- Available from £60,000
- 4.3 litre petrol V8, DCT 7-speed transmission
- Very rare manual
- Facelift in 2012
- Handling Speciale pack available
- Not a razor-edge Ferrari but a highly useable one
The California caused quite a stir when it was announced at the Paris Motor Show in October 2008. Of course, any new Ferrari is going to do that - after all, it's a Ferrari innit - but the California provoked reactions for very different reasons. For a start, the new California didn't replace an existing Ferrari. It was an all-new car aimed at younger motorists who maybe had a small child or two, a two-car rather than an eight-car garage, and who had up to that point been financially excluded from the Ferrari range.
The big thing about the California wasn't its price. For a Ferrari, it was small. At launch it was the company's entry-level car at around £150,000. That wasn't the end of the surprises. It was Ferrari's first ever front-engined V8, the first Ferrari with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the first hardtop convertible with a folding metal roof, which gave it an unusual degree of practicality.
The 2008 California was the fourth Ferrari to bear the name of the Sunshine State. The first two - the 1957 250 GT and the 1961 250 GT - were designed by Sergio Scaglietti. The 1966 365 was a Pininfarina effort, and there was a Pininfarina collaboration on the 21st century car too, but by that stage Ferrari was well set on a course of excluding the classic coachbuilders from its operations and establishing its own in-house Centro Stile.
The California was powered by a naturally-aspirated 4.3 litre V8 engine - not the 4,308cc F136E engine from the F430, but a direct-injection (another Ferrari first) 4,297cc F136I unit in a more rounded 454hp/358lb ft state of tune that, in the first 1,603kg 2008-2012 iteration, gave it a 3.9sec 0-62 time and a top speed of 193mph. Here's Michael Schumacher doing a promo video on it. It's a peculiar and frankly terrible video but it's nice to see him in happier times.
The California's power and torque figures rose to 484hp and 372lb ft when the 30kg lighter and 30hp more powerful (hence the name) California 30 was released in 2012. Extra power and lower weight brought higher performance, as you might expect, but at this level any gains tend to be marginal and so it was with the 30, which came with a 3.8sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 194mph.
Before that, in 2010, a manual California was announced but the takeup rate of just one in ten tells you something about the rise in popularity of twin-clutch transmissions by that point. Although the manual had the same top speed as the DCT California, its 0-62 time was 0.3sec slower and its combined fuel consumption was 11 percent worse than the DCT's 21.6mpg.
In February 2014 the California T was announced online. That 'T' signified the presence of a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers, which with a new 3,855cc V8 delivered a near-70hp hike in power over the California 30 to a new high of 552hp. The T also had longer ratios in its DCT transmission, stiffer suspension, faster steering, and it went a bit quicker (3.6/196). In all areas bar noise and steering, both of which were arguably too light, the T was undoubtedly superior to the previous NA models, but it's so fundamentally different to them (with new sheet metal and interior design) that it will have to wait for its own buying guide. In this piece we're going to have a closer look at those first-generation (2008 to 2014) non-turbo Californias.
It won't have escaped everyone's attention that the early California was derided by some as a `woman's Ferrari' or even a rebadged Maserati. It's true that the first California's easy nature and graceful rather than brutish styling did land it a certain stigma among hard-core fans. We'll talk more about that later, but for now let's satisfy ourselves with a few facts.
One, despite the disdain from some quarters, if you weren't on the list for a California by October 2008, you had to wait until 2011 for the next open build slot. Two, no 190mph, three-second 0-62 car can ever be put in the 'boring' pile. Three, today's Ferrari dealers really rate the California's dual-clutch transmission civility and its all-round usability. They would say that, you might say, but 10,000 owners agreed with them and, crucially for the company, seven out of ten of California buyers were new to the brand.
