March

Chris Harris on the Ferrari 296 GTB: has it rewritten the fast car rulebook?

The Ferrari 296 GTB's otherworldly performance is leaving so-called rivals in its wake, says Chris

Published: 30 Jan 2023

I haven’t had the chance to fully eulogise about the Ferrari 296 GTB. It is many of the things we now blithely expect a new Ferrari to be: beautifully developed and offering so much performance you really do wonder how much more any human being could need. But what struck me when I had the car in the UK was how it comprehensively exploded the existing gap between supercar and hypercar. Of course there is no definitive line of demarcation between such random categorisation, but my backside has alway considered it to be the difference between “Crikey, that’s rapid” and “Woah, what just happened there?”

What happens when cars like the 296 appear is they cause geeks like me to stop and rethink what we had assumed were accepted ‘classes’ of cars. This happened to me when I was driving the 296 and following Paddy in the Pagani Huayra BC. Because he was driving something that looked like a livid insect, I assumed it would simply disappear in a straight line. It didn’t.

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What we now have is an ‘entry level’ Ferrari that is as fast as one of the craziest hypercars ever sold. It’s a remarkable reset in the history of fast cars, yet it seems to have passed most people by. Perhaps that’s because these machines are so competent that people expect such things to happen. But I can’t quite get my head around the level of performance a 296 offers. And that leads me to the next thought – how does Ferrari see the world of fast cars looking for the next decade if it has set the initial bar for itself at a tick over 800bhp? The last time I felt like this was when Merc launched the SL55 in 2001. You’ll think that’s a random car to pick, but I remember driving one and thinking, “This car has nearly 200bhp more than anything it is supposed to compete with". The SL55 totally altered what we thought a quick open top GT should be.

These moments always stick with me. The first time I drove a Mitsubishi Evo I just couldn’t fathom how any car could cover ground so quickly. An S2000 spinning beyond 8,500rpm seemed crazy – how was it even possible to offer that car with a warranty? The 996 Turbo S felt like it was ripping the asphalt from under all four wheels – but now would feel utterly pedestrian.

The 296 is even more mind bending than those because, as I’ve said, it isn’t a statement of ultimate performance, it’s the new introductory level from which the company will now build. It’s a car that feels as fast as a LaFerrari. I no longer know what a supercar or a hypercar is – perhaps what the 296 has done is push the categorisation into more subjective areas like noise and the ability to be seen and heard?

It also leaves me concerned for brands who think they rival Ferrari – because right now the gap between Maranello and the rest is at its greatest in the quarter of a century I’ve been testing cars. The Artura is a honey, but plagued with problems and doesn’t have the explosive acceleration, and Aston Martin just isn’t in the same league now. It could take them a long time to catch up. Presently, it doesn’t feel like it will ever happen.

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Ferrari 296 GTB

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