Ferrari reverts to turbochargers with the California T. The name might be familiar, but the changes are extensive. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Ferrari California has been treated to a root and branch revision and has re-emerged as the California T. Now featuring a more powerful and fuel-efficient 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine and a much-improved interior, this latest California is prettier as well. Ferrari's biggest seller is about to stoke up even stronger demand.
Prior to this California T, what was the last Ferrari road car with a turbocharged engine? You might have to mull that one over for a little while, because you have to delve back a quarter of a century to the wholly fantastic F40 to get your answer. Everything since has been normally aspirated, so it's apparent that fitting forced aspiration to this California is a big thing for Maranello. The California has quietly been a real money spinner for Ferrari, easily outselling the 458 Italia and, more importantly, some 70 per cent of California owners were new to the Ferrari brand. Getting this key entry-level model right is clearly of crucial importance, so how about making it better looking, adding more power, increasing efficiency and topping that off by making it sound better to boot? That's the sort of product development I can identify with.
Even the old California was a hugely rapid car, but adding another 62bhp to its output moves the game on again. Now packing 552bhp courtesy of a pair of compact twin-scroll turbochargers, the 3.9-litre V8 will accelerate it to 62mph in just 3.4 seconds and top out at 196mph, incrementally improving the performance of the old 4.3-litre naturally-aspirated model. Turbo lag has been virtually eliminated thanks to the rapid response of the small blower and the California T also features an upgraded crankshaft and exhaust manifold. Unlike many turbo cars that replace their 'atmo' predecessors, this powerplant has been designed to sound more aggressive when you get serious with the throttle pedal. There have also been some wholesale changes to the suspension setup, with new springs and the latest generation of Magnaride dampers, which work 50 per cent faster than before. Less body roll, 11 per cent stiffer springs and quicker steering also feature. The steering wheel now also has a button to decouple the damping setting from the steering-wheel mounted manettino setting, allowing the driver to set the desired level of ride comfort under any conditions and regardless of the manettino position. Along with the added motive power comes improved stopping potential too, the California T being fitted with carbon ceramic brake discs from Brembo as standard, these reducing the stopping distance from 62mph to just 34 metres. The transmission remains a seven-speed dual clutch system.
Design and Build
The biggest issue many had with the California was its styling. Although it has dated extremely well, there was quite a bit of heft around the rear end, not helped by the kinked-up signature line. The latest California T looks a good deal sleeker, a task not made easy by having to house a folding hard top roof. You'll notice a good deal more shape in the door and sill structures and the 19-inch star alloys look good. There's also a lightweight forged 20-inch option, although I suspect most California customers will prefer the ride quality of the 19-inch rims. Aero lessons learned in the development of the F12 berlinetta have been followed up on the California T, the car benefiting from a semi-cone diffuser on the front underbody, a curved dam in front of the front tyres and larger radiator vents on the underbody to boost cooling efficiency. The rear diffuser has an inverted curve design to generate peak suction where the underbody transitions into the diffuser. The cabin has been given a makeover too, with higher grade leather trim, a 6.5-inch central touch screen infotainment system and the introduction of a 'Turbo Performance Engineer' feature, this a separate screen showing a whole host of engine data. The seats, door cards, armrests and oddments areas have all been redesigned, the column stalks have been eliminated and all the main controls are now on the steering wheel spokes, 458-style. Many of the minor controls are now backlit to make them easy to see in all kinds of light and the gear shift paddles are longer and more flush to the steering wheel rim for quicker and easier gear changing.
Market and Model
Ferrari assures us that prices for the California T aren't going to climb markedly over those of the outgoing model, so budgeting somewhere just north of £150,000 should cover the basics before you start ticking options boxes. How does that compare with key rivals? Not too badly actually. The Aston Martin DB9 Volante retails at around £143,000, offering sleeker looks but less power and technical focus. Porsche's £150,000 911 Turbo S Cabriolet goes the other way, offering even more performance but not approaching the Ferrari's road presence. Aside from the folding hard top roof that neither of these rivals can match, the California T gets a decent slug of standard equipment, including a DAB stereo, USB ports under the armrest, sat nav with 3D mapping, the WVGA touch screen system and those expensive carbon ceramic brakes. One option that might well appeal is the upgraded JBL Professional stereo, which features twelve speakers, and a 16-channel amp for a total power of 1,280 watts. If they don't hear the flat-plane 3.9-litre V8 coming, your neighbours will definitely register that sound system.
Cost of Ownership
Even Ferrari can no longer stick two fingers up at efficiency issues and the turbocharged powerplant offers better fuel economy and lower emissions than the old 4.3-litre unit, despite being markedly more powerful. Although it's from the same family as the engines seen in the Maserati Ghibli and Quattroporte models, this installation features a larger cylinder capacity as well as a stop/start system to help drive emissions down to 250g/km and economy up to 27mpg on the combined cycle. As the car goes up through the gears, the amount of torque delivered by the engine also increases, rising all the way up to 755 Nm in 7th gear. This has allowed Ferrari to adopt longer gear ratios in the higher gears, helping to cut fuel consumption and emissions without affecting driving pleasure. As a consequence, touring range increases by 15 per cent. There's also an extended seven-year maintenance programme offered with the California T, covering all regular maintenance for the first seven years of the car's life.
The Ferrari California T hasn't just had a makeover. It's virtually a new model that looks ostensibly similar to its predecessor. With a different engine, steering, suspension, interior, brakes, aero package and infotainment system, the California has been transformed. It's a car that now looks to have realised the potential that many recognised in its predecessor. As an entry-level Ferrari, it squarely hits the mark. It's more than fast enough, yet it's been designed to drive in an unintimidating manner. The folding hard top roof remains a winner and the styling is now sleeker than ever. If Ferrari is serious about capping production at around 7,000 cars per year across its entire range, you'll need to be very quick to get an order accepted for the California T. This one's a hot ticket.