A Ferrari for the masses? Hardly. However, the latest model to wear the prancing horse will open the door to a larger audience. Something the folks in Maranello have been hoping to do for some time. Anointed the California with homage to the legendary 250 GT, the 2+ drop-top will afford Ferrari with a popular and decidedly more exclusive alternative to the likes of Aston Martin DB9 Volante, Bentley GTC and Mercedes SL63.
The pininfarina-penned lines of the California are quintessential Ferrari, soft and flowing with a few visual nods to the original California, but they aren't as instantly pleasing especially at the tail end, requiring your eye to pause and ponder before getting comfortable. Designers were handed the task of providing enough room to stow Ferrari's first-ever retractable hardtop, as well as ensure adequate luggage space. The result is a slightly bulbous rear that takes just a little getting used to. As with any Ferrari, however, the California is still remarkably sexy with jaw dropping appeal. We witnessed plenty of rubber necking throughout our recent Southern California drive through the mountains and dessert east of San Diego and along the coast.
As you would expect, there's also plenty of sizzle under the hood revealing Maranello's very latest performance tinkering. The California is the first Ferrari with a front-mounted V8 engine. Same block used in the F430. It's also first of the company's engines to offer direct injection, added for improved power and fuel economy. The powerhouse is good for 460 horses at 7750rpm, compared to the F430's 483bhp at 8500rpm. Perhaps more impressive is that its 358 pound-feet of torque (15lb-ft more than the 430) is sent to the rear wheels via an all-new dual clutch automated-manual 7-speed tranny, yet another first for Ferrari. Yes, the California is the lucky beneficiary of years of state-of-the-art Ferrari R&D and it shows. The Getrag system is a marked improvement achieving trouble free millisecond down or upshifts. It's now to the point where it's hard to imagine a faster, more seamless shift, Sport mode or otherwise. Whap-whap-whap. Like butter. Conversely, Comfort mode for full automatic cruising is smooth and creamy, as it should. As far as the traditional manual, well, it will be offered later as an option, but really who cares when you have this brilliant gearbox?
Ferrari says the California carries a top speed of 193mph and will sprint to 60 in only 3.8-seconds, which easily outpaces its prior mentioned competitors. Its impressive torque is felt from the word go with most of it available at only 2200rpm. Like any Ferrari, the exhaust note is heavenly, able to excite the senses with every rev. About the only unpleasant sound we heard was the squeaking of the carbon ceramics, primarily when cold. Something I will never get used to despite the brakes unbelievable stopping power.
Our route took us through all types of driving conditions and equally varied terrain. Even climate, driving in the triple digit dessert heat to the cool ocean breezes. Through it all, the California was as equally at home on the open highway as it was in the twistiest of mountain roads, thanks in part to a well-sorted chassis with a 47/53-percent front-to-rear weight ratio and super sharp responsive steering. Though no Scuderia, the 3,817 lb. California handled even the tightest sections with great aplomb, and all while being coddled in luxurious comfort.
In fact, the cabin is as impressive as they come with handsome leather and superb craftsmanship throughout. Everything is classic Ferrari down to the touch and smell. Top down wind noise was also surprisingly quiet, allowing for normal conversations without having to raise your voice, even at higher speeds. I had plenty of room to stretch my longer than average legs, but at the expense of eliminating any available room for a rear passenger, less they sat Indian style. Like a 911, the rear buckets are perhaps best left to children. To that end, it does carry standard child safety-seat attachments. Or simply request the optional parcel tray, which does away with the seats altogether. One convenient aspect to the standard configuration, however, is a useful fold-down seat that instantly expands trunk space to accommodate longer items such as a golf bag, skis and other items that wouldn't ordinarily fit in the trunk space of a convertible or coupe for that matter. Further, the top uses only 3.5-cubic-feet of the available 12-cu.ft. of trunk space, which means you still have plenty of room even with the top down. Incidentally, the top fully retracts in only 14-seconds.
Overall, the California is as sensible as it is sexy. A superb GT offering style, panache with varied and wonderfully distinctive personalities. Combining F1-bred performance with luxury comfort and practical usefulness, it's the Ferrari you can drive and enjoy on a regular, if not daily basis. That is if you can get your hands on one. Production will be limited the first year with only those highest on the pecking order taking delivery in the fall.
2009 Ferrari California
Front, mid-mounted, rear-wheel drive
4.3-liter V8, Direct-Injection
F1, Dual Clutch, 7-speed sequential manual
Double Wishbone, Multilink, Fully Independent
Vented carbon-ceramic discs, ABS
Length/Width/Height(in.):179.6/74.9/51.5Curb Weight: 3817lb
454 hp @ 7600 rpm 357 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm, 0-62 mph 3.8-sec, max speed, 193mph
What we like:
Easy to drive fast, brilliant gearbox, well-rounded chassis, ample trunk space, comfy luxy cabin, sounds amazing
What we don't:
On the heavier side, bulbous hind quarters, squeaky brakes
The Price Tag:$200,000