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Friday 30th April 2010


DRIVEN: FERRARI CALIFORNIA

PH's sap is definitely rising, as we sample some open-top Ferrari thrills


Well spring seems to have sprung at last, when a young man's heart must turn to thoughts of love. In other news, at least one dirty old man's heart turned to thoughts of unbridled, drooling lust at the prospect of PistonHeads finally getting its mitts on Ferrari's stunning California...


Stunning? Yes, yes, and thrice yes. We know some critics have been less than overwhelmed by the California's (relatively) bulky rear three-quarters but, glistening in the spring sunshine amongst more ordinary metal in the PH office car park, Ferrari's Avus Bianco (white!) stallion looked every bit the exotic GT. In fact, a few of us thought it seemed more glamorous in the metal than the last one we'd seen, so perhaps it's a 'grower' too. Such things are all in the eye of the beholder, of course.

There a perception abroad in some quarters, too, that in spite of that glamour, the California might not have the hardcore nadgers required to convince Ferrari 'cognoscenti' of its credentials.


Well I love Ferraris, and I'd probably even love a dodgy one, but there's nothing remotely suspect about the noise the California's V8 makes when waking up to the starter. It's a 4.3 litre unit, making 453bhp at 7750rpm and 357lb ft of torque. It's also got a flat-plane crank, and uses a family block with a load of modifications including direct injection that allow Ferrari to call it bespoke for the model. Much more importantly, it makes delightfully sonorous braaarp, thraarp noises when you play with the throttle. Oh, and it's coupled to the most astonishingly slick 7-speed double-clutch gearbox that Ferrari won't even quote shift times for, saying only that changes are 'instant' - which is exactly how they feel.


These blink-and-miss-'em changes are partly responsible for the (relatively) modestly-powered and weighty (1735kgs) California's creditable performance. 0-60 has been recorded variously around the 3.8/3.9sec mark, and Autocar reckons it pulls 50-70mph in 5th in the same few seconds. Top speed is quoted at around the 195mph mark.

On the move, the engine's fantastically evocative bark is evoked by even the lightest touch of the accelerator, yet come off the pedal and the engine note instantly recedes to an almost inaudible level. As a result, when loafing (or cruising, this being the California), you get a weird sort of 'on-off' soundtrack. It's a characteristic which occasionally injected small but worrying whiffs of fakery into my commute home, but such thoughts were easily dispelled by a more playful application of the throttle when the rev-counter would leap around its dial like a thing possessed, accompanied by a delicious bellowing howl from the rear pipes.


A spacious and comfortable cabin plays its part in delivering a suitably high feel-good factor for what is nearly £155ks-worth of motor (as tested), although F1 CAL's milk-chocolatey-poo (Cioccolato) coloured leather can't be the most attractive option for the upholstery. The fascia is generally very nice though, with a slightly retro air spoiled only slightly by the plastic trims around the circular air-con nozzles, and a plasticky-looking surround to the large centrally-placed LCD info/nav panel. That said, the quality of materials seemed largely up to scratch, although one of the little centre-console mounted window switches came off in my hand as I gently fidgeted with it, and snapped just as happily back into place.


The driving position is excellent, and the front seats are extremely comfortable although in classic 2+2 fashion the rears are best used as an overspill luggage area. The boot itself isn't a bad size, but a lot of it is filled up by the roof when it's retracted. Watching the roof being stowed is a bit shocking, actually, as the entire rear half of the car seems to temporarily disassemble itself during the transformation from hard-top to no-top. It's not particularly elegant, so you might want to do it behind a hedge, emerging like a graceful butterfly once the process is complete. Alternatively you could just look the other way, because it's all over in about 14secs, which is probably very impressive from a technical perspective.


Also extremely impressive is the driving experience the California provides. It's not a car for hardcore racetrack-types, admittedly, but Ferrari has other models in its line-up for that. Anyway, who needs hyper-active steering responses, a rock-hard ride and flat-as-a-pancake cornering in a Grand Tourer? Not me, thank you very much.

In keeping with the California's GT philosophy, the steering-wheel mounted manettino has only three settings - Comfort, Sport and Stability Control (almost entirely) Off. 'Sport' has the effect of tightening up the test car's MagneRide damping, while not unduly marring the ride quality. It also nudges the double-clutch gearbox into a more focused mindset. Without access to a track, we dabbled with the 'Off' setting with predictably amusing results at T-junctions, but otherwise never really felt the need to switch out of Sport mode.


The California's very fast of course, it sounds suitably furious, and people will undoubtedly notice your passing. But instead of offering one of those 21st century 'floor-it, steer, and say wow' experiences you expect from a Ferrari these days, the California's ultimately less-focused approach might mean you might feel a little more connected to this car's performance than would otherwise be the case.

What you actually 'feel' is an initially surprising amount of body roll, something that automotive engineers and performance purists have spent the last 100 years or so trying to dial out of their supercars, but which Ferrari has unashamedly allowed back into the California equation. They've done it first and foremost (we presume), to deliver what is an unusually lithe and supple ride. But you know what? It's actually good, clean fun to feel the California moving in response to the road and your driver inputs, and it definitely helps make you feel you're not just along for the ride.


Maybe it's just me, but whether it's the progressive build-up of roll as you add lock through a corner, or the rear squatting and pushing the nose up as you barrel out of it with all cylinders blazing, I thought there was a refreshing hint of the 'old school' about the experience this car provides.

That's not old-school in any sort of lunatic unhinged sense, the stability control and super sticky 245 and 285/40 tyres on (optional) 20ins alloys see to that. The steering's not old-school either, being light and direct, and nor is the gearbox which shifts in such an incredibly seamless fashion that there's barely a trace of unsettling weight transfer.


Other reviews have, somewhat oddly I thought, agonised over whether the California's different approach to life makes it worthy of its Ferrari badges. Well, if Ferrari is meant to represent a 'philosophy', perhaps that's a valid question. I'm more of a pragmatist than a philosopher though, and if I could afford to enjoy a California in the manner that's intended I wouldn't give a hoot.

Ferrari California
Basic price: £140,285.10
Exterior: Bianco Avus, Interior: Cioccolato, Carpets: Nero

Optional equipment:
Adaptive front lighting system £1,084.43
Brake callipers in aluminium £755.55
Cruise control £627.36
Central tunnel in leather £518.72
Armrest on tunnel in leather £330.81
Daytona style seats £1,981.45
Colour upon request for dashboard - Cioccolato £598.98
A-Pillars in leather - Cioccolato £598.98
Ferrari iPod connection £528.51
Scuderia Ferrari shields £924.90
Magneride suspension £3,065.36
20" diamond finish sport wheels £2,649.40
All stitchings in colour - Bianco £269.15
Coloured steering wheel - Cioccolato £269.15
Electrically operated seats with heating and memory function £STD
Navtrak security system £STD
Tyre pressure monitoring system £STD

Price as tested (OTR) = £154,487.85

Author: Chris-R