Italian automaker Ferrari made a bold move by introducing the California, a car with a more docile character and aimed at buyers seeking something racy, but that’s better suited for everyday driving than the brand’s other products. The California not only became the most affordable Ferrari, but also the only one with a front-mounted V8 engine, which also marked an important break from tradition.
The gamble seems to have paid off as the California T, which is the best-selling Ferrari model, has been in production ever since and drew a whole new clientele to their showrooms. In fact, a large proportion of California buyers are climbing into their first Ferrari.
We got the opportunity to discover this Italian roadster’s charm during a test drive right before the recent Los Angeles Auto Show. And is there a better place than California to try out the latest Ferrari California?
T for Turbo
The California T allows Ferrari to break yet another important tradition, as it marks a new era of turbocharging for the Maranello automaker. This year, the car gets a smaller-displacement engine, but with forced induction, which nets increases in power and torque while reducing emissions and fuel consumption. Yup, even Ferrari can’t turn away from this trend and other turbocharged models will follow, such as the new 488 GTB, their latest supercar that was unveiled earlier this year during the Canadian Grand Prix festivities in Montreal. What car was the last Ferrari to use a turbo engine? It was the F40.
The California trades its naturally aspirated, 4.3-litre V8 for a an all-new twin-turbo, 3.9L V8 that develops a whopping 552 horsepower and 557 lb-ft of torque. With an extra 70 hp – and no less than 185 more lb-ft of twist – the California T now boasts an output that’s worthy of a Ferrari, and performance too, with a 0-100 km/h time of just 3.6 seconds. That’s pretty quick for what’s billed as a Grand Touring car.
More aggressive style
From a styling perspective, this sports car benefits from sheetmetal heavily inspired by the brand’s other products, drawing it closer to the F12berlinetta, especially in regards to the headlights and taillights. Its lines are a little more angular, and we like the air diffusers located below the rear bumper, which lower the body and add sportiness. The quad exhaust pipes are now placed horizontally instead of vertically, another change that’s appreciated by purists. The 20-inch Forged Diamond wheels also look pretty good, which allow a peek at the brake callipers, optionally body coloured on our test car. In the case of the California T, Rosso Corsa red is standard, and every other colour is a $12,500 USD option.
One of the California T’s main attractions is the possibility of cruising with the top down in a matter of seconds. A switch on the centre console summons the hard top to retract itself into the trunk. Obviously, the folded top cuts into cargo space, but we get the best of both worlds, and that’s the style of a sports coupe and the enjoyment of a convertible.
The cockpit adopts the same design found in the brand’s other models, notably the steering wheel and its integrated controls. On the centre stack, there’s a new touchscreen for adjusting the audio and navigation systems. A little higher up is a circular readout, between the air vents, that displays the turbos’ involvement. By simply touching the readout’s aluminum rim, the displayed information can be modified. Thanks to its 2+2 seating arrangement, the family can tag along in the California T, or we can just enjoy a little more cabin space.
The Ferrari’s sexy shape is seductive, but hitting the road really makes us discover its genuine virtues. Once the start button gets pushed in, it’s pretty hard not to be enchanted by the engine’s song, a typical Ferrari attribute. The soundtrack gets even more melodious once the V8 reaches 4,000 rpm; now imagine it singing at its 7,500-rpm redline! To compensate for the smaller displacement, engineers succeeded in keeping that rich sound by using a forged steel exhaust manifold with equal-length runners, a technology normally reserved for race engines.
Power as needed
What’s really impressive is that the engine’s torque is delivered instantly. Ferrari managed to eliminate one of turbocharging’s usual downsides – turbo lag – by using an F1-inspired flat crankshaft and twin-scroll turbines. In short, the V8 responds quickly thanks to an ultra-precise throttle. Braking remains strong at all times with the standard-issue ceramic discs. Something we must get used to, as brakes that bite this hard are pretty rare.
Despite its politically correct demeanour, the California T can handle itself on a track. At 3,583 lbs. (or 1,625 kg), it’s one of the heaviest steeds in the stable along with the Ferrari FF, yet engineers minimized the effects of its weight by positioning the engine behind the front axle, which allows for a near-ideal front/rear weight distribution of 47/53. Adopting dry-sump lubrication also allows placing the engine lower (by 40 mm), which drops the car’s centre of gravity, enhancing handling and agility.
It isn’t easy getting used to the two wheel-mounted buttons that activate the turn signals, but we do get to keep our hands on the wheel at all times, and that’s good. Ferrari abandoned the manual gearbox a few years ago, but we have little to complain about the dual-clutch, seven-speed automated transmission. It provides exemplary efficiency and quickness, and the car is now much more enjoyable in traffic jams, which are frequent in California.
Manettino = happiness
The wheel-mounted rotary dial, called the Manettino, allows choosing between various drive modes including Comfort, Sport and ESC Off. The latter should only be used if you’re really sure you can control the car, as it shuts off all electronic aids. As you can imagine, we preferred the Sport mode in order to stay in good terms with our insurance company. These driving modes alter steering, throttle and engine response to suit your tastes.
Mainly competing with the Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG, the BMW M6 and the Aston Martin Vantage, the Ferrari California T succeeds in democratizing the Maranello automaker’s famous models. With a base price that’s a little more decent and being more easily attainable on the pre-owned market, the California T is undoubtedly the Ferrari one can truly dream of.