RE: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale: Review

RE: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale: Review

Wednesday 16th March 2016

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale: Review

Can a bit of Speciale magic turn the California into a 'real' Ferrari?



Can the California T really be considered Speciale enough to carry a name that now carries with it more than a little expectation?

This isn't a California T Speciale of course. It's a California T Handling Speciale, Ferrari retreading the path it took with the original California to prove its arch boulevardier can be as rampante as any other cavallino. To that end the £5,568 package stiffens springs (16 per cent front, 19 per cent rear), offers new calibration for the SCM3 Magneride dampers, dual-clutch gearbox and F1-Trac stability control as well as fitting a new exhaust system with completely redesigned gas flow and silencers. You also get a little Handling Speciale plaque on the centre tunnel and Grigio Ferro Met (matt silver to you and me) colouring for the grille and diffuser.

Enough for we driving gods and purists to welcome it with open arms then? There may be some 'not a proper Ferrari' snobbery aimed at the California but those who actually buy into the dream seem to love it, just over 10,000 of the previous naturally-aspirated versions helping bring new buyers into the fold. Cameron Diaz's character in The Counselor was certainly a fan, the evolution into the turbocharged era with the California T received with (thankfully just platonic) enthusiasm by Chris Harris when he drove it for PH on launch in 2014.

You want noise? You got noise!
You want noise? You got noise!
Movin' on up
Ferrari reckons those moving across from equivalent cars - perhaps an Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, AMG SL or 911 Turbo S Cabriolet - appreciate the existing California T's more GT-oriented pitch. Meanwhile those moving up and into their first Ferrari want something with a little more attitude and, for want of a better word, Ferrariness. And that's where the Handling Speciale comes in.

First thing you notice is the noise. There's nothing subtle about the start-up bark of the twin-turbo V8 and, unlike some, it never really subsides either. Combined with the whistles and whooshes of the forced induction system it's a showboater's delight; if you're actually going to use it as a daily drive rather than a metropolitan posing pouch it might actually be a little much. Or maybe we're just getting old.

Those who rarely leave the city limits won't be enjoying the best of the suspension modifications either. The dampers may have a broader range than before - the gap between Comfort and Sport much wider on the HS than it is the standard car - but the increased spring rates mean a degree of harshness over the pitter patter of drain covers and speed bumps is inescapable. Occasionally you detect just a sense of shimmy through the body or steering column too, something notably absent in the revised (motoring journalist cliche alert!) hewn from solid Mercedes SL we drove recently.

Looks great, but some rivals are better
Looks great, but some rivals are better
National pride
At mooching speed you can't help but notice also that the interior is a step behind both the SL and 911 Turbo S in terms of touchy feely quality and tech. They're subtle, but the signs that it's a Ferrari built to a price point are there, be it superficial stuff like the switchgear or quality of the nav graphics. The latter would just about pass muster on a supermini but against the slick OE systems from the Germans it's second rate in looks and operation.

And that's the thing, isn't it? If you're buying an SL or 911 Turbo S you're at the very peak of the respective manufacturers' ranges. The California T overlaps on price but is the very first rung of the next category up - are you happier with a brand at its very best or the entry level of a fancier badge?

Such existential musings seem less significant as you leave the traffic behind and get onto the kind of roads where you might want your handling to be a little more speciale. In the modern Ferrari style the steering is fast and light, turn-in helped by a balance tipped more in favour of front-end bite than safety understeer. It's still no 488 GTB in this respect and the inertia of the front-engined layout means it can't match the mid-engined car's agility through rapid direction changes.

Not a proper Ferrari? Don't be daft!
Not a proper Ferrari? Don't be daft!
Speciale school
But it feels more nimble than the somewhat blunt SL and more honest in feel and feedback than the Porsche, effective as its tech overload of active anti-roll, four-wheel steering, four-wheel drive and torque vectoring might be. A point-to-point comparison between the three would be very interesting; the Porsche would likely be the quickest especially on a wet day or traction-limited surface, the SL's huge torque advantage over the Ferrari - a massive 664lb ft against 557lb ft - likely giving it more corner-exit grunt too. You'd wager the California T driver would be having the most fun though.

Harris went into some detail about the clever torque management through the gears and the same applies to the Handling Speciale version; response, reach and character really are spectacular for a turbocharged engine and significant for introducing us to the age of the new-school forced induction Ferrari. Unlike the German cars it's easy to enjoy without getting bogged down in driver modes and configurability too; fundamentally the transaxle layout and 47:53 front to rear weight distribution means the car is inherently well balanced and doesn't need to hide behind an electronic smokescreen. Sure, the dampers actively stiffen to control roll but the limited-slip diff is predictable in its response and the whole car feels natural and instinctive in a way the rivals can't.

