Driven: 2010 Ferrari California

Through a fluke in timing or just plain luck, I'm fortunate enough to have now been behind the wheel of every single current Ferrari currently on sale. That's a rarity even for automotive journalists, and it's an honor I don't take lightly. Today's drive of the California marked a special occasion, since this was not just the only Ferrari I haven't driven, it's also an all-new kind of Ferrari.

The California is full of firsts: it's the first-ever front-mounted V-8-engined Ferrari, it's the first use of direct injection in a Ferrari, and it's Ferrari's first dual-clutch automated manual transmission. It's also the first Ferrari built on a modular architecture, and the first built on a new production line that is downright spooky in its modernity. I was able to tour the facility last month, and the California's production line is spotlessly clean, eerily quiet, and freakishly automated. On the one hand, computerized, precise mass production makes the California seem somehow less special; on the other, it ensures the highest level of quality. I think it's a worthwhile tradeoff, especially for a Ferrari that's inherently less special than some others.

Screeeetch -- less special? I mean the California no insult by that. It's the least expensive offering in Ferrari's stable, but that's only part of the reason why. The other reason is that I equate "special" with "insane." I, a certified automotive nutcase, adore the F430 for its insanity. I love the way it crackles and barks and screams. I love how it scares small children and grown men alike with its acoustic assault; how it accelerates and shifts with such violence that it renders its passengers hysterical. I love how its occupants are assaulted with the feel of every pebble on the road after luring them in with the sight and aroma of the world's finest materials.

Some, however, might find the F430 a bit much. For these people, Ferrari makes the California. The California is a softer, milder, less insane Ferrari. Ergo, it's less special to crazy people like me, but it's no less special in the real world. A grand tourer in the traditional sense of the word, Ferrari's hard-top convertible is smooth and luxurious. Its sound level and ride are sedate by Ferrari standards, and its cabin elegant and luxurious.

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