If you're still worried about this image thing and are the type who is easily influenced by the opinions of others, be reassured by PHer johnnyreggae who noted that the trick is not to look at the California as a supercar - even though it most certainly is one - but as a V8 Ferrari. Or listen to PHer F355GTS, a serial Ferrariste who has owned not one but three Californias, one of them twice. He described them as 'every bit a real Ferrari' and said that they were the best Ferraris he'd ever owned up to the time of the last one in 2015. In period, one well respected magazine said they would take the California over a Gallardo Spyder, Aston DBS Volante or Bentley Conti GTC.
So, at prices beginning from just £60,000, is a used California the most underrated and unfairly castigated Ferrari ever? Let's dive in and try to find out.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI CALIFORNIA
Engine: 4,297cc, V8, 32v
Transmission: 7-speed DCT, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 454@7,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 358@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.9 secs (DCT), 4.2 secs (2010-on manual), 3.8 secs (2012-on California 30)
Top speed: 193mph (DCT), 194mph (California 30)
MPG (official combined): 21.6
Wheels: 8x19 (f), 10x19 (r)
Tyres: 245/40 (f), 285/40 (r)
On sale: 2008 - 2014
Price new: £152,000
Price now: from £60,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Thermal and dynamic stress is something many of us will have experienced on a hot day, but the cold beer that generally fixes humans didn't work on the number of 2009 Californias that developed that problem. Some techies thought that the rattliness that could strike with under 10,000 miles on the clock might have been down to cars sitting around unused for too long, but it later became clear that cars had exited the factory with incorrectly machined crankshafts. A recall was issued in 2012 and free replacement engines were handed out. The number of cars affected was small - under 200, and that included the 458 - but If you're checking out a 2009 California there's no harm in having a very good look at the paperwork to see if that work was carried out. If it wasn't, chances are it wasn't one of the cars affected, but a bit more delving wouldn't hurt.
Overall this is a very robust engine, if not one of Ferrari's most tuneful. Engine mounts can sag, requiring replacement, but that can happen to any car. The California was the first Ferrari with the option of stop-start 'HELE' technology, but even if you hit the official combined fuel consumption figure of between 21 and 22mpg (real-world mpg figures are more likely to be in the mid teens), the 17-gallon fuel tank means you'll have to be brave to cross the 300-mile mark between fill-ups.
The Getrag-built DCT transmission is very good, with a launch control function that works really well, but the DCT's programming does reflect both the factory's expectation of the typical California owner's 'boulevardier' driving style and its own corporate concerns around fuel consumption and noise. If you're cruising at 60 in auto mode and boot it, the box will only drop from seventh to fourth, and not to the third or even second that you might prefer. It's all overrideable via the shift paddles, of course.
There have been some DCT failures, mainly on earlier (and most often '09) cars. Some owners went along with the factory's recommendation to change the entire transmission even though it usually turned out to be nothing more serious than bad connectors that could almost always be soldered back into life. Transmission oil leaks will generally be flagged up by a slowing-down in shift responses. Electrical issues beyond the drivetrain are not unknown but many owners have found that the classic 'IT Crowd' solution of turning it off and turning it on again would often resolve matters.
Another California 'first' for Ferrari was its multi-link rear suspension. Unfortunately its relatively soft settings fuelled snipes at the California's handling. It's important to remember that word 'relative'. Yes, the 2004-on F430 was a sharper drive than the California, partly because it was around 180kg lighter, but what weight the California did have was well positioned. Its 47/53 rearwards bias was a creditable achievement for a car with a front-mounted engine. The sensible stance of the car means it's entirely practical to drive it over sleeping policemen at speeds that would rip the bottom off a lot of other supercars.
If buyers of 2012-on California 30 cars wanted to sharpen up their cars' track behaviour they could add the Handling Speciale pack which for under £5,000 stiffened the springs by 15 percent at the front and 11 percent at the rear, added magnetorhelogical dampers and put more bite into the steering, reducing the number of turns lock to lock from 2.5 to 2.3.
