Driven: Ferrari California Handling Speciale


If there's such a thing as a Ferrari with suspect PistonHeads credentials, it's the California. The front-engined V8 with the folding hardtop seems more a rival for that king of cruisers, the Mercedes SL, than 'proper' sports cars.

Lighter, (much) stiffer in chassis and 30hp more
Lighter, (much) stiffer in chassis and 30hp more
In one way it is. 70 per cent of buyers are new to the marque, which must show that Ferrari has judged it right. There are a whole bunch of drivers out there who no longer need to be scared off by Ferrari ownership.

But a few demand more. The California's mid-life makeover is far more radical than seems to make sense. The aluminium chassis gets a total reworking, 60 per cent of the parts new with 12 types of aluminium alloy in place of eight, all to get a weight reduction of a mere 30kg. That represents a saving of less than two per cent. It does, though, give Ferrari the opportunity to explain again, yet again, and once again, how much better aluminium is as a chassis material than a carbon fibre monocoque like the Woking boys use.

Still no stunner but bringing new buyers in
Still no stunner but bringing new buyers in
Step in the right direction
Although 8,000 Californias have been built so far, the unit cost of this redesign is high. But the constructional changes are also a step in the direction of the next generation California, something that will be lighter still with increased use of bonding in places of welds. The 2012 model also gets another 30hp, now reaching 490hp. Not so sissy, then, when 0-62mph is reached in 3.8 seconds. Two changes - a reed valve in the crankcase to reduce pumping losses, and a revised exhaust manifold - account for the most of the difference.

Of greater significance is the £4,320 Handling Speciale pack. It's aimed at serial Ferrari buyers who want an extra dose of magic from their California driving experience. The steering is nine per cent quicker, stiffness front and rear is up 15 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, and new logic to the SCM suspension control reduces body roll.

Handling Speciale pack stiffens chassis
Handling Speciale pack stiffens chassis
Teeming wet roads north of Maranello are not the ideal place to evaluate the handling characteristics of an uprated chassis, but we had a go. Initially it's the faster steering that grabs your attention. Back-to-back with the 'ordinary' 2012 California, the Handling Speciale instantly feels more alive, with the need to cross arms reduced by far more than a mere nine per cent increase in rack gearing would seem possible.

Degrees of discomfort
My co-driver thought it too twitchy but I loved it. We were more in accord about the suspension, which once again seemed to have changed more than the numbers suggest.

Firm or super-firm, depending on where the Manettino is set, it probably does the right thing on a circuit but seems frankly unnecessary on public roads, particularly the ones we get in the UK. Still, you have to respect Ferrari for offering buyers the choice. Porsche sells enough GT3s on a similar principle.

Just the weather for testing a stiffer cabrio
Just the weather for testing a stiffer cabrio
It was, as mentioned, too wet to make fine judgements about the differences, except to know there was little wrong with the original California chassis and suspension. It has a clever trick of feeling like a grand tourer with the transmission in Auto and Manettino set to Comfort, yet move to paddle shift and Sport and it's a different beast.

This is a genuine, balls-out supercar, eye-wincingly fast with a chassis that will move around enough to make your heart miss a beat, yet ultimately pull everything back into line. It's very satisfying. The changes for 2012 will, one suspects, go unnoticed by that 70 per cent of customers new to the brand, probably others too. But the modifications will be enough to encourage an upgrade to the latest California, while the handling pack will excite a few more. Not sure we'd go down that route though. We'd keep our California in standard spec and use the 458 for track work.


FERRARI CALIFORNIA HANDLING SPECIALE
Engine:
4,297cc V8, direct-injection
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 490@7,7500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 372@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.8sec
Top speed: 194mph
Weight: 1,735kg
MPG: 21.5mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 299g/km
Price: £156,436 (before options)







   



 

 

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Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GTiFrank 27 Apr 2012

    Yep pretty clever. Can't argue that they have fallen from grace a bit in recent years with cars like Zonda's/Hurrrrahayya becoming what an Enzo used to be.

  • Ftumpch 27 Apr 2012

    I concur with most of the comments... what is going on with Ferrari?? This, 360/430, FF, F50, 599, and the F620 all have the same sort of cartoon-character overblown awkwardness, as if they have been designed by a precocious 8-year-old dosed to the eyeballs on Ritalin. Even the 308GT4 was more elegant than this lot.

    And then there's the totally stunning 355, 458, 550, 612, Enzo...

    It's almost as if they've decided to hedge their bets, make sure they have one car in their line-up that appeals to the enthusiasts, and trade on their image to sell their other models to people with zero sense of aesthetics who just want a status symbol.

    Seems pretty clever actually... but then maybe the revisions made to the California are a sign the engineers are starting to rebel??

  • JS100 25 Apr 2012

    GTiFrank said:
    SrMoreno said:
    You didn't get Chris Harris to test it, then....
    I've got to say I'm with monkey on this one. Spoke to a Mclaren Engineer at Longcross test facility last year about the MP412C, Noble, 458 track test EVO did where the 458 got the fastest time. He was moaning about the 458 they pitched it against being pretty much a slick shod GT Racer. Sad that Ferrari should do this to themselves, does nothing but damage to their reputation IMO.
    Dead brand anyway, destroyed by Di Montezemelo. F1 performance is pitiful, road cars are butt ugly and average at best. Said it before, its the wealthy chav brand of choice. Very sad what it has become IMO.

  • GTiFrank 24 Apr 2012

    SrMoreno said:
    You didn't get Chris Harris to test it, then....
    I've got to say I'm with monkey on this one. Spoke to a Mclaren Engineer at Longcross test facility last year about the MP412C, Noble, 458 track test EVO did where the 458 got the fastest time. He was moaning about the 458 they pitched it against being pretty much a slick shod GT Racer. Sad that Ferrari should do this to themselves, does nothing but damage to their reputation IMO.

  • mikey k 24 Apr 2012

    George H said:
    mikey k said:
    Thinking about this I'd probably go for a used 16M rather than a Cali with the handling pack scratchchin
    They're both hideous! Just wait for the V12V roadster, you know you want to! smile
    That could be a long wait if Bez has anything to do with it.
    I may take it in to my own hands on Friday wink

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