Before the Ferrari had even arrived it was causing a sensation. My wife’s best friend, Nanette, is a ravenous sports-car aficionado (she once owned an Aston Martin DB9), and when I told her I’d be driving a new California T convertible for the weekend, she froze, clapped her hands to her wide-eyed face, and screamed two words: one of them was “holy,” the other ended with a “k” but wasn’t “sunblock.” A Ferrari will do that to a person. Naturally, I promised Nanette a ride.
Actually, I was pretty amped myself. Mind you, this was in spite of having previously driven the original edition of the California—Ferrari’s most popular single model ever—and coming away wondering if someone had slipped a prancing-horse badge onto a Lay-Z-Boy. Despite around 10,000 copies being sold in the past five years, the old California felt tepid, flabby in the knees—and for sure it didn’t look the part, its shape having more in common with a balloon animal than a rocketship. But the California T…well, now we’re talking about a prancing horse of a different color. This new, thoroughly reworked roadster brandishes an only slightly detuned version of the same twin-turbo V-8 that has repeatedly rocked me silly in the 488GTB. What’s more, the new California T is a beauty, leaner, far more aggressive, its forward flanks recalling the famous pontoon fenders of Ferrari’s illustrious 1957 Testa Rossa. I could hardly wait for Friday afternoon to roll around.
What people who’ve never had the good fortune to drive a Ferrari don’t understand is, these cars aren’t about performance numbers and comparison charts. A Ferrari is a portal into a driving realm of art and history and passion that borders on the spiritual. To sit in a Ferrari’s sumptuous driver’s seat, savoring the aroma of leather and the voluptuous view over the hood; to press the red starter button on the steering wheel and hear the V-8 light off with a cannon-fire report through quad exhausts; to flick one of the big shift paddles at redline and feel the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission crack off an upshift so fast the M80-like tailpipe explosion that follows seems at least a city block behind you…these are merely a few of the sensations that delight and excite and bedazzle any soul lucky enough conduct a Ferrari with his or her own hands.
When it finally arrived, the California T did not disappoint. Within seconds of my taking to an LA thoroughfare, the new bodywork began working its seductive magic. For some reason, the open-top Hollywood tour buses were out in full force that day, and every time I pulled up behind one at a stoplight, the heads would begin to turn—first one, then three, then the whole bus, smartphones and DSLRs and selfie sticks snapping and flashing away at the Italian supermodel. Unlike the old one, this California exudes star power.
It’s got plenty of the other kind of power, too. Okay, the California T’s twin-turbo V-8 may make 108 fewer horses than version in the harder-core 488GTB, but you’ve still got 553 of them under your right foot—enough to hit 60 mph in under 3.6 seconds. More impressive is the bounteous torque on tap: the California blasts forward with an extravagant brawn you simply wouldn’t find in many of Ferrari’s previous, high-revving naturally aspirated V-8s. And if you’re worried that the turbos muffle the Italian maker’s famous exhaust symphony, don’t. True, the unblown 458 Italia is edgier, more electrifying in its tenor pitch. But the California T’s warmer, throatier baritone is hardly disappointing—it’s just different. Don’t worry: one blast through the gears and every hair on your neck will be aimed straight up at the constellation Pegasus.
I picked up Nanette for her promised ride, and we headed to one of my favorite mountain roads—lots of tight turns, so lacking in traffic it’s almost private. Naturally, I’d put the folding hardtop down, a maneuver that requires the tremendously taxing procedure of pressing a single button and waiting about 20 seconds. The sunlight was bathing the gorgeous cockpit as I hammered down on the gas to start our run. The tires squealed, Nanette squealed, I snapped off couple lightning upshifts, then squeezed hard on the big carbon-ceramic binders as a quick left-hander approached. Wow does this baby corner! For a machine allegedly more “plush GT” then “dedicated racer” (ride quality is amazingly cushy), the California T feels superbly planted and controllable when running hard. Credit quicker steering, 12 percent stiffer springs than before, and the latest version of Ferrari’s Grand Prix-proven F1 Trac traction-control system. This is a sports car you could easily live with every day—it never complains in traffic, the clutch works smoothly even in an urban crawl—but it’s got the goods for serious entertainment when the mood for adrenaline strikes. On the other hand, if you’re intrigued by the “rear seats” sitting there behind the fronts, well, forget about them (unless you’re stowing your briefcase or a teddy bear). We tried to bring Nanette’s boyfriend along, but at six feet-plus tall, he couldn’t wedge himself back there. Sorry, Carlo.
By the time we ended our run, Nanette had laughed and cheered and shouted with so much joy she’d made my throat hoarse. But that’s a Ferrari’s rare gift: just being in one makes you feel special, while actually experiencing the car at speed is like listening to a Puccini opera while riding the Kingda Ka coaster at Six Flags.
Adding the “T” has brought that uncanny Ferrari magic to the California roadster. At last the car is worthy of the prancing horse on its nose. It’s also deserving of a lofty descriptor its predecessor wasn’t: unforgettable.
2016 Ferrari California T Specifications
|Engine:||3.9L turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/553 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 557 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 2+2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible|
|EPA Mileage:||16/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||179.9 x 75.2 x 52.0 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.6 sec|
|Top Speed:||196 mph|