Powerful Vehicles by Design
Ferrari 296 GTB
First things first: The Ferrari 296 GTB is a stunning car, an absolute rolling work or art, inside and out. The sheer sophistication of the powertrain is balanced by the styling of this mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car. The proportions are brilliant and the compact footprint of the car evokes the 1963 250 LM, considered one of the most coveted Ferrari models of all time.
It’s no real surprise, then, that the Ferrari design team, captained by Flavio Manzoni, walked away with a coveted Red Dot Design Award for their work on the 296 GTB. In their assessment of the work, the jury had this to say: “The design of the 296 GTB with hybrid drive redefines the mid-rear-engined berlinetta and gives it a modern look.” Exactly so, the car is masterful execution in mechanical form.
But that’s just the start because the 296 GTB is also an uncontested thrill ride, the latest in a growing line of hybrid Ferrari performance cars that are incredibly fun and remarkably easy to drive. Speed around a track in the 296 GTB, as we did at Circuito Monteblanco in Spain, and you quickly come to appreciate two things. First, the car has the wherewithal to make you look like a genuine star. Second, push a little bit harder and you quickly understand that the weak link in the driver-car chain is not the car.
For the record, the 296 GTB features a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine, an electric motor, a 6.0-kWh battery pack, an 8,500 rpm redline, and 819 total system hp. The most extreme of purists might gripe about a Ferrari with a V-6 engine or a hybrid system or a combination of both. My advice: These people should sit this one out.
The 296 GTB is prodigiously quick; the sprint to 60 mph takes just 2.9 seconds. It’s also ridiculously fast, with an estimated top speed of 205 mph. And it sounds fantastic—so good, in fact, the Ferrari brain trust refer to the hybrid engine as il piccolo V-12 or “the little V-12.”
To round things out, with the e-manettino switch on the F1-inspired steering wheel set to eDrive, the Ferrari 296 GTB has an all-electric driving range of just over 15 miles. This is more than enough to slip through the typical Spanish town unnoticed. Or, that is, unnoticed until people get a look at the car in all its glory. From $333,255; ferrari.com
Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II
Here’s the thing about the Rolls-Royce Phantom: In terms of physical presence alone, it’s unlike anything out there. Then, when you add in an exhaustive list of opulent features, the Phantom eases away from other vehicles like the morning mist burning off under a strengthening sun. The Phantom is, without debate, the ne plus ultra of luxury motoring.
The new Phantom Series II is an update on the eighth-generation model released five years ago. If this latest Phantom looks similar to the previous Phantom … well, that was all part of the plan. This utterly unique model needed no updates. The brand’s clientele asked for no updates. So, revisions undertaken by Felix Kilbertus and the design team revolve around fine-tuning: subtle modifications to the iconic Pantheon grille (including illumination), laser-cut bezel starlights that surround the headlights, new wheel designs, and a rich collection of new bespoke options.
Personalization is the key point here. Every version of the new Phantom is exactly the same from a mechanical perspective—case in point, the 563-hp, twin-turbocharged V-12. In terms of dimensions, there are just two choices: a standard-wheelbase model and a long-wheelbase model, which adds 8.6 inches to the overall length. Yet, despite all the similarities, each Phantom has its own distinct character.
During the launch event, held in the sunny south of France, 10 examples gathered together in downtown Nice. No two were alike—from the outside or the inside. Parked side-by-side near a buzzing town square, the cars triggered a massive red-carpet moment. Crowds appeared with cell phones raised, ready to capture videos of celebrities—but the only celebrity there was the Phantom itself.
In a sense, driving the Phantom is not the main attraction. The engineers at Rolls-Royce have certainly figured out how to make such an imposing car a genuine pleasure to drive. But the narrow streets of Europe are daunting, the car remains imposing, and the backseat is impossibly inviting. So, it’s enough to simply arrive at your destination, thoroughly well-rested, and to emerge from the back seat, feeling incredibly special. From $493,000; rolls-roycemotorcars.com
Aston Martin DBX707
The designers at Aston Martin, under the guidance of longstanding director Marek Reichman, have a hard-earned reputation for brilliance, including one of the latest examples—the Aston Martin DBX707. The leveled-up version of the brand’s sole SUV, the DBX707 makes a menacing statement along any stretch of tarmac and holds its own across unpaved surfaces. A unique selling proposition: It’s the most powerful luxury SUV in the world right now. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine smuggled under the hood generates a whopping 707 metric hp (thus, the name), or a shade under 700 ponies in North American terms.
