The Ferrari California T is not an obvious link to one of the prancing horse’s most fabled cars, the F40. Yet it’s there in the addition of that capital letter, which denotes turbocharging.
This major update to Ferrari’s entry-level GT and most affordable car is proof that not even exclusive supercar brands are immune to the need to build cars that are ever more efficient.
Where the F40 – which also employed a twin-turbo V8 - was about generating as much tyre-shredding performance as feasible, the Ferrari California T sets out to bring thrills while using less fuel and emitting less CO2.
With Ferrari moving to shift sales closer to 10,000 per annum, the company doesn’t want to lose any customers concerned about being financially penalised in markets where emissions regulations are particularly strict.
The company also won’t mind another technological link with its inherent involvement in Formula One, the sport that moved to turbocharged V6s in 2014 just for that efficiency reason.
So under the coupe-convertible California’s revised bonnet – ditching the horizontal air intake for twin cooling vents – the old 4.3-litre V8 makes way for a 3.9-litre V8 with dual twin-scroll turbochargers. (The engine shares its block with the V8s found in the Maserati Quattroporte and Ghibli.)
Fuel economy improves by 15 per cent to 11.5 litres per 100km; carbon dioxide emissions drop 20 per cent to 250 grams per kilometre.
Before Ferrari enthusiasts start jumping on their high cavallino, the specifications of the Ferrari California T aren’t just biased towards trying to be a Friend of the Earth.
An extra 52kW puts power at 412kW, and torque jumps a massive 250Nm to 755Nm.
The Ferrari California with a T is said to be two-tenths quicker (3.6 seconds) to 100km/h from standstill, and top speed rises from 312 to 316km/h.
Ferrari says the engine produces virtually zero lag, and while some is still detectable – particularly in the higher gears – responses to throttle pedal pressure are relatively sharp.
Power delivery is also satisfyingly linear, with the California T building speed exponentially as you squeeze the throttle towards the firewall.
This is no lazy V8 that urges you to stay in high gears and simply cruise along not far above idle. The 3.9-litre loves to rev.
Variable torque management is Ferrari’s key here – electronic governing that restricts maximum torque in all but top (seventh) gear – as are shorter ratios for lower gears.
The V8 will also rev to 7500rpm – impressive for a turbo engine even if that engine limit is 500rpm down on the previous V8.
It makes a great noise getting there, too – making Ferrari’s claim the V8 delivers the most exhilarating soundtrack from a turbo engine potentially justifiable.
However, there’s also no doubt the turbos smother some of the sound. Ferrari V8s are meant to stand up the hairs on the back of your neck as they scream to their redline, and the California T’s 3.9L never quite achieves that feat.
Yet you’re encouraged to drive the revised California faster and harder than its predecessor, because not only is the V8 still addictive to rev but also the handling has stepped up.
The old California was a sweetly balanced car, but the new version’s T could also stand for Tauter.
New, stiffer springs and magnetic adjustable dampers that are 50 per cent quicker to respond result in a coupe-convertible that feels more tied down to the road without reaching the dynamic heights of the 458.
Revised steering is 10 per cent quicker even if it was hardly tardy previously. The requisite accuracy is there for fast cornering, though the light weighting seems out of sync with the sharpness of the rack.
There’s surprisingly no noticeable extra heft to the steering if you click the steering wheel’s manettino switch to Sport mode, though you will feel the suspension adopt a harder stance as the metal particles within the damper fluid are magnetised to increase their density. (There’s no Track mode as with the 458 due to the car’s GT positioning; Wet is incorporated into Comfort.)
If Sport is ever proving to be just a touch too firm for a typical Australian country road, as with the 458 you can press a steering wheel button featuring a damper symbol to engage ‘Bumpy Road’ mode that finds a halfway point between Comfort and Sport.
Stick to Comfort and there’s a superbly cosseting ride that even shrugs off big potholes better than some luxury sedans I could mention. Even Sport never becomes harsh.
There’s also a greater luxuriousness to the cabin, which feels more richly presently than the old model’s interior.
Key control panels still face towards the driver, and the transmission console still features buttons for Launch (Control), Auto and R(everse) though in a neat row rather than staggered this time.
The steering wheel changes to follow other Ferraris by including key controls, including buttons for indicators, headlights and wiper functions. A new gauge slots in between the two central vents, featuring a graphic display that includes a turbo boost dial.
Details improve elsewhere. The heating/ventilation control panel has subtle changes that lift the impression of expense, while more importantly the infotainment display surround looks significantly smarter than before. The nav map is fine, though could still look more advanced.
And of course the centre console continues to feature a switch that allows you either bathe the cabin in sunshine or seek shelter from the elements – in 14 seconds.
The roof section is the only exterior body section carried over. And that’s a good thing, because the old model's styling didn't look completely resolved where the new California’s design is more harmonious while making a stronger, sportier visual statement.
Another bonus is that the California costs $50,000 less than before. That’s still a price tag of $409,880, though, and of course you can still spend plenty on options – $140 grand’s worth on our test car.
Choices, choices… and the same goes for your preferred open-air Ferrari. Mine would still be a 458 Spider, though it’s easy to appreciate the broader appeal of what is an improved entry-level Ferrari GT here.
The nature of the twin-turbo V8 also very much suits the California T, which is more about grand touring than grandstanding on a racetrack.
Whether we’ll feel same about the 458’s turbocharged successor – the 488 GTB – will be another question for another day…
Click the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke.