The California is a bit like my first girlfriend: pretty from the front, but a little frumpy at the rear, especially in the wrong clothes (sorry Sarah). This is Ferrari’s softer side. Huh? How can you mess with the classic GT recipe? Sorry Ferrari but the California is the best definition of Ugly Betty with four wheels. If you were hoping for a Dino successor, then you’ll be disappointed. This is a fresh GT with a new clientele in mind.
Hoping for a warm welcome party, my blue press car just didn’t look right under the brilliant Sicilian sunshine– even though I skipped the offer of a blood-red California, which I thought would dispel the miss-matched lines and kindergarten crayon-like sketches. Like the 612 Scaglietti, the latest front-engined Ferrari has no Maranello designer-DNA-flair whatsoever. Sure, the front is OK, but the rear looks like a F430 that’s been backed into a brick wall. And then we have the Lexus cosmetic card trick: fake exhaust tail pipes. The horrendous back door abomination was designed to incorporate the folding metal roof. With every supercar manufacturer fitting an origami roof to just about anything that moves, the boys in Italy wanted to target more conservative customers (namely female, but you didn’t hear me say that).
The buggy seats behind the front chairs are useless for any human larger than Verne Troyer. And? They are perfectly suitable for those owners who wish to fold them to accommodate your tailored Ferrari luggage or McLaren golf bags. While it’s all very Ferrari inside, there are two small issues that need addressing. First, the heater control pane is ridiculously small. I know owners live in salubrious climates, but really. Second, the aluminium covered centre console looks like a particularly uncomfortable sex toy. The sexy, red Start button and Manettino switch (Ferrari’s traction and stability control), return us to the world of more traditional sexual orientation. Both controls must tweaked and caressed like a lover’s nipple to get the desired effect. Ahem. Moving on…
Facing killjoy CO2 regs, Ferrari had to clean up their act. To satisfy the politicians, Maranello has introduced direct-injection technology to their famous V8. Although positioned over the front axle, the new 4.3-litre flat-plane-crank V8 knocks-out 454bhp and 357 lb feet of gut-busting torque. The Calfornia drop top nails the zero to 62mph sprint in around four seconds and cracks 194mph V-max. Not bad for a car that’s carrying 1735 kg’s.
Whether you’re nailing your favourite back road or performing a brief overtaking manoeuvre whilst kicking back on the boulevard, the California V8 delivers the same sorts of aural delights enjoyed by F430 drivers. Ferrari’s dialed down the bass and treble, but with the roof stowed, hunting the red-line is equally tempting. The new seven speed twin-clutch transmission swaps gears quicker than the F430 Scuderia, which is like saying an F-22 is a bit quicker than an F-15. Porsche’s PDK may have set the benchmark, but they forgot about Ferrari’s F1 technology. This is Transformers for grown-ups.
The Manettino switch on the steering wheel offers a choice of Comfort, Sport or CST-off mode. Comfort is the default choice with relatively low intervention thresholds; the Sport setting raises the bar and allows for a good degree of tail swapping and tire mashing. The CST mode turns off all of the driving aids and reveals the California’s hidden side: beautiful balance on the limit behaviour.
This is where the buttons ping off your shirt and you start to turn green. The combination of engine, handling and hidden Ferrari DNA bursts out more alarmingly than the alien in John Hurt’s chest. The steering is quick but grip levels are less communicative through the steering wheel. Where the California really shines: its ride. With the optional $6k magnetic dampers, the Fezza delivers sensational body control and accuracy, without destroying ride comfort.
So, where does the new California fit within the Ferrari canon/cannon? At a not inconsiderable $244k, it’s got to fend off a raft of competition, including Lamborghini’s cheaper Gallardo Spyder ($224K). Why have Ugly Betty when you can choose Beyonce Knowles? Because it’s a Ferrari. A Ferrari convertible. And even though it’s a kindler gentler example of the breed, that’s enough.
[Ferrari provided the vehicle, insurance, and fuel]