THE $409,000 Ferrari California T is at the vanguard of a brave new world for the scuderia. With a turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 under the bonnet, it sets the template for Maranello’s coming generation of road cars.
WHAT IS IT
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Ferrari California. The latest T version is harder, better, faster and stronger. The turbocharged lump delivers a crisp flat-plane soundtrack and the rest of the package feels more authentically Ferrari.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
We’ve driven the Cali T on its international launch in Italy, but this is our first chance to sample the car on Aussie roads. We know how it copes with picture-perfect Emilian roads, now it’s time to see if it can hack it as a daily driver in Melbourne.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Ferrari California T is a massive improvement over its slightly confused predecessor with genuine bite when you’re on it and laid-back GT appeal when you’re not. It’s the only Fezza you could seriously countenance driving every day and has us expecting great things from the 488 GTB.
PLUS: torque, finish, pace, soundtrack, everyday utility
MINUS: styling still divisive, visibility, options pricing
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THERE are occasions when driving the Ferrari California T that you just need to relax and accept the fact that, every so often you’re going to come across as a monumental tool. Don’t fight it. Just try it on for size, perfect an unabashed grin and get on with it.
You’ll come to realise that the gearbox’s silently reverting from D to N at the lights after a minute is clearly designed to have you surge away to precisely nowhere on a huge flare of revs as everybody about you sniggers. Delicate reversing manoeuvres will appear the work of a man determined to cremate his clutch by replicating the action of a stepper motor. And due to the analogue speedo’s 30km/h increments, you’ll have a wholly hazy idea of how fast you’re going unless you hunt around for the microscopic digital readout. Victoria Police naturally have a very reasonable attitude when this is explained to them.
Getting to learn a car’s idiosyncrasies has long been part of the Ferrari tradition, and this California T is nothing if not authentic. Those who see the coming of turbocharged engines as the beginning of the end for the marque can rest easy – the 3855cc force-fed V8 under the bonnet of the California is a work of genius. Drop it into Auto, set the manettino to Comfort and it’ll shuffle around almost noiselessly, propelled by a pillowy 755Nm swell of soft-serve. Click into Sport, take control of the seven-speed 'box and the California T tautens and delivers 412kW of the right stuff.
The flat-plane crank generates a purposeful 458-like howl above 5000rpm, and the exhaust sounds a crackling fusillade on full-bore upshifts. The engine management system increases the amount of torque liberated in each successive gear to quell any rubbery lag-and-lunge low-speed throttle response.
The steering is unexpectedly quick but unerringly light, even when loaded out of a corner. The carbon ceramic brakes are brilliantly calibrated even under light application, and there’s enough front end clearance to get you off a servo forecourt without wincing. You’ll be thankful for the rear parking camera as the rear end disappears out of sight, lost behind the hump for the folding hard top. The engine’s so loud in a city multi-storey that it drowns out the reversing sensors, so keep your eyes on the screen. The roof drops in just 14 seconds and the system talks to the rear parking electronics so as not to flip back the bootlid into a wall/car/person with cameraphone. The sat nav also has an unerring ability to incapacitate you with laughter with its hopeless pronunciations of local names.
You’ll need to tread carefully over speed humps, as the front end can feel a little under-damped but that’s a small payoff for a supple ride that makes the Cali a genuinely workable everyday proposition. Those who really want to drive the car will probably want chunkier anti-roll bars to prevent the California flopping into roll oversteer when they’re really committed but if you want to smash a few apexes, a 911 Turbo will always be a better choice.
Even the styling’s been cleaned up a bit. I loved it, but snapper Brunelli spent the day frowning through his viewfinder, muttering about Rosso California paint and clashing Rosso Corsa brake calipers. I’m more easily pleased. I like big butts and I cannot lie.
The most telling fact about the California T is that Ferrari’s softest, most relaxed car is now capable of demolishing an F40 to 100km/h and will also thrash it around Ferrari’s Fiorano circuit. Let that one sink in for a moment. There’s nuance to this car though. It covers a broad remit and does so with guile and delicacy. The California was often dismissed as the Ferrari for people who didn’t get Ferraris, but that’s now a long way from the truth. True, 70 per cent of its customers will never have owned a Ferrari before, but amping up the engine hasn’t ruined the California’s GT chops.
This might be Ferrari’s cleverest car. If the sales projections are anything to go by it’ll definitely be its most popular, but the acid test for Ferrari’s turbocharged future arrives later this year. The 488 GTB is set to be held to a higher standard of proof.
Model: Ferrari California T
Engine: 3855cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v
Max power: 412kW @ 7500rpm
Max torque: 755Nm @ 4750rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Economy: 10.5L/100km (combined)
On sale: Now