The new Ferrari California T has a lot riding on it. Not only was the last California, launched in 2009, the best-selling Ferrari to date with just over 10,000 sold, but 70 per cent of them went to people buying their first Ferrari.
Keen to retain those converts and grab a few more, Ferrari has evolved rather than reinvented the California, with the biggest change being an all-new turbocharged V8 engine.
The first turbocharged Ferrari road car since the F40, the California T’s move to forced induction is driven by the need to reduce emissions and improve efficiency. With a 3.8-litre capacity compared to the old engines 4.3-litre volume, the new turbocharged V8 is 15 per cent more fuel-efficient and emits 250g/km when fitted with the £960 optional stop/start system.
Yet for most customers it’s the power improvements that will be the biggest attraction. With its twin-scroll turbochargers output is up 69bhp to 552bhp, while torque has risen from 505Nm to 755Nm. Plus, Ferrari has made much of its efforts to ensure their new V8 turbo retains what they describe as the “DNA of a Ferrari engine” – that means an evocative sound, immediate response and an appetite for revs.
And from the moment you press the wheel mounted start button it’s clear traditionalists needn’t have worried. It crackles into life with a deep roar, there’s an instant response as soon as you pick up the throttle and while there’s lots of low down torque and no lag, you still get the typical Ferrari sense of power building to a crescendo as the revs rise.
With a lovely induction bellow at around 2,000rpm and a crisp firecracker exhaust note when you shift at full revs the soundtrack hasn’t been muted, either. The California T will sprint to 62mph in just 3.6 seconds but it’s the in-gear response you really notice on the road. Ferrari has mapped the engine so that torque increases as you go up through the gears, rising to 755Nm in seventh, which allows for longer gear ratios and better economy without sacrificing performance.
As for the rest of the car, the California’s dimensions and aluminium chassis are unchanged but there’s been a host of improvements. For starters the new more compact engine sits 20mm lower contributing to an overall 10 per cent lower centre of gravity. You get the latest generation of Ferrari’s Magneride dampers with 11 per cent stiffer spring rates, while the steering ratio is 10 per cent quicker.
However, there hasn’t been a wholesale change in character - Ferrari says more California customers use their car everyday than other models and there’s a clear distinction from harder edged offerings like the 458 and F12. Always the most relaxed Ferrari in the line up, the outgoing California suffered from slightly wayward body control and lazy reactions for a car wearing the prancing horse badge.
The new T is better tied down, with less roll across the rear axle and tauter reactions. But push on through a flowing corner and the stability control light will flicker as the system senses a little roll instability, but the intervention is subtle and the overall handling balance is reassuringly neutral. The faster steering is sharp but not unnervingly so, while traction out of tight corners is good and the dual-clutch gearbox shifts faster than before. Also, ride quality is decent and it’s still a comfortable cruiser.
In line with other Ferrari models all the major controls are now located on the wheel and there’s a button to decouple the damper settings from the Manettino so you can have a softer ride with Sport settings for the steering, throttle and gearbox. Elsewhere in the cabin you’ll notice a lower and smarter dash, new seats and Ferrari’s latest infotainment system.
The folding hardtop is unchanged and still folds in 14 seconds, while the tiny rear seats make a useful luggage area or space for small children. Externally every panel has been subtly reprofiled to give the California T a fresh look, and with sculpted doors, a lower tail and reworked grille, the California looks sharper and more up to date. Fitting for a car that could be the first of many turbocharged Ferraris.
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