Driven: Ferrari California T

Driven: Ferrari California T
 

DJs are particular about their entrance.

Some, if they could get away with it, would walk in to the club with a circus of sound techs and Bambi-legged blondes. They’re the ones who buy that canary Aventador; the air-horn-and-sparkler crew. Others prefer to enter solo, fist bump the door guy, and nurse one drink (vodka, rocks) in the corner for an hour before takeoff. That version takes a black S-Class to work every night.

Then there are the two I dropped before their set at Manhattan’s Up and Down last week. They don’t like a fuss –usually they request their stunningly beautiful and generous chauffeur (ahem) keep the top up, or to drop them several blocks away, in order to arrive more discreetly. But they also appreciate a beautiful car when they see one.

So I was happy they gave the nod to the Ferrari California T. Maybe it was the car’s serious, sleek flanks, its hungry headlights. Maybe it was its non-traditional hue. Whatever. We rolled up 14th Street around midnight, right to the velvet rope. Top down. The duo hopped over the sinuous doors and sauntered in.

“Burgundy – I like that,” the doorman said when I walked up later. “No one has the burgundy Ferrari. That’s richer than red. Burgundy says ‘I got more money than you.’ Merry Christmas.”

Ferrari 2 - Ignition Live

Engine Economy, Even At Ferrari

I drove the 2015 Ferrari California T for three days last week around New York City – in Fort Greene, Bushwick, Chinatown, the East Village, and Park Avenue. All the usual haunts. It came with the typical accoutrements we expect from Ferrari: charismatic grill, Pininfarina detailing, seductive carbon ceramic brakes, flanks like a 250 Testa Rossa. And it came with some things we don’t expect from Ferrari: namely, a twin-turbo V8. After all, the T in California T stands for turbocharged.

The California T was made to appeal to a broad crowd; it neither looks nor sounds as rowdy as its brethren. (I’ll get to why in a moment.) It is like the FF in that it was made for practicality, as Ferraris go. Unfortunately the funny four-seat FF is fun but not incredibly successful, so now we have the California T, which is selling quite nicely thank you very much, according to Ferrari execs.

Anyway that’s a topic for another column. The main thing we need to discuss at this point is that engine. Ferrari escapes the harshest emissions standards because it produces such a small volume of cars. But it still must improve fuel economy incrementally. So the minds in Maranello developed a turbocharged engine. This was quite a departure, because Ferrari engineering is best known in recent years for its near perfection of the V12 and flat-12 engine. At the time of its birth there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth from so-called and self-appointed Ferrari purists.

Ferrari 6 - Ignition Live

It’s Meant To Be Driven

When the California debuted in 2008 these devotees complained about how lame it was, basically, that Ferrari would deign to manufacture a car that’s drivable every day. Something the casual user might, you know, use. And for such banalities as coffee-shop stops or road trips, because it isn’t hot, loud and jarring.

Typically when I survey these people about their experience driving the California, it quickly becomes apparent they haven’t – often they haven’t driven a Ferrari of any make. That inexperience results in an incorrect and unfair characterisation in some circles of the California as a “dumbed down” Ferrari. But developing a daily Ferrari is not an act of treason. It doesn’t diminish the rich, beautifully passionate Italian heritage Ferrari maintains. Those wins at Monza, those million-dollar cars, those handsome, well-dressed drivers – they already happened. They’re in the books. Nothing will change that. Intriguing modernizations like the California T only expand that tradition.

No, the California T doesn’t sound as supremely aggressive F12berlinetta, nor does it have the whippet-fast speed of the 458 Spider or the raw grit of the LaFerrari. This is your option for a sexy touring sports car.

Ferrari 4 - Ignition Live

Try It, You’ll Like It

Come with me as we tune out the chatter, test the California T for ourselves, and then form our own opinions. Relax. It’s not like this is an SUV.

The engine causing all this commotion is a 3.9-litre direct fuel-injection number that gets 412kW and 755Nm of torque. That’s smaller than its naturally aspirated 4.3-litre California predecessor but 52kW and 250Nm. It’s 15-percent more efficient (20.2l/100km city/14.9l/100km highway) as well. Those turbochargers pay off.

It’s also fast: a 0-100km/h time of 3.6 seconds, which beats respectable competitors like the Bentley Continental GT Speed and the Aston Martin DB9 Volante. It ties Mercedes-Benz’s gullwing SLS AMG. Top speed is just under 320km/h, which is not as great a thing as it sounds. Imagine the angst as you try your best to adhere to a 80km/h speed limit and glance down to see the speedometer needle barely nudging 7-O’clock on the dial. Ugh. Such potential.

The California T eats highway expanses and side-street sprints with equal aplomb. It has a newly stiffened chassis and improved 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that lend it stability on corners and fluidity as it gathers speed. It feels current – modern, light, nimble, smart — to drive. It feels more muffled than the F12. It doesn’t scream even as much as the FF. But – it bears repeating – it is still a Ferrari. Prancing ponies are never shrinking violets.

Ferrari 5 - Ignition Live

Avoid The Potholes

As with any other Ferrari, if you buy