California Souled: Ferrari California Review
If there is anywhere associated with glamour, wealth and good times, California is it. Ferrari first applied the name to a limited edition of its 250GT, created at the behest of a particularly insistent dealer from the Golden State. Immortalised in the seminal 80s movie, Ferris Buellers Day Off, the 250GT California is one of the rarest Ferraris ever made and now commands multi-million dollar sums.
The name has now been revived for Ferraris first hard-top convertible and also the first to carry a V8 engine in front of its driver, who, by the way, Ferrari would dearly love to be female, the new California is intended to attract more women to the traditionally male brand.
It may share a name but the California struggles to capture the elegance and glamour of its namesake. Ferraris have become singularly purposeful of late and with their hard lines and proliferation of scoops, its hard to call them beautiful. The California has tried to address this with a more curvaceous overall shape, with a traditional long bonnet and short cabin proportions but, at first sight, the car looks rather a mish-mash of familiar forms.
The nose is reminiscent of the Honda S2000, the roofline like that of a Mercedes SL, the curve of the rear panels a bit TVR and the vertically stacked tailpipes straight from a Lexus. Allow it time though and the design grows on you, particularly in the metal and, once in motion, what designers like to call a down the road presence. It certainly has a more approachable mien than its big brother, the F599 or rival Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder.
The California’s 4.3-litre V8 is essentially an updated but, nonetheless, de-tuned version of the one found in the super-sharp F430. For reasons of packaging and to suit the California’s relaxed Grand Touring demeanour, it’s mounted up front, but a glance under the bonnet reveals it to be well behind the front-axle line, justifying Ferraris claim that it is a mid-front layout. However, despite a 275kg weight penalty and 30bhp power deficit, the 453bhp California will streak to 62mph in less than four seconds, quicker than its F430 cousin.
The reason for this is the superb new dual-clutch manual transmission, which, Ferrari claims, makes gear changes near enough instantaneous. Left in automatic mode it certainly gives that impression; plant your foot from rest and the only indication that you’re not on the end of a steam catapult, apart from the relentlessly gathering pace, is the changing exhaust note which burbles basso profundo at low revs before a series of exhaust valves pop open to free its breathing and transform it into a tenor.
The steering is perhaps overly light, but very accurate, and the whole car seems to pivot smoothly around that glorious engine. It possesses 90 per cent of the agility of the true mid-engined F430 without the occasional heart-in-the-mouth moments that that layout can sometimes cause. Flicking the paddles to drop down a gear gets the exhaust popping like a rally cars and the brilliance of the gearbox is matched only by the carbon-ceramic brakes. Fitted as standard for the first time on a Ferrari, these offer eye-popping retardation with enough feel to prevent embarrassing nodding dog impressions in city traffic.
The car we tested was fitted with Ferraris optional magnetic damping which, on Spanish roads second only to the UK’s in their state of disrepair, offered ride comfort that was nothing short of remarkable. An F430 may remain flatter, and be more flattering in the corners, but the California wont force you to swerve round potholes for the sake of your spine.
A folding hardtop, rear seats and a boot big enough for golf clubs. Is this really a Ferrari? Well, purists may scoff but for anyone lucky enough to be contemplating daily use, these are exactly the details that will lure them away from their Bentley’s and Mercs.
The California is without doubt a great place to spend time thanks to an interior that cossets more than its siblings. Seats are adjustable every which way, a beautiful piece of eye-catching alloy separates the front passengers and the rear offers the option of two small rear seats with isofix mountings or a luggage shelf with ski hatch.
The California is a dual-purpose car in more ways than one. It doesn’t simply offer the option of coup or convertible motoring, its multiple personality disorder is more profound than that. On the one hand a genuinely comfortable, practical, usable car with an automatic gearbox to ease the grind of mortal motoring. On the other hand, a car of the Ferrari bloodline with engine, brakes, gearbox and steering that work with an intoxicating precision.
You wonder though, how much of that ability will matter to the average California buyer, indeed to the purchaser of any modern Ferrari. Given the number that must be bought for the badge alone, there is a case for saying that a new Ferrari is the worlds most over-engineered piece of jewellery.