Road Tests

Ferrari California: Don't be confused by the hype

Time 13 years ago

DON’T be confused by the hype. The California is not the new entry-level Ferrari. Indeed, it’s actually more expensive than the existing F430.

Bang goes the modern-day Dino replacement we speculated on when rumours of the new model first started to surface.

No, instead it is the ‘approachable’ way into Ferrari ownership. We mean that not only in terms of price – yes, it’s dearer than the F430, but not significantly so – but also through focus.

You see, the F430 is one of the most extreme supercars you can buy for the money, much more hardcore than a
Porsche 911.

Dealers reported that even some existing Ferrari customers were finding it a bit too much, never mind the new clientele the maker is so intent on attracting.

That’s why, with the California, we have something very different indeed. It’s a significant model, which in many ways is really a revolution for the Italian maker.

It has a folding hard-top, for example, like a Mercedes SL. It has a folding rear seat, too, and a direct fuel injection engine – goodness, it even has a dual clutch transmission, the sort you’d find in a VW Golf.

Yes, the styling in places does hark back to the famous original California – check out the bonnet air scoop and front wing gills – but is the modern-day interpretation a marketing step too far? Will the three-year-strong order bank of customers, a higher proportion of which should be women, be disappointed?

Oh no. One thing, above all, convinces you not. The astounding noise its 453bhp V8 makes – the howl from the all-new engine is simply stunning. Performance is explosive and the thump in the back when you change up – accompanied by a sharp exhaust crack – is totally intoxicating.

It’s easy to access too, thanks to the all-new dual clutch gearbox. This is best driven with the paddle shifts, and is smoother than the F1 transmission in other Ferraris. It also changes gear almost instantaneously: there’s simply no perceptible delay. It’s astounding.

Rather like the brakes. They’re carbon ceramic anchors that stop the California with real assurance. ‘But’, you’re thinking, ‘going fast is one thing, but how is this GT Ferrari through the bends?’Simply exceptional, is the answer. Immediately obvious is a compliant ride quality, that helps you really exploit the pace of the engine even on pot-marked roads.

This may cause you further suspicions… until you reach a corner. The California corners extremely well indeed. The familiar Ferrari stability and traction system, called F1-Trac, appears here with the famous steering wheel control knob. Even in Comfort, it will kick the rear wheels just out of line.

In Sport, lots more oversteer is possible, yet with the full back-up of electronic control should you need it. It’s only through having such faith in the basic talents of this chassis that Ferrari is able to push the boundaries like this. And it’s faith well placed.

You can have faith in the car’s ability to be relatively green, too: it has a combined average of 21.5mpg, which, given that this is a very fast Ferrari we’re talking about, is quite something. CO2 emissions of 306g/km are lower than many SUVs. And few of them sound like this.

Then you get on to the bits Ferrari always does well: the interior has superb seats and is extremely stylish. The folding roof is clever, and its speed makes the trade-off of a slightly heavy-looking rear end worthwhile.

The rear seats fold, so the boot is surprisingly big, and the details smattered throughout the interior – well, they’re simply delightful.

All told, the California is breathtaking. It’s not the car we expected, but is all the car we hoped for, and so much more.

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The shift in emphasis hasn’t spoiled it – if anything, it’s made it all the more compelling. So much so we wouldn’t be surprised if some even defect from the F430 into it… and that really would be confusing. But totally understandable.

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