SL, Vanquish and 911 - the rivals are tough
SL, Vanquish and 911 - the rivals are tough
Comfort mode remains cautious, the frequency of the stability control interventions even at a moderate pace on dry tarmac pointing to its conservative GT remit. Sport mode slackens the leash a little and the car instantly feels keener and more readable - here a small a small amount of slip actually increases your faith in the chassis. ESC off isn't as scary as it sounds either, the car instead retaining a predictable balance and friendliness you don't get in a 488 GTB with all the nannies sent packing. That does make it very, very easy to go extremely fast though, the clever torque management through the gears, huge flexibility and lightening quick gearshifts giving you the option to just lean on in-gear grunt or make more theatrical progress through the gears as you wish.

Proper job then, or simply papering over the cracks? For cars of its type the California T is a convincing Ferrari spin on the theme. But Handling Speciale or not, it's still not quite the red-blooded sports car it desperately wants us to believe it is. A perfectly sound and respectable product, executed with some flair. But we're talking gentle evolution here, not revolution.


FERRARI CALIFORNIA T HS PACK
Engine
: 3,855cc, V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 560@7,500rpm*
Torque (lb ft): 557@4,750rpm (in 7th gear)
0-62mph: 3.6sec
Top speed: 196mph
Weight: 1,625kg (with lightweight optional equipment)
MPG: 26.9mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 250g/km
Price: £160,798 (OTR, including Handling Speciale package)
*With 98 octane fuel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

toppstuff

Original Poster:

11,411 posts

178 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
Of course it is a proper Ferrari !

Ferrari have always, always made GT cars. It is ignorant to suggest otherwise.

This happens to be a very good GT car.

It is also one of the few Ferrari's where you can put some miles on it and use everyday, without fear of running the miles up and having the dealer pull your trousers down if your precious 458 has more than 12 miles on the clock.

The tiresome sensitivity of more rarified Ferraris to even moderate use ( watch your dealer run for the hills if you try to sell a leggy 458 ) , makes the Cali T one of the most attractive, for me anyway.

zerovira

63 posts

62 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
Even as a lifetime Ferrarri fan and GT lover, I find hard to justify this car in front of an Aston. It is too ugly to be a Ferrari.

Great car, but not in the supercar level.

Honeywell

185 posts

29 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
Were I in the market for a Ferrari this is the one I would buy now I am in my forties with small children.

I think it looks fantastic and has interesting tech, a lovely sound and an acceptable image for a middle aged man. I probably wouldn't choose red. I think it will age well.

sealtt

2,296 posts

89 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
I drove a lot of the original (well, the original-recent) Californias. It was a good car, but not quite good enough. Certainly wouldn't take one over a 911 or AMG SL unless I was just in it for the looks / badge, car just wasn't as good.

The California T however fixed all the slight defects of the original California and is as a result, a genuinely great car. I went to the launch in Italy and at Millbrook and I was very impressed with the car, now really worth buying for more than just the badge. Would love to give this handling speciale version a go!

CGJ0

33 posts

31 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
zerovira said:
Even as a lifetime Ferrarri fan and GT lover, I find hard to justify this car in front of an Aston. It is too ugly to be a Ferrari.

Great car, but not in the supercar level.
I think to use the word supercar in respect of GTs is unhelpful anyway... looks are pretty subjective but Aston certainly aren't winning any points on the looks inside their cars, so dated.
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Dale487

653 posts

54 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
I'd take one in TDFB but I think for the money I'd rather have the 911R (I know there are none available and they aren't direct competition).

TREMAiNE

2,806 posts

80 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
zerovira said:
Great car, but not in the supercar level.
I would disagree.

I know the term supercar varies from person to person but IMO with the California T you have:

-Prestigious badge
-Exclusive, out of budget for 99.9% of people
-Extremely powerful
-Extremely fast
-It is a great steer (ok it won't handle like a 488GTB but it is more than capable of dealing with what 99.9% of owners are going to throw at it)
-It looks amazing, though I appreciate that is subjective
-It turns heads
-It sounds pretty good

I don't understand how someone wouldn't consider it a supercar. Even the mid-engined argument doesn't hold up as strongly now that the engine has been pushed so far back.

mnx42

196 posts

94 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
I really like this car. maybe its my age but would take one over a 458!

sealtt

2,296 posts

89 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
TREMAiNE said:
I would disagree.

I know the term supercar varies from person to person but IMO with the California T you have:

-Prestigious badge
-Exclusive, out of budget for 99.9% of people
-Extremely powerful
-Extremely fast
-It is a great steer (ok it won't handle like a 488GTB but it is more than capable of dealing with what 99.9% of owners are going to throw at it)
-It looks amazing, though I appreciate that is subjective
-It turns heads
-It sounds pretty good

I don't understand how someone wouldn't consider it a supercar. Even the mid-engined argument doesn't hold up as strongly now that the engine has been pushed so far back.
I'm not sure if you've driven the California T, but if you compare it to driving a car like the 458, it's very obvious which is the supercar.

