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First Drive: Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.

First Drive: Ferrari California
Ferrari adds a fourth model to its range with the California. It represents a new direction and greater choice for customers.

   



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| First Drive | di Costanza, Sicily | Ferrari California |

There was tangible scepticism during the press conference for the new Ferrari California. Where does the new front-engined, folding hardtop model fit into the line-up? Does Ferrari really need another V8 model selling for the same sort of money as the F430? Add imploding financial markets around the globe into the mix and the addition of a fourth model range might seem rather ill advised right now. However, Ferrari is confident in its new 'range-completing' model and it has got very good reason to be.

In the Metal

Ferrari talks of styling links with its California to the famous 1950's 250 models. And there's some weight to that claim - the low, wide grille, slatted wings and bonnet scoop all paying tribute to its beautiful ancestors.

The California's styling is perhaps not so successful around the rear, as the folding hardtop results in a slightly heavy look to its haunches. The bold feature line along the flanks and rising up over the rear wings does soften the effect, but the California arguably looks its best with the roof up. It's not a car that you'll immediately fall in love with perhaps, but the California's style grows on you a great deal with exposure. There really is some beautiful detailing in its lines, even if the stacked exhausts are a touch showy for a car Ferrari itself admits is targeted at more conservative customers.

What you get for your Money

You certainly don't get the much-rumoured 'baby' Ferrari, as the California lines right up alongside its F430 relative with a 143,000 sticker price. For that you get one of the most evocative badges in the world, a sensational 4.3-litre V8 engine (which is positioned in the front for the first time in a V8 production Ferrari) producing 106bhp per litre, a new twin-clutch, paddle-shift transmission and a neat folding hardtop. Ferrari claims that the California offers customers a GT alternative to its sports cars, with more comfortable long-distance ability, more versatility with more space for luggage and passengers - though you'd need to be a real sadist to suggest anyone other than the smallest of children ever use the '+ seating' behind the driver and passenger.

As ever there are some desirable options: the magnetic damping system that provides a brilliant balance between sharp dynamics and ride comfort costs 3,132 for example. Figure on spending at least 10k on options for your perfect California then, but if you're buying a car in this financial realm, then that's unlikely to concern you.

Driving it

Ferrari might claim the California is a more friendly, easier car to drive but pressing the start button on the steering wheel leaves you with no doubt about its DNA. The 4.3-litre engine is from Ferrari's V8 family, though in the California it features direct injection and a different bore and stroke to the F430. It sounds magnificent too, softer and more mellow than the screaming V8 in the F430 - that car's tearing metallic rasp still being audible, mixed in with the California's more cultured timbre.

Ferrari may class the California as a GT, but with a sub four-second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 193mph your grand touring can be covered very quickly indeed. Standard carbon ceramic brakes mean even the California's hefty 1,735kg kerb weight isn't a problem to haul down from the speeds it so easily achieves, while the CST traction control system incorporates Ferrari's sensational F1 Trac, meaning that using the V8's full 454bhp and 357lb.ft of torque isn't challenging at all.

A 'Manettino' switch on the steering wheel gives you the option of Comfort, Sport or CST off. Controlling Ferrari's traction and stability systems, the Manettino's effect is pretty dramatic. Comfort is the default choice with relatively low intervention thresholds; the Sport setting raises the bar and allows a good degree of slip before intervening. The CST off mode turns off all of the driving aids and reveals the California's beautiful balance and friendly on the limit behaviour.

The new paddle-shift transmission is the V8's perfect partner, shifting gears with precision whether you're selecting them yourself or leaving it in the automatic mode. The nicely weighted steering is very quick too, though you're sometimes left guessing as to grip levels due to a lack of clear information through the California's chunky steering wheel. Where the California really underlines its GT credentials is its ride. With the optional magneto-rheological dampers it delivers sensational body control and accuracy, without destroying ride comfort.

Worth Noting

That paddle-shift transmission is all-new on the California. It's a double-clutch system. Unlike other manufacturers' dual-clutch options Ferrari's feels like a manual rather than an automatic. There's a physicality to its shift even though there's effectively no break in the torque delivery. As a paddle-shift manual it's fantastically quick on up or downshifts. Key though is its ability as an automatic, as it shifts with finesse that Ferrari's F1 Superfast robotised manual boxes simply cannot match.

Trick transmissions and direct injection should help economy, but 21.6mpg isn't anything to get excited about, nor will you ever achieve it. Carbon dioxide emissions of 305g/km won't win you any friends at Greenpeace, either. Forget those numbers though, as the California reaches 62mph in less than four seconds and if the sun is shining you can drop that clever hardtop in just 14.

Summary

Any fears that the Ferrari California would dilute the core sporting appeal of the brand have proved unfounded. It's a hugely capable GT car that's still got the ability to thrill. Sure, it'll not leave you fizzing like an 430 Scuderia or even the 599 GTB, but then it's not meant to - the California's strength is its rounded ability. There's a delicacy and ease to the way it drives that will undoubtedly appeal to a broader customer base, but it's certainly no less of a Ferrari because of that.

Kyle Fortune - 16 Oct 2008



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2009 Ferrari California specifications:
Technical specifications for 2009 Ferrari California

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2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.



2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 

2008 Ferrari California. Image by Ferrari.
 






 

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