Introduced in mid-2014 and positioned somewhere between a roadster and a grand tourer, the Ferrari California T is a much improved and radically facelifted update of a machine originally launched back in 2008. Powered by 3.9-litre V8 that gives 552bhp and a maximum 755Nm of torque, this handsome 2+2 was also Maranello’s first contemporary production car to feature forced induction, and thus paved the way for the adoption of turbo power on its latest supercar, the 488.
I first drove the Cali on its global media launch in Italy’s glorious wine country between Siena and Montepulciano, where we had a whole day in which to rush here and there across one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. What we didn’t get, however, was the opportunity to appreciate the car’s qualities in the rather more prosaic surrounds of the city – a setting, after all, where most Californias will likely spent most of their lives.
Fortunately that’s about to change. I’ve been lent a test car – stunning in giallo modena with a black retractable roof and racing stripe – as an urban runabout over a long public-holiday weekend. And as bright sunshine is forecast for the duration I can hardly believe my luck.
The past two years have been kind to the Cali, for if I wasn’t convinced about the styling first time round I now think it’s a genuine looker – and especially so when the top is stowed away. The redesign dispenses with the lumpiness of its predecessor, borrowing from the F12 and also even suggesting the pontoon flanks of the 250 TR, one of the most coveted Ferraris ever. Indeed, for an in-house design it’s remarkably well resolved, though I have heard whispers that Pininfarina had a hand in it.
But after experiencing recent offerings from Mercedes, which really does have cabins nailed, the interior seems a little anticlimactic. It’s perfectly acceptable, with smooth Poltrona Frau hide covering the seats, F1-style switches on the steering wheel and a big yellow central dial that screams “Ferrari!”, yet the absence of real “Wow” factor does go to show how quickly things can change in just 24 months.
I have no complaints about the performance though. Maranello’s claim that a hundred clicks can be reached from a standstill in just 3.6 seconds seems, on the evidence, eminently doable to me, and though I’m in no position to verify the 315km/h maximum I wouldn’t quibble with that either
Equally impressive is the engine’s variable torque management, which mimics the characteristics of a naturally aspirated unit by limiting twist in lower gears (and thus encourages full exploitation of the rev band during acceleration), with maximum grunt only being available in top. This ingenious system, which has been further refined in the 488, enables antisocial antics one moment and unruffled cruising the next.
Save for a crack-of-dawn drive one morning, when I engage Sport mode and revel in the sharp manual shifting on the seven-speed DCT, I leave the box in auto, which around town does seem to be the sensible thing to do. Even here, however, the drivetrain is marvellously responsive, and there’s a harsh rasp from the engine – like all Ferraris it has a racing-style flat-plane crank – when things get really busy.
Otherwise the California’s as smooth and as lazy as you want it to be. Weight is nicely balanced between front and rear, adaptive dampers provide an appropriately supple ride, and though at almost 4.6metres long it’s hardly your average roadster it still feels “pointy” and nimble.
As it’s a car with multiple characters and all of them engaging, I’m pretty taken with my bright yellow Ferrari so far. People wave when I drive past and give the thumbs-up (well I like to think it’s a thumb), and as friends are lining up for a ride it’s evidently not just me who seems to like it. No wonder I’m dreading the arrival of Tuesday morning, when I have to hand it back.