Not to say that the Cali T isn't a super-good car - including all those points you mentioned - but it's no way hardcore enough to be a supercar. It's a sports GT, and a damn good one. It's not even trying to be a supercar.

daniel1920

213 posts

49 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
sealtt said:
I went to the launch in Italy
And which email should I send my CV to?

250GTE

71 posts

50 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
I own three front engine V12 Ferraris.Convertibles are generally not my bag.

When the Cali first came out I was not impressed, mainly because of the styling and I guess luke warm reviews. One appeared in my office car park, "re-sale" red over tan with lots of red stitching, taste is of course subjective but that is my least favorite Ferrari spec.

However more recently 2 Cali Ts have appeared, silver with a black roof and metallic grey. Another popped up near my house in non-metallic dark grey, "grigio scurro" if you prefer. Styling wise the revisions, done by the guy who headed F12 and La F design projects, have made to my eye at least, huge improvements. In those colours the T looks very good indeed, not at all the girly car its predecessor was accused of being.
Now Harris sung the praises of the Cali T as a drivers car and apparently it has just got significantly better. So I say, hats off to Ferrari.

I had an R230 SL55 which for the first time made me appreciate convertibles that could mostly act as coupe's and now Ferrari have one too. I must say I'm tempted.

Now here is an interesting factoid, our friends in Maranello have recently launched the 488 and the F12 tdf. To get an early one of the former and to have any chance of the latter dealers were putting about that it would be favourable to own up to 5 Ferraris. Now the factory dont seem to care to much if these cars are new, but the dealers were not going to say that.

So it appears quite a few people bought Cali Ts with no ambition to own them.
We are already seeing this effect in the US with dealers very reluctant to take back the Calis. So there could be glut of nearly new cars coming onto the market. While they will never be a bargain significant reductions on list should be available. Pretty rare for a newly launched f car.

MikeGalos

183 posts

215 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
toppstuff said:
Of course it is a proper Ferrari !
No. It's a proper Dino. As Enzo Ferrari said, a proper Ferrari has a 12 cylinder engine.

mat205125

15,394 posts

144 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
Undoubtedly a lovely creation, albeit with styling that is a little marmite.

When compared against offerings from Maserati and Jaguar, I can't help thinking that £160k is difficult to swallow.

Maybe that's mainly because that's more than I sold my house for last year though smile

250GTE

71 posts

50 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
MikeGalos said:
No. It's a proper Dino. As Enzo Ferrari said, a proper Ferrari has a 12 cylinder engine.
Agreed, Dino would have been perfect. Hopefully a mid engined V8T coupe badged Dino is in the pipeline

Ex Boy Racer

1,028 posts

123 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
Drove one of these at a ferrari day, along with a 458.

Didn't want to like it (coz I'm an ace driver, dontcha know) but it steered beautifully - really sweet, direct and rewarding. TBH it was probably a nicer drive than the 458 that I eventually bought, certainly up to mad speeds.

Gorbyrev

1,009 posts

85 months

Wednesday 16th March 2016
quotequote all
That was a really nice write up - enjoyed that. I think the side profile looks rather good with the black roof.

TREMAiNE

2,806 posts

80 months

Thursday 17th March 2016
quotequote all
sealtt said:
I'm not sure if you've driven the California T, but if you compare it to driving a car like the 458, it's very obvious which is the supercar.

Not to say that the Cali T isn't a super-good car - including all those points you mentioned - but it's no way hardcore enough to be a supercar. It's a sports GT, and a damn good one. It's not even trying to be a supercar.
As it happens I've driven both the original California, California T and the 458 - admittedly I've not pushed any of them to anywhere near their limits though the 458 was on track. I don't claim to be a driving God either (I mean, I am a driving God but I just never mention it wink ).

Of course the California T is a GT car and the 458 a Sports car - to me they both fall under the supercar category and I bet if you were to ask 99% of the population if the California T was a supercar they'd almost all say yes.

Lets go with the Wikipedia definition of supercar: "A supercar is a very expensive and high-performance sports car or grand tourer." based on that definition, you can't argue whether the Cali-T is or isn't a supercar.

TooMany2cvs

25,984 posts

57 months

Thursday 17th March 2016
quotequote all


What. Is. The. Point?

mat205125

15,394 posts

144 months

Friday 18th March 2016
quotequote all
TooMany2cvs said:


What. Is. The. Point?
Perfect for gym bag, crash helmet, Douglas Bader, baby seat, Chinese takeaway, pets.

TheJimi

13,393 posts

174 months

Friday 18th March 2016
quotequote all
mat205125 said:
TooMany2cvs said:


What. Is. The. Point?
Perfect for gym bag, crash helmet, Douglas Bader, baby seat, Chinese takeaway, pets.
Out of those suggestions, the baby seat is the only thing those "seats" are good for For everything else, you'd be better with a nice storage space instead.