Ferrari California T review – 2014 first drive

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  • 560hp California T becomes first turbocharged Ferrari since the F40
  • Much better looking, latest tech, sharper driving, still comfortable
  • £154,490 | on sale now, UK deliveries September 2014

CJ Hubbard | May 2014

The Ferrari California T is the first Prancing Horse to be powered by a turbocharged engine since the F40 debuted in 1987. Not only does this set the tone for the future of a marque famed – amongst many other things – for making some of the most extraordinary naturally aspirated engines ever to combust petrol and oxygen, it also turns the California into a lavish rocket ship that demands much more serious attention.

The California, as introduced in 2009, has always suffered at the hands and words of an enthusiast fan base distraught at Ferrari’s softer approach with this car. But the California was never built for these people – those who loved and could afford Ferrari’s existing range already bought them; the California’s target was a different kind of customer, one allured by the idea of Ferrari as a luxury brand, yet put off by the compromises required by the products themselves.

Hence the California’s folding hardtop roof, its “2+” seating arrangement, the load-through boot and the additional comfort. Possibly Ferrari went a little too far with the softness at launch – as evidence by subsequent revisions that sharpened the chassis – but it certainly struck the right chord. With over 10,000 examples sold, the outgoing California is the most successful single-model Ferrari ever, and 70% of the people who buy it have never owned a Ferrari before.

In other words, it’s gold dust. So Ferrari wasn’t about to make too many changes for this new version. That’s not the same as saying the California T isn’t substantially better. In every single way.

As you can probably tell, the T is not an all-new California – but each exterior panel bar the roof and the windscreen surround is new. Equally, the interior is sleeker and more sophisticated, the underlying technology and electronics now at Ferrari’s cutting edge, and the driving experience far more honed without sacrificing the California customer’s demand for comfort.

As for the engine, and the future of Ferrari performance, well…

What is the 2014 Ferrari California T like to drive?

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The previous California was powered by a 490hp 4.3-litre non-turbo V8; the California T gets a downsized 3,855cc twin-turbo V8 with 560hp. 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds, 0-124mph in 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 196mph is enough to underline that the California T is unquestionably fast, but there is a lot more to this new engine than that.

Ferrari has spent a great deal of time, effort and money making it feel anything but turbocharged. To do this, the engineers have not only fitted expensive equal length exhaust manifolds, direct injection and twin-scroll turbos, but also heavily manipulated the torque curve. Instead of dumping the full whack of muscle into the drivetrain at low revs, the torque builds as you go faster, encouraging you to go chasing the redline.

Of course, this is a luxury that’s more easily attained when you’ve got a 557lb ft maximum to play with – to such an extent that the total figure, which is some 49% greater than the previous V8 could muster, only becomes available in seventh gear, the culmination of a process that sees the torque increase with every cog above third. This tactic also helps manage the California T’s rear-wheel drive traction in the lower gears, as well as making it feel faster and faster.

The sound – often an issue for turbo engines – is also very convincing; pair this with the immediacy of response, especially in the higher ratios, and you aren’t going to get many people guessing there’s anything but a big V8 under that bonnet. Take it to the limiter in the first three gears and they’ll be too speechless to comment, either way. The California T is now a shockingly rapid car.

Loves a corner, too. You’ll be wanting the optional magnetorheological adjustable damping system, but what’s an extra £3,168 when you’re already laying down £154,490? This allows the California to soak up scarred surfaces with resilient composure, even at very big speeds, thanks to a new “bumpy road” setting. Stiffer springs and steering that’s 10% quicker ensure that actual direction changes are also far sharper.

Although not at the level of the 458 Italia, this is now a machine that is extremely satisfying when you get stuck into the twisties. Keep the stability and traction controls systems in play and it’s anything but intimidating in the process, while the crackling pace of the dual-clutch paddleshift automatic gearbox means you can practically play the engine like a musical instrument.

So what else is new on the 2014 Ferrari California T?

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That you get this thoroughly convincing performance upgrade all wrapped up inside a much more attractive body is surely going to bring even more potential buyers to the California T’s stable – keeping in mind that Ferrari is now capping production numbers in order to manage exclusivity of its image.

Comfort levels are also better than ever, partly because of the added assurance of the chassis, partly thanks to the upgraded interior. The front seats are wider, there’s a new infotainment system with both touchscreen and push button control, and more of the controls have been relocated onto the steering wheel, F1 fashion. We wouldn’t fancy spending much time in the rear seats, but these are most definitely occasional only, or for small children.

The boot is 340 litres with the roof up, 240 litres with the roof down – a process that takes 14 seconds. There is a touch more shimmy and shake through the structure in open-air guise than perhaps you might find in the latest Mercedes SL, but there is no question which one we’d rather be driving.

Ferrari even gives you a reasonable amount of standard equipment, including an extra gadget in the form of a screen between the central air vents called the Turbo Performance Engineer. This simple touch device displays information including Turbo Response (percentage of maximum engine performance available at the current rpm) and Turbo Efficiency (torque for consumption).

Speaking of efficiency, Maranello’s main reason for switching to turbo power is to enhance fuel consumption. The new engine, and the longer gearing it allows, is said to deliver a 15% improvement. Oh, and just in case you still don’t feel like you’re getting value for money, the California T comes with seven years’ free annual servicing.

2014 Ferrari California T: the MR verdict

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Focus on the kind of customer Ferrari is courting here, and it’s tough to see how the people behind the California T could have done a better job of absolutely nailing it. The sharpness of the steering takes a little getting used to, but once dialled in you’ll find your hands rarely need to leave the steering wheel – making this an easy car to drive quickly and confidently.

It retains that all-important comfort and the additional versatility of those strange rear seats (which seem a gimmick but 99% of all previous buyers chose to have them), and it’s now much better looking. Perhaps best of all, the California T also proves that turbocharged Ferraris have a very bright future.

 

MR_5_star

 

 

Rivals

  • Aston Martin DB9 Volante
  • Bentley Continental GTC
  • BMW M6 Convertible
  • Maserati GranCabrio
  • Mercedes-Benz SL

Specification

Engine 3,855cc twin-turbo V8 petrol

Drivetrain seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddleshifters, rear-wheel drive

Prices from £154,490

Power 560hp @ 7,500rpm

Torque 557lb ft @ 4,250rpm (in seventh gear)

0-62mph 3.6 seconds

Top speed 196mph

MPG 26.9

CO2 250g/km

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Ferrari California T (2014)
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