“A new era of forced induction has dawned at Maranello and the California T was the earliest glimpse of it.”
The California T heralded the start of turbo charging that is sweeping across the Prancing Horse’s range
AA CALIFORNIA IN KOTHRUD. We were scouting for suitable locations for our convertible special and hotel porches and golf resorts came to mind, not the streets of a little suburb in Pune characterised by fiercely territorial residents. They say a Kothrud guy (our very own snapper Gaurav is the perfect example of the excellence in fine arts from the area) will never leave Kothrud; the people of Kothrud being the conservative and sensible type, highly unlikely to potter around in something as ostentatious as a Ferrari, that too with its roof down. The question we are asking is not if the California will have corners for breakfast, but whether it can survive the narrow, leafy, laid-back streets and back alleys of one of Pune’s most quintessential localities.
That’s because the California is a disruptive car. Ferrari never made anything like the California in the past – an everyday Ferrari! – and Kothrud is the most everyday locality we can think of. The previous Ferrari California was, it could be argued, the most important new Ferrari of the last decade. If we consider the 458 Italia and Spider as distinct models, as the factory does, the California stands as Ferrari’s best-selling single model ever, with more than 10,000 units shifted during its five-year life span. It not only sold in big numbers, it also opened Ferrari up to a whole new market sector and attracted a great many new buyers to the brand: 70 per cent of California owners had never before owned a car with a Prancing Horse on its nose, so the car buying patterns of Kothrud can yet see some changes.
FERRARI NEVER MADE ANYTHING LIKE THE CALIFORNIA IN THE PAST – AN EVERYDAY FERRARI
Despite its significance for the marque, the California never really registered on the radars of an evo India demographic, for it was neither pretty to behold nor exceptional to drive. Parallels could be drawn with Porsche’s Cayenne: the California was, in relative terms, the mass-market model that deviated from the decades-old core brand attributes, meeting with an indifferent reception among the die-hards as a result, but appealing to the lucrative wider market at the same time.
Its replacement therefore, is an interesting car to approach. The California T is as extensive an update as it could have got for Ferrari. This new model also has a deep technological significance: it was the first new turbocharged Ferrari since the F40 of 1987, and has been followed by the 488 GTB and Spider. A new era of forced induction has dawned at Maranello and the California T was the earliest glimpse of it.
The 3855cc twin-turbo V8 took four years to develop and Ferrari makes bold claims about its class-leading response times. Peak power is 552bhp at 7500rpm; that’s 63bhp up on the old naturally aspirated 4.3-litre V8, arriving 250rpm earlier. Ferrari limits the torque through the gears using its new Variable Boost Management system so that peak twist, 755Nm, is only delivered in seventh gear. It’s an intriguing system and we’ll consider it in more detail later on.
Ferrari engineers are insistent that the familiar Ferrari DNA values of immediate engine response, a thrilling soundtrack, progressive acceleration and high maximum revs have not been lost with turbocharging and after getting a talking to by a Kothrud uncle for making too much noise on our early morning drive, we can say that we agree. The power and torque curves have been mapped so that the engine builds to a crescendo at the top end, rather than dumping all its worth in the lower reaches like a turbo diesel.
Only the folding hard top roof is carried over from the previous California’s body, but the basic architecture is still a transaxle layout within an aluminium bodyshell, suspended by double wishbones at the front and a multi-link set-up at
the rear. The gearbox is a twin-clutch item, and its torque is sent to the rear wheels through a locking differential.
This is a Ferrari that trades on its usability as much as outright performance, which is probably why the California is very popular. It is easy to use, there is something called ground clearance between the floor of the car and the road, and the nose is not that long that you will be worried about the Cali’s lip over the numerous speed breakers of Kothrud. It is a grand tourer in the true sense. Although you will not be driving this car to places beyond major cities, it’s still a very usable Ferrari.
The California T rides superbly too. Road surface imperfections are rounded off so that there isn’t a jarring sharpness to the way it travels down a road at low speeds. The cabin, both faultless in its quality and attractive in its design, is plenty spacious for two, although the laughable rear seats are much better folded down to create a stowage shelf and a useful load space through into the boot.
