Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
A Ferrari model name oozing heritage from every curve and vent. The original 250 California Spider, produced in 1957, was built for the States sunshine. Examples now fetch far into the millions at auction. Scaglietti built 106 of the originals, nine with aluminium bodies. Long-wheelbase versions were built 1958-1960 with short-wheelbase cars coming after. With its softer curves, room for a small amount of luggage and easier-going nature of the chassis for those long continental journeys, the California has always been the ‘girly’ Ferrari. The latest incarnation of the hardtop convertible has a new turbocharged V8, joining models such as the 1984 GTO and 1987 F40, hence the ‘T’ in the moniker, and slight styling tweaks to differentiate it from its immediate predecessor. It’s an altogether sharper beast.
‘Sportiness and elegance meld in a unique way’ on the new California T, according to Ferrari, and they’re not far wrong, with this model looking much better than the one it succeeds, the LED headlights strafing up the bonnet and sharper creases in the bodywork. There’s a very clever mix of concave and convex angles, and two new colours – Rosso California, inspired by classic Ferraris, and Blu California. Inside, split and rear folding seats make the most of the limited cabin space (unbelievably, we fitted a MaxiCosi complete with toddler on the rear bench seat, slotted into the IsoFix settings, which is a first for us in a 2+2 sportscar). There’s a new touchscreen for satnav, music and so on, with Apple’s Carplay system an option (it works better than the DAB radio, weirdly). The floating central bridge housing reverse, auto and the fabulously named ‘launch’ transmission buttons remains.
Typical front-engined Ferrari numbers: 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds from many, many horses under the bonnet and a staggering 557lb ft of torque in 7th gear. And yet the 3.8-litre engine is 15 per cent more fuel efficient with a 20 per cent reduction in emissions, due to twin-scroll turbos with a compact turbine, a clever crankshaft and exhaust bits, plus variable torque delivery, allowing longer gear ratios in the higher gears. The weight distribution is 47/53 front to rear, and the car feels incredibly balanced heading into corners, as well as quicker to respond to steering inputs. Somehow, the engineers have dialled in more feedback from the chassis without hardening the ride too much; this is a grand-touring convertible, after all.
It’s a Ferrari: where there’s a prancing-horse badge, there will always be passion, although the brochure is all about ‘elegance, versatility and comfort’. But forget, for instance, the new springs and steering box, or the improved aerodynamics, and look instead at how the bonnet runs away from you down the road, how the wheel arches flare in your peripheral vision, how it eats the miles and how the exhausts roar at 4,000rpm. It may be a convertible built for cruising along the coasts of Elba or Positano, but the manettino switch on the steering wheel still give you the two hardcore options of ‘Sport’ or ‘ESC Off’. In other words, one can wander, roof down, or press on, roof very much up. We’re a big fan of the revised California, welcoming its sharper looks and, shock horror, even that turbo.
Price tag of our car: £200,628 (£154,490 plus options)
Images courtesy of Ferrari