In the Spotlight – Ferrari California T {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

11 Aug 2017

For most ‘petrolheads’ the Ferrari California of 2009 was a bit of a let down. It wasn’t particularly nice looking, especially around the back end and the handling was very unresolved with a firm yet wallowing ride. But that didn’t stop it becoming the most successful new Ferrari ever, with an incredible 70% of owners being new to the brand. This is known as a ‘conquest sale’ and is very important to car makers as generally if they like the car those new customers will stay with the brand. In Ferrari’s case this means moving their way up the range over the years which is more money in their pockets. This was because the old Cali was a pretty safe car – the handling wasn’t too sporting, it had a nice folding hard top roof and you could just about fit two small people in the back seats along with some golf clubs in the boot. The Mercedes SL65 and Aston Martin DB9 suddenly had a new rival and it had a very good badge on the nose. So to replace it, Ferrari didn’t want to stray too far from the original formula, while still addressing the old car’s shortcomings to enable it to appeal to the old customers and the new ones who expect more from a Ferrari.

I never really liked the old California, mainly down to the styling where for me the back end was an absolute mess. The rear was too tall, while the quad exhausts, stacked at either side looked cheap and Japanese – even more so when you realised they were simply fake trims and the real exhaust sat underneath. The handling was worse though – accelerate hard and the rear would squat down and the nose rise, brake hard and the nose would dive. Come to a corner the whole car would roll like an SUV despite the ride being very firm. It really didn’t agree with me at all. So I was very excited to try out its replacement, the California T, for many reasons. There were promises of resolved styling, a new engine and much improved handling and I was sceptical, but need not have been.

When I arrived at Roman’s International to see the car it’s like an Aladdin’s cave. Open the door and I’m greeted by pretty much every supercar you can name – Veyron, Enzo, Carrera GT, 675LT, 911R, Huracan Spyder, 488 Spyder, the list goes on and on. After the initial excitement this is my first chance to really drink in the details of the new Cali T and it really makes a good impression.

Every body panel bar the roof is new for the Cali T and you can really tell. The nose is slightly lower with the familiar slatted grille more shapely and flanked by two intakes, while the headlights are also shapelier and the bonnet houses two large vents. The awkward side surfacing has been addressed too, with a simple line running from the front wing down the side, with a large vent and scallop below, up the rear haunches. Though still quite high, the rear deck has much more tightly controlled surfacing that wraps over the internal packaging like cling-film over a freshly cooked chicken. The rear end has been massively improved too, with twin pipes sitting either side of a functional diffuser and the new typical single tail lights sitting atop the bootlid. To the casual passer-by the new Cali T and its predecessor could look very similar, but myriad small changes have come together to make a car so much prettier than before. The interior has also seen some changes, the biggest being the adoption of the 458’s steering wheel with all the control buttons contained therein. Familiarity certainly helps with this control system, but it still needs a little more development which will hopefully come on the 488 GTB. The lashings of (optional) carbon fibre in this car’s interior certainly help with the feeling of quality and I do love a bit of tan leather.

Of course the biggest news with the new California T was that last letter – standing for Turbo. This is the first turbocharged Ferrari since the F40 and was a massive change to implement especially given that Ferraris are world renowned for their naturally aspirated engines. So the old 4.3 litre V8 with 483bhp was out and in came the dreaded downsizing to 3.9 litres. But this is a Ferrari, so there were two turbos added and power now sits at a frankly ridiculous (for a ‘base’ model) 552bhp. But can a twin turbo V8 still sound as good as the old screaming V8s? The power unit in the McLaren 12C doesn’t sound amazing, but if Mercedes can manage to make their 4.0 litre twin turbo V8 in the AMG GT sound amazing, surely Ferrari can?

Thumb the starter button the first time and all fears are blown away in a blare of delicious V8 noise. Okay, this is still a Ferrari. It settles at a creamy idle, but a few cursory prods of the accelerator confirm that this new V8tt has got some aural pleasures to deliver – time to head out then. Flick the right hand long slender aluminium paddle into 1st and the Cali T pulls away smoothly and with zero drama – the gearbox was one of the best points about the old California and it remains in the new model – and I head out of London onto some decent roads.

On our capital’s horrendous roads the Cali T’s ride is somewhat choppy in Sport mode, but there’s a little button on the steering wheel with a damper on it and when pressed the car goes into its ‘Bumpy Road’ setting. This leaves everything else in Sport mode but the clever magnetically controlled dampers soften up and you have a comfy ride equal to a modern saloon car. Perfect. But after seemingly weeks of sitting in traffic – during which time the Cali T proved to be a lovely place to be cocooned with the roof up – it was time to drop the roof and head to the twisties. This brings to light one annoyance – with most convertibles these days; soft or hard top, you can raise or lower the roof on the move; usually up to 20mph or so, but not so with the Cali T. You have to stop completely, foot on the brake, so if you’re caught in a shower in a slow moving traffic jam (which happened to me) you have to stop, causing impatient drivers to get rather angry behind you. It’s probably something to do with the amount that the bootlid moves backwards when the roof operates, but this could easily be sorted by checking there’s nothing too close with the rear parking sensors. Anyway, I digress…

So with the roof dropped you get to appreciate the full vocal talents of the California T’s new turbo V8 and all worries are blown into the weeds. Introduce the loud pedal to the carpet and a cultured V8 rumble turns into an angry shout before the blaring crescendo, then flick another gear and it all starts again. It’s not as full-on shouty and raspy as the F-Type R, there’s definitely a different edge to it that is unmistakably Ferrari. You also get the faintest hint of turbo whistle too, which adds to the enjoyment. Enjoyment which continues when you reach the corners – it couldn’t be more different from the car it replaces – flat, controlled body movements, decent wheel travel and compression damping, it really is a revelation. Sure, big bumps mid corner will upset the balance but that’s a small price to pay for the excellent composure elsewhere. If you push on there’s a little understeer on turn in, but that’s expected given the non-sporting nature of the majority of buyers – safety first.

The new engine produces 557 lb/ft of torque which is a huge amount, but that’s only in 7th gear. The torque is limited through the gears in order to allow the engine to rev like a Ferrari should. If they allowed all the torque to be available all the time, a 2nd gear corner would end up lighting up the rear tyres. So you have limited torque all the way from 1st to 6th in order to keep the engine revving.

To summarise, the new Cali T is a deeply impressive car. You could very easily use it as a daily driver, with a comfy ride, good visibility and forgiving drivetrain. If you liked the California before, you’ll love it more now, and if you didn’t like it before – give the California T a try, it’s almost certain to change your mind.

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Huge thanks to Romans International for the use of the California T and the superb images are by Stephen Hall Photography.