Ferrari California Review

Rating: 8.0
$459,650 Mrlp
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Perhaps I’ve got an overly developed sense of self, but I like to think that my opinions of various cars might occasionally serve a purpose. Not in the case of the 2009 Ferrari California.

Words Mark Hacking, San Diego, California

Reason being, this car, the fourth platform in the current Ferrari lineup, recently hit dealer showrooms around the world, but it’s already been sold out for the next two years.

The story is the same every time a new Ferrari is introduced. So: road tests and critical reviews have no bearing whatsoever on how the California will be perceived by the motoring public or how successful it will be in the marketplace.

Given the fact that this 2+2 was guaranteed to be a sales success regardless of how well it drove, it’s a minor miracle that the California is as good as it is.

And it is good—very, very good. In fact, because Ferrari labels the California a Gran Turismo and not a sports car, I was genuinely surprised at its level of performance.

But let’s step back a bit.

During the manufacturer presentation, I learned that the California is the first Ferrari with a foldable hardtop, a dual-clutch transmission and a mid/front-mounted 8-cylinder engine.

I also gathered that this latest Ferrari is, as mentioned, positioned as a true Gran Turismo, albeit a more affordable car than the 612 Scaglietti.

From this introduction, I expected the California to be a fairly laid-back ride—you know, the kind of machine older fat cats drive because the F430 or 599 Fiorano are too extreme, was I wrong.

Although the California is powered by ‘only’ a V8, it’s a 4.3-litre V8 engine complete with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing.

Mounted towards the middle of the car for better weight distribution, the engine develops 343kW of power and 484Nm of torque. It possesses an 8000rpm redline and howls like a caged animal when driven through tunnels, just magic.

All versions available for our drive from Los Angeles to San Diego were fitted with Ferrari’s seven-speed, dual-clutch, automated transmission. A six-speed manual is also available, but there’s no reason in the world to opt for it because this dual-clutch gearbox is, I believe, the very best in the business.

The shifts are so fast, it’s almost frightening, you expect some kind of hesitation between gears, you get none.

If this is Ferrari’s take on a “lowly” Gran Turismo, it’s no wonder they have become such a legend among car aficionados.

The manufacturer estimates that the run from 0-100 km/h takes less than four seconds; there’s no reason on earth to believe this is false bravado. The California is ridiculously quick.

On the drive south, the Ferrari proved hugely entertaining. Of course, the engine and transmission represented a potent one-two punch.

The standard carbon ceramic brakes were not tested to their limits, but they did serve to remind us that this car is very true to the Ferrari performance heritage.

Of course, the aluminum foldable hardtop provided ample opportunity to soak up the hot west-coast sun.

The interior of the California alone suggests this thing means business.

Awash in stunning tan leather, the car also boasts some dynamite touches: namely, the badge on the right side of the dash declaring Ferrari as the Formula One Constructors Champion from 2008, the instrument panel with its bright yellow tachometer and the F1-inspired, flat-bottom steering wheel.

On said steering wheel are two key switches: the large red engine start button and the smaller red manettino control switch that adjusts the transmission response, stability control, traction control and suspension settings (when the car is equipped with the optional active dampers). The wheel is, simply, flat-out cool.

The interior of the California is, otherwise, very clean and simple in terms of design. The centre console houses a fairly rudimentary navigation system (which is apparently a Chrysler design), the climate control switches, the buttons to operate the launch control, select reverse or pick automatic shifting, and switches to operate the power top and windows.

The ‘back seat’ comes with the choice of either a shelf with leather tie-down straps for luggage or a pseudo-seat with very little legroom, for luggage!

While the Ferrari California is wildly impressive, I’d be remiss in my duties as a car reviewer if I didn’t mention a few criticisms - despite the fact that they’re surely irrelevant.

The steering proved too light to the touch and the seats didn’t offer sufficient side support during aggressive cornering. These are the only aspects of the car that did not encourage sporty driving, and even they weren’t enough to dampen spirits too much.

Having said all that, with more direct steering and racier seats, the California would be close to perfect.

Some critics have offered that the car is not the prettiest design to emerge from Maranello, but that’s an argument for another day.

One thing is true: it’s distinctive. Another thing: all those people on the waiting list probably don’t care what the design critics think, either.

In the final analysis, the 2009 Ferrari California is an incredible piece of machinery.

It possesses the sheer style of a true Gran Turismo blended with the performance capabilities of a genuine supercar - an intoxicating blend no matter how you slice it.

2009 Ferrari California: Specifications

Base price $472,000
Vehicle type: Front/mid-engine rear-wheel-drive 2+2 convertible/coupe
Engine: 4.3-litre V8
Power/torque: 343kW/484Nm
Transmissions: six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch
Fuel consumption:13.1 L/100km (combined)
Zero-100 km/h:< 4.0 seconds
Top speed:310km/h