The ‘holy grail’ of grand tourers now comes in a newer and even grander incarnation. Alvin Thomas takes it for a spin.
It was in late 2014 when I took the keys to a Ferrari for the first time. It was the 458 Italia, in Rosso Corsa – better known as Ferrari red – the perfect colour for a Ferrari. I even remember looking at it for hours before climbing into the driver’s seat (I’m not exaggerating). As expected, the car drove extremely well, and there was nothing to complain about. It became my favourite car in the entire world.
Fast forward to today and it’s the same feeling. I’m standing outside the Ferrari showroom, staring at the California T. It’s not finished in the traditional Rosso Corsa but my word, this car is a looker! It’s funny how a car can make me, a grown man, act like a five-year-old kid.
Everything from the stretched-headlights (almost F12-inspired) and the sculpted air intakes, to the raised rear-end and the high mounted circular tail-lights shouts out exclusivity. But it’s the curves that get me: starting all the way from the A-pillar up front and extending all the way to the rear arches, the curves on the Ferrari put supermodels to shame. It’s all very poetic and all very Italian.
The California T is now in its second generation. But for those of you who aren’t aware, the “California” nameplate was first used on a Ferrari 250GT– a car I consider to be the holy grail of all grand tourers. So, this new California T has a lot to live up to, but so far things are shaping up very nicely.
Climbing into the car isn’t a tedious process, unlike many other sports cars. The interior is “inspired” from that of a 458 Italia that I drove a while back but it still keeps the practicality of the previous generation California. Everything is wrapped and stitched in genuine leather and you also receive an entertainment screen upfront. The interior colour contrasts with that of the exterior, and it definitely stands out. It really is a nice place to be; everything is laid out perfectly and is well within reach of the driver.
Ferrari’s new steering wheel has been carried forward into the California T too. It can be a bit baffling for first-time drivers to understand but once you figure out everything, it is easy to use. Everything from the indicator switches, pass-light function, wiper modes, drive modes and even engine-start buttons are on the wheel.
But now that I’ve wasted your precious time by banging on about the car’s interior and exterior, let me jump into the main aspect of the Ferrari – the drive. Even switching the car on is a special process: you have to first put the key in and turn it to the “on” position, and then hit the red “ENGINE START” button on the wheel.
On doing that, you’re greeted with a sweet yet aggressive-soundtrack, typical with most Ferraris. But the characteristics of the exhaust note are definitely different here. Most Ferraris produce high-pitched soundtracks – almost like Formula One cars. Despite this, the exhaust note of the California is low-pitched and more throaty. The sound is unique and unmistakeably Ferrari, I must point out.
Creating all the ruckus is a 3.9-litre turbocharged (“T” standing for turbocharged) V8 motor, pumping out an astonishing 560hp and even more unbelievable 755Nm of torque. The engine is mated to Ferrari’s seven-speed dual clutch automanual gearbox that sends all the power to the rear wheels.
All that power to the rear wheels only means one thing: tonnes of oversteer (perfect for powersliding). Of course, pumping the throttle in the “Sport” mode lets you play around with the rear end a bit but the traction control kicks in to save you from going into an embarrassing spin. Also, I must point out that the traction control isn’t very intrusive like many found in its German rivals. Therefore, you can definitely play around before hitting the limit.
The raw torque from the engine also means that there’s plenty of power in any given gear. Even more astonishing is the fact that there’s absolutely no turbo-lag. The acceleration is instantaneous, and the car is kick-you-in-the-back quick. The gearbox is quick to respond too so you’ll find the rear squirming for grip upon hard acceleration.
Despite the fight for grip, I still managed to hit the 100kph mark from a standstill at a mere 4.2 seconds. However, that number drops to 3.6 if you opt to shift into manual mode and with the “Launch Control” engaged.
But at no point did the California T feel dangerous to drive. I was so confident with the car; I pushed it around the twists and turns at Al Amerat at quite high (and still legal) speeds. There’s plenty of grip from the tyres, and the steering is extremely responsive, with exceptional amounts of feedback and weight to it. The carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes are reassuring and also quite linear in braking force.
Overall, the California T is extremely comfortable to drive. The suspension is very forgiving and, weirdly, takes speed bumps with ease. The 360-degree visibility is quite impressive, if not the best (it is a low-slung sportscar after all). But it’s a lot better if you take the top down.
Driving a low-slung sports car can be quite a tedious task. But the California T takes away all the pains of driving one. It blends in the best of both worlds: you get supercar acceleration and speed, and GT-car comfort.
The Italians have got this right. Now, it’s your turn, Germans!