That kind of power, allied to a special 9-speed automatic transmission geared to handle more strain, launches control and an all-wheel drive system that shuttles torque around like a game of three-card monte. In short, the DBX707 is a rocket ship off the line. Sixty mph appears in a blistering 3.1 seconds. Top speed is an earth-shattering 193 mph. Get behind the wheel and—lofty seating position aside—you may well forget that you’re not driving a sports car.
It’s no mean feat to design a good-looking SUV—let’s face facts, some of the Aston’s competitors are missing the mark completely. But there’s one thing Reichman’s team really excels at: proportions. The original DBX followed the basic rules of sport utilities that resemble tall station wagons but added plenty of originality and character along the way.
The DBX707 takes that solid canvas and adds splashes of aggressive intent. The list of exterior enhancements includes a larger front grille bedecked in satin chrome, new air intakes, brake cooling ducts, a rear lip spoiler, a larger rear diffuser, quad exhaust tips, and gloss-black touches on the front splitter and side sills. This thing looks like it belongs on the racetrack, so it makes sense that the DBX is an Official Medical Car for the Formula One World Championship. From $236,000; astonmartin.com
Lexus RX + Lexus RZ
This year, the Lexus brand celebrated the 10th anniversary of its contentious spindle grille. Considering the amount of criticism the brand has faced for this single design element, it’s a celebration honoring those who stick to their guns.
The spindle grille premiered in 2011 on the Lexus LF-Gh concept car and, over time, was incorporated into all Lexus models in one shape or another. To be fair, some of the executions were more than a little awkward. But there were also some outright wins, including the Lexus LC, an absolutely gorgeous car from any angle. This year, the spindle grille morphs into something more: a design element that flows more seamlessly to create a more cohesive look overall. This effect is evident in two new releases, the latest generation of the popular Lexus RX SUV and the forthcoming all-electric Lexus RZ.
The RX front grille consists of a lower mesh section and an upper section that merges with the hood of the vehicle. The effect is very slick and it reinforces the fact that the spindle is a cornerstone of Lexus design. The RZ, on the other hand, features yet another interpretation: a spindle shape without the mesh opening that blends a body-colored central panel with contrasting black sides.
The designs are striking and so, too, is the performance. The RX 500h F Sport Performance is the go-to model for serious drivers. The turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain develops 366 hp. The all-wheel drive system, rear eAxle, adaptive suspension system, and dynamic rear steering provide everything needed to put the power to the ground and keep it to the ground. The RZ will be available for sale in early 2023, and the RX is expected later this year. Pricing not yet available.; lexus.com
Genesis GV60 + Genesis Electrified G80
If you want to kick-start a nascent automotive brand in the biggest possible way, follow the Genesis model. The South Korean luxury automaker shifted into high gear in 2015 with the hiring of chief designer Luc Donckerwolke, previously with Bentley and Lamborghini. A year later, another ex-Bentley designer, SangYup Lee, joined the effort. Another year later and it was time for Alexander Selipanov, formerly with Bugatti, to get involved.
The impact of these top creative minds has been profound; for evidence, you need only look at the G70 sedan, the GV80, or any one of the recent Genesis concept cars. Now, we have two new all-electric models to consider—the GV60 and the Electrified G80—and they take a slightly different approach to design.
The Genesis GV60 is an all-new model, the first dedicated production EV for the brand. The GV60 shares electrified underpinnings with two multiple award-winning EVs from the Hyundai Group: the Kia EV6 and the Hyundai Ioniq 5.
The Genesis designers favor a massive front grille—the Electrified G80 has one of those, but the GV60 does not follow suit. Instead, the front fascia incorporates elements from the brand design language in more subtle ways. The result is a more sensuous and less aggressive look; some might call it more feminine in nature. GV60, from $58,890; Electrified G80, from $79,825; genesis.com