Journalistic opinion was divided on the worth of these HS/MagneRide 30s. They certainly had more grip and jinkability on the track, but those new underpinnings made it harder to detect the onset of a slide. On real roads most hacks preferred the softer, less 'hyper' feel of the standard non-HS cars. Even Raffaele de Simone (Ferrari's chief tester at the time) preferred the standard car, noting that it represented a bigger improvement over the 2008 California than the HS car did.
The Calfornia's tyre pressure monitoring will fritz out now and then, but that's hardly a problem that's exclusive to Ferrari.
The California's aluminium alloy body panels attach to an aluminium spaceframe, but don't think that makes them fragile or weak. These cars were designed and built to handle hard everyday use. The Cali 30s were no less robust despite losing 30kg in the redesign.
The roof mechanism takes 14 seconds to drop, which is quick, but you can't work it on the move, which is potentially annoying. The two-piece design is the same as the one on BMW's Z4 and is more space-efficient than the more common three-piece units when it's stowed in the boot. Very occasionally the roof can be troublesome. At least one owner has been caught by the roof not opening, the boot trapping not only the roof but also any items that might be in there. With luck that wouldn't include your phone. Ferrari dealers are well versed in the art of sorting this out.
Scuderia badges are a matter of personal choice but on the California they do break up what would otherwise be quite a large uninterrupted sweep of wing. 19inch wheels are standard fitment with an alternative design available if you preferred a less restricted view of your (standard fit) ceramic brakes.
Beauty is always a matter of opinion, but you'd be hard pushed to call the California's cabin ugly. Some of the shapes like the 'flying dumbbell' alloy centre console are exquisite and the seat stitching is wonderfully reminiscent of classic Ferraris such as the Daytona. Maybe the switchgear materials could have been slightly higher-rent, but the seats are very comfy, and in combination with the widely-adjustable steering wheel they make it easy for just about anyone to find a good driving position. The sat nav is not well regarded but the cabin heating power is massive.
There's no shortage of option boxes on a Ferrari order sheet. Ticking as many of them as possible is regarded by many buyers as not so much desirable as essential for setting their cars apart from the common herd at resale time. Of course, if everyone goes into max attack mode with the biro, a lot of that differential value is lost. Another thing to bear in mind is that optioned-up cars can weigh substantially more than 'naked' ones: one mag found a 120kg difference between two externally identical press cars.
But let's put all that on one side for now and look at a couple of the choices California buyers made when these cars were new, like the carbon fibre steering wheel with LEDs, and the much more rarely optioned carbon fibre seats. With those CF seats your electronic adjustments are limited to seatback angle only, but they do liberate a bit more rear seat leg space without restricting front access.
When new the California could be configured as either a 2+2 with tiny kiddie-only rear seats or with a storage bench instead of those rear seats. Whichever setup 'your' car has, it will also have fold-down flaps in that back compartment to allow bigger bits of cargo to come through from the boot. The catches for those flaps are inside the boot so you can leave your California parked with the roof down without worrying about thievery from the boot, whose aperture handily extends right down to the bumper.
Marque followers in 2009 who were hoping for a small but sporty Ferrari, a 'new Dino' in essence, didn't feel that their expectations were met by the California. It was perceived by some as a girl's car, a perception that was actually supported by Ferrari itself when they expressed the hope that half of all California buyers would be women choosing one over a Merc SL, Jag XKR, BMW M6 or similar.
That sort of talk was all totally fine in an enlightened society but it did bring the risk of alienating traditional Ferrari buyers who, let's face it, tended to be men, not all of whom were accurately tuned into the modern Zeitgeist. The decade that's passed has given us the space to smile at the negative California comments that have appeared on forums over the years. Many of these views are either (1) not based on personal experience or (2) throwaway comments that don't stand up to even the most cursory of examinations. Often as not they'll be both. The fact is that the California is an extremely comfortable and easy car to drive and, thanks to its excellent reliability record, to own.
