To lift the gloom an MTI special! A review of the new Ferrari California! Screw the banks, get out all your credit cards and tot up the credit limits…you never know those absolute bankers might have given you enough credit to buy one of these! Enjoy!
The California is Ferrari’s softer side, apparently, and a fresh take on the GT recipe with a new clientele in mind. Although the words “female customer” didn’t pass the lips of any Ferrari PR personnel during the three day launch event, the California has been specifically designed with those in mind. An all new 7-speed twin-clutch transmission, direct-injection and a metal folding roof debut on the California which gives Ferrari the ammunition to go straight after the handful of competition, but at £144,000 it’s unlikely that Aston Martin and Mercedes Benz need worry.
Ferrari’s designers, Pinninfarina, have always expressed the Italian Marques with grace, beauty and passion despite a few miss-haps over the years (the Mondial springs to mind). Having a full day with the California and not one angle gave me any hint of Ferrari’s styling DNA. It’s an odd mix with no real definition and could be punted as an all new Lexus SC430. According to Ferrari its pear shaped rear has been styled to incorporate the metal folding roof. Impressive as the origami panels are when they electrically fold away, this is the California’s biggest styling issue. Arguably, with the roof up, this hides the disproportionate lines but does nothing to soften the California odd-ball rear.
Once you’re behind the steering wheel, thankfully it’s a more familiar setting.
The seats provide relatively good comfort levels but have a short seat-squab leading to leg and back ache after a short time in the cabin. The California’s ergonomic faux pas don’t stop there. The instruments and dials are all new but why did they have to mill a piece of aluminium centre console that has no place in any car, even if it’s a £144K Ferrari? On the subject of eye-sores, the on-board navigation system looks cheap and nasty with a low grade plastic surround. Surely you don’t cut corners when it comes to a car of this stature? Still, having a hidden GT moniker gives the California a 2+2 configuration. Although they only pass as child seats in my opinion, the two rear chairs can fold away to allow your tailored Ferrari luggage or golf bags to be stored. Only a half-GT interior in my opinion.
Once you’re on the move, the entire Ferrari ingredients one was hoping would have been there from the start begin to shine through. The 7-speed twin-clutch transmission automatically defaults to auto mode so a somewhat relaxed drive sets the stage for something a little more frenzied later on. Even though Ferrari has softened their act, the Manettino 3-stage damper setting can change the mood in a blink of an eye. The high-revving whales and barks normally associated behind your head are now in surround sound as the 454bhp 4.3-litre V8 sits over the front axle. Don’t think that the engineers have toned down the performance. With 62mph over in 4.0 seconds and a top speed of 194 mph, you’ll have to be a brave soul to try its Vmax with the roof down. Although it weighs a hefty 1735kg’s, the California performs like the F430. With the paddle-levers working harder than a pair of pinball flippers the speed at which all 7 gears is dispersed are nothing short of spectacular. There’s no break in the 357lb feet of torque and feels just like Ferrari’s 2008 F1 car. Make no mistake; the California is a quick car.
Any would-be driving enthusiast would expect a similar experience no matter what damper setting is chosen from the Manettino menu. Like its siblings, the 599 GTB and F430, you can experience the California’s persona in meticulous detail. To turn the California on, Sport mode is the best option and will deliver performance, balance and grip even if you’re stripped of a decent run into the horizon. With CST-off – all driving aids disabled, I would suggest testing this theory somewhere out of the way as an overly eager right foot and plenty of opposite lock will break the traction and get that hefty rear heading north. Whatever you choose, the California’s behaviour is nothing short of sublime. It takes a lot of rough handling to crack its hard shell even when you’re on the limit. Although our press cars were fitted with the £3000 magnetic damper option, the ride didn’t disappoint. It may sound like a cliché, but the California’s range of comfort and sportiness feels like a proper Ferrari GT.
Question is where does the new Ferrari California fit in? What I would consider its rivals to be, Ferrari’s pricing policy puts it well over £40,000 more than the Mercedes SL63 AMG. Even the F430 is too close to call at £147,000. How about the Aston Martin DB9? You’ll still have to find an extra £25,000. The Ferrari California has the right GT ingredients but falls short trying to show these off from the outside.
(Overall – 3 1/2 stars)