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The Inside Story

Ferrari may be better known for its exterior design. But it’s been an industry leader inside, as well
Words: Jason Barlow

Ferraris have always been tactile. In 2023, though, the concept of ‘connectivity’ has entered a dramatic new dimension. From the very beginning, Ferrari was an engineering company, then a design leader, and it remains superior in both disciplines now. But credit must also go to the teams working on the HMI – the human machine interface. Ferrari’s commitment to innovation is inviolable, and the cars’ interior and capability have been completely reimagined.

Watch the Inside Story, a film exploring the world of Ferrari cabin innovation

The Purosangue probably pushes things the furthest, as befits its role as the first Ferrari four-door. This is a car with an almost avant garde cabin architecture upfront. Two binnacles sweep across the cabin, one for the driver, the other for the passenger, with air vents and full information displays on either side. Ferrari is aiming to deliver outstanding emotional engagement for all four passengers.  

The two ‘wings’ converge in the middle with a topographical flourish. Beneath that meeting point is a new-for-the-Purosangue feature, which introduces a physical touchpoint in a set-up that relies mostly on digitalisation and haptics. This is a cylindrical control panel that rises smoothly out of the dashboard when it’s tapped, and gives the driver or passenger access to climate control, seat heating or seat massage functionality.

The groundbreaking manettino, the rotary switch mounted to the steering wheel, arrived in 2004 within the Ferrari F430  

The Purosangue’s cockpit takes some of its cues from the SF90 Stradale. Its influence is also felt in the 296 GTB, a car that many critics have placed in the pantheon of Ferrari greats. It’s part of the mid-engined bloodline that stretches back to 1975’s 308 GTB, but is obviously now powered by a hybridised, turbocharged V6 whose combustion/electric harmonisation is startlingly good. 

But inside, too, we can see what 50 years of progress in connectivity looks like. Another car in this much-loved series, 2004’s F430, was the first to introduce the manettino, a steering wheel-mounted rotary switch that gives the driver instant control over the car’s chassis settings. That was an inspired and unimprovable example of ergonomic thinking.

Timelessly elegant, the Ferrari Roma's steering wheel set-up provided the building blocks for the 296 GTB. The cabin for the Roma and the Roma Spider, with separate spaces for driver and passenger, were an evolution of the Ferrari dual cockpit design that began in the 1970s     


Now it’s joined on a Ferrari wheel by a myriad of other functions. Indicators, lights and wipers are now controlled by switchgear on the wheel (as of the 458 Italia), but the 296 GTB advances the set-up that first appeared on the Ferrari Roma and uses touch-sensitive thumb pads on the wheel spars. These trigger access to various sub menus shown on the main 16in instrument display, itself clearly visible through the wheel. 

The driver can scroll between navigation, media and communication, each thumb flick accompanied by a subtle little ‘whooshing’ sound. Three different main display modes are available, although the standard setting is perhaps the best and most emotive: an out-sized rev counter takes precedence here. Note that on the newly introduced Roma Spider, a little extra buzz can be felt under the thumb pads to reinforce the mode selection. (It also introduces ADAS – advanced driver assistance systems – whose reach can be custom configured and controlled via a wheel button.) 

Every aspect of the Ferrari 296 GTB interior is designed to redefine the notion of 'fun to drive' 

Initially a little daunting, it’s all intuitive once you’ve familiarised yourself with the control logic. And safer, according to its designers. Ferrari says this is all part of its ‘eyes on the road, hands on the steering wheel’ philosophy, and has conducted biometric tests to provide empirical proof that there’s reduced driver distraction. 

Remember, there’s also the option of specifying a wheel with in-set LEDs on the top that light up red-to-blue as the car reels in its red line rev limiter. Another haptic button, positioned on the left-hand side of the dashboard, adjusts the door mirrors. Traditional door handles are no longer part of the Ferrari interior landscape, exit now done by pushing a discreet button. 

Ferrari’s Centro Stile is a modernist enterprise but has betrayed its nostalgic side by reworking the gear selector to mimic the open gate layout of so many classic Ferraris. It allows the driver to flick seamlessly between M for manual, R for reverse and so on. It’s part of a process of simplification but it’s one that connects the driver to the machine as intelligently as possible. And in this instance, also to the past…