The California T’s pervading sense of usability is a reminder that it needs to be approached as a GT car rather than a full-on sports car. Expect 458 levels of immediacy and agility and you’ll think the California T lazy and imprecise, but keep in mind that it instead targets the likes of Bentley’s Continental GT Convertible and you’ll find very much to commend about its dynamic performance.
As is the way with new Ferraris, the steering initially feels unnaturally quick. It’s actually not quite as hyperactive as a 458’s helm, for instance, but for the first few miles as an unfamiliar driver you will find yourself dialling in a little too much lock for a given corner, feeling as though you’re unsettling the car at each turn-in point. The familiarisation period is no greater than that of any other car and very soon you recalibrate to the steering’s rate of response and it becomes natural and intuitive. The ratio of the rack also means you needn’t remove your hands from a comfortable quarter-to-three position to negotiate tighter turns, nor to correct a little exit oversteer. The steering always feels a little remote, however, with only a vague sense of connectivity once the chassis is really loaded up.
With 53 per cent of its weight over the rear axle, the California T doesn’t feel anything like as frontheavy as the layout and dimensions might suggest.
AS IS THE WAY WITH NEW FERRARIS, THE STEERING INITIALLY FEELS UNNATURALLY QUICK
That gives it both a sense of agility on turn-in and a neutral balance mid-corner. He who complains of too much natural understeer on the road is driving badly.
Rather than pushing on at turn-in, the car instead collapses a little onto its rear axle. The rear anti-roll bar is soft, which gives the California T huge traction at corner exit, but it also means the driver must dial back a little to accommodate that initial roll. The firmer chassis mode of the optional magnetorheological dampers corrects this slightly, though not entirely. This is, as we know, a GT rather than a true sports car.
The dampers can also be switched to an intermediary ‘bumpy road’ mode when the Manettino is set to Sport, which is what every Indian California T owner needs to do. This gives the chassis a truly impressive secondary ride over smaller lumps and bumps, isolating the occupants from the road surface while still retaining enough body control when the corners come thick and fast. That mode works superbly here.
As mentioned, torque through the gears is limited to give the T an impression of non-linear, building acceleration, it claims, but there are also benefits for traction and drivability. Unleashing the full amount of torque in second gear at corner exit would simply bonfire the rear tyres and make the California T an uncontainable animal. Instead, it’ll only be provoked into modest slides away from the apex under full throttle in second, giving the car that delightful waxing and waning interplay between grip and gentle slip that we expect of sports cars, but perhaps not of GTs. The torque limiting in lower gears does rob the California T of the brutal, straight-line accelerative hit of a Porsche 911 Turbo, for instance, but it never feels anything less than effortlessly rapid.
This new V8 is as impressive as forced induced engines come and the gearbox is remarkable; each new gear seems to bang in before you’ve even fully pulled the paddle. There is no discernable turbo lag and the top end is just as usable as the mid-range, but there aren’t, as you’d expect, the top-end fireworks we so love Ferrari’s naturally aspirated engines for. There isn’t the same aural excitement either, despite the flat-plane crank and the equal-length exhaust header pipes, although at very low engine speeds the T does emit a crisp, hollow exhaust note that calls to mind a 458.
In the context of the California T, the twin turbo V8 is a triumph; it’s both a class-leading turbo engine and it suits the car’s GT nature. The California T is a more complete package than the car it replaces, not least for being prettier (as affirmed by the more artistically inclinced of Gaurav’s neighbours) but is also as engaging around the limit as any car in the class. It even drew an enthusiastically approving crowd on our lap of Kothrud.
Left: Driver focus is so important at Ferrari, everything from the Manettino dial to the starter button went up here first. Every other manufactuer is following Ferrari now. Right: The T makes 63bhp more than the NA motor; shift lights on the steering...
Above: Arguably the simplest design for a modern Ferrari but look at that muscular rear end! Facing page: Courtesy the turbocharger, 0-100kmph comes in just 3.6 seconds