After weighing everything up with your clear and objective head on and quite reasonably deciding that a California is the car for you, stop and think for a minute. 'Buy the best car you can afford' is good general advice at the best of times, but it's especially pertinent when you're swimming in Ferrari waters. As the wise man said, there is no such thing as a cheap Ferrari. You need to look long term. Don't be seduced by a low initial purchase price. A little extra cash chipped in at the front end can save you a much bigger amount further down the line.
Having that thought in your mind might also help you with the 'shall I go dealer or private' decision. You'd expect a dealer car to have been inspected as a matter of course, but if you're buying privately it should be possible to get an inspection carried out for under £500. You should be able to offset the cost of fixing any discovered flaws against the price of the vehicle.
Last time we looked, there was a network of 12 official Ferrari dealers in the UK, supplemented on the used side by a network of non-franchised specialists with inventories covering more affordable cars. There's a relaxed relationship between these two groups. Each will help the other to guide a potential client to the right source, so there's less chance of you getting that gnawing suspicion that you may be missing out on a better car elsewhere.
The relatively small number of Ferraris about means there's a good chance that the history of any individual used car you may be interested in will almost certainly be known by a clued-up dealer, or at the very least by people they know. Around seven out of ten official Ferrari dealer clients are repeat customers so it's not in any Ferrari dealer's interest to tell fibs about a car or conceal its flaws from potential buyers. They'd be mad to put such a valuable base at risk.
Most Ferrari buyers have the readies to do a deal on the spot, but that doesn't mean that everyone swans into a dealership and pays the full whack up front. A good number of used Ferraris are bought on three-year finance deals. Often the cars won't be kept that long, mainly because dealers desperate for quality used stock will be making them offers they'll struggle to refuse. As an owner it's nice to know that there'll always be demand for a good car, hence that thing about buying the best one you can afford. Also nice to know in these days of zero percent interest is the relative firmness of Ferrari values.
Taking a squint at the Californias in PH Classifieds we found this 2011 model in black, its 48,000 miles and short option list keeping the price down to under £63,000. At the top end of the PH selection is an 11,000-mile 2013-model 30 in Bianco Avus (white) at £105,000. In the middle there's this 2013 12,000 mile 30 in the rare Vinaccia, which is a striking damson colour, at just under £84,000.
So, you've got your California. What about servicing? There's no cambelt in a California engine, which keeps the costs down. For a 5000 mile a year car, routine servicing would generally take place on an annual basis. Non-dealer specialists would charge between £500 and £700 for an annual service and £1,200-£1,350 for a major.
Official Ferrari dealer service charges are not published online. It's safe to assume their rates will be higher, but you shouldn't discount servicing at a 'proper' dealership even if you're running a California on a budget. Official dealers can be competitive. Post-2011 Ferraris came with a 7-year service plan, a fact which may be of interest in regards to late-model gen-one Californias.
What about warranties? Used cars from the Ferrari Approved network will have up to 24 months Ferrari warranty in Europe and 12 months in the rest of the world. Along with the normal service paperwork, an approved car will have detailed inspection documentation plus a provenance and maintenance history verification file. Non-franchised outlets often provide 'self-warranties' for say 6 months or 6,000 miles, having discovered that the premium costs for conventional insurance warranties tended to be higher than the sums they'd receive back on claims.
The Ferrari Power15 warranty package that was introduced in 2017 allowed owners to pay for an extended warranty that would effectively cover all major mechanical failures for up to 15 years from the date of first registration. The warranty was transferable too. If you fancy grafting a Power warranty onto a privately-bought California, you should be able to book it into an official Ferrari dealer, pay them for an inspection and rectification of any issues, and then press £3k or so a year into their hands for the warranty. It's not a bad shout at that price because California engine failure can result in an official Ferrari repair quote in the region of £45,000.
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