Hot Times in the ‘Piccolo’ V12

Charlie Cooksey spends a couple of hot summer days in Dubai in Ferrari’s 296 convertible – with the top down.

I’m no stranger to Ferrari’s 296GTS and GTB. I am fortunate to have driven this wildly powerful hybrid supercar on many occasions in Bahrain, including on the track.

Recently, I was invited to fly down to Dubai by Ferrari Middle East to spend a weekend of thrills and luxury experiencing the 296GTS and GTB on the roads of the UAE.

Despite having driven the 296 in Bahrain several times, driving a car with that much power on Bahrain’s roads feels somewhat comparable to say the world’s strongest man working out in a basic 3-star hotel gym – so much unusable potential!

In the UAE it’s a different story, with much more road and unchartered territory. And, with all Dubai’s glitz and glamour, Ferrari’s just seem to look better there.

The difference between the GTB and GTS, by the way, is simply that the B means Berlinetta while the S means Spider, and the Spider is a convertible while the Berlinetta is not. 

The plan was to have the 296 GTS one day, and the GTB the other. But plans changed and I instead had the 296 GTS over both days. I was happy about this because I personally feel like everything is better in a drop-top.

The 296 is a mid-engine, plug-in hybrid sports car that was unveiled in April 2021. It is the first plug-in hybrid Ferrari to go into production, and it is also the first Ferrari to feature a V6 engine since the Dino 246 GTS of the 1970s.

It’s powered by a 2.9L twin-turbocharged V6 engine and an electric motor. The combined output of the two powertrains is 819 horsepower and 546 lb-ft of torque. This allows it to accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in just 2.9 seconds and from 0 to 320 kph in 7.3 seconds.

Despite its impressive performance, the 296 is relatively fuel-efficient. It can also travel up to 24 kilometres on electric power alone.

In addition to its performance and efficiency, the 296 GTS is a beautiful car. It has a sleek and aerodynamic design that is both elegant and aggressive. The interior is also well-appointed, with high-quality materials and finishes throughout.

Despite Ferrari’s regularly coming up with new names for their vehicles, there’s a method, albeit irregular, to their numbering. For example, the 296 is named for its 2.9 litre V6 engine while the 812 Superfast, for example, is named using a different criteria which is for its 800 horsepower V12 (and yes, it’s super-fast).

The continuous mechanical and technological improvements Ferrari make to their cars are beyond impressive. To think, the 296’s ‘little’ engine (which Ferrari call a Piccolo V12) kicks out more horsepower than the 812’s V12! Insane! This is all down to Ferrari’s clever hybrid technology.

So how is the car? Well, if you’ve followed me or my publications over the last year, you’ll know I’m a raving fan of the prancing horse’s plug-in hybrid baby from Maranello.

Roof up or down, the GTS feels grounded, stiff and controlled when driving. It’s a supercar by every metric yet so comfortable, smooth and refined to drive. Shifting through the gears up or down, handling and braking were so incredibly well refined and responsive. It’s a very easy car to drive and an incredible piece of engineering.

The car sounds marvellous thanks to clever engineering and tuning. When it roars it gets a lot of attention.

I took the 296 to an open and remote location where I could test the launch control. I switched off the traction control, flicked on race mode, thrashed the throttle and I was ‘off to the races’.  The 296 will launch you to 100 km/hr in just 2.9 seconds. Wild.

I perhaps pushed the drop-top fun a little far  – despite being scorching hot I took a 2-hour spin around Dubai with the roof down the whole time. It left my face with a strong touch of red. You don’t feel the heat so much when driving at speed, but you sure do when you have to stop at lights or are in slow-moving traffic.

The roof is beautifully designed and retracts in a smooth 14 seconds, and this can be done whilst driving at slow speeds  – so no need to stop.

There is a fully electric mode which I tested a couple of times, but let’s be honest, that’s not the most exciting thing about the car.

Verdict; this is one of my favourite Ferraris that I have driven to date. It’s a real driver’s car – stylish, highly refined, and ultra-sexy. Would I call it a daily driver? Personally; no. I’d get uncomfortable climbing in and out of it, but compared to other Ferrari’s it’s one of the most comfortable – even in the stiffest ‘Race Mode’ chassis setting.

To arrange your own test drive in Bahrain, contact Ferrari Bahrain at +973 1773 4734

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