2009 Ferrari California - First Drive

Ferrari has recently shown environment-friendly concepts such as the Millechili (the 1000 kilo Ferrari) and the F430 E85 (with flexfuel capability), but the new Ferrari California is about as the green as the summit of Montblanc in winter. And that's fine by us. The California is a pleasantly and reassuringly old-school sports car, although there is plenty of sophisticated engineering hiding beneath the flashy, crowd-pulling skin. Says Amedeo Felisa, Ferrari CEO: "Less extreme than F430 and F599, the California still incorporates all the essential genes of the brand. It has style and presence, and it is fast and fun to drive. Unlike any other of our products, it is two cars in one, and it works equally well in coupe and spider mode."

True or false? Let's check out the light metallic blue test car, which is equipped with such extras as magnetic dampers, adaptive headlights, and the trick seven-speed F1 dual-clutch gearbox. Inside the wide, long and beautifully appointed cabin, there is plenty of legroom, shoulder room, and headroom. Thanks to the thin pillars, the visibility is good except for some distortions in the rear window. The steering wheel is a step down from other Ferraris. There are only three manettino positions instead of four (ASR off and CST on is missing), there is no integrated LED rev counter (as on the Scuderia), and the bottom is squared off, which can be nuisance when you're winding in more than three turns lock-to-lock.

Starting the engine is a two-handed job. Turn the igniton key, then push the red button on the steering-wheel hub. Now relish the noise, a high-pitch idle accompanied by various intake and exhaust tones which are busy sorting themselves out during warm-up. The digital display in the rev counter reads N auto. No, we don't want that. We much prefer to click in gears with our index fingers, wham-wham-wham. Pressing the auto button once makes the auto symbol go away. Good. What about the position of the manettino though? Comfort is for wimps, CST OFF is for heroes, Sport is for us. It strikes a decent balance between cotton-soft and razorblade-sharp, and it relays its mission to the engine, the transmission, the dampers, and the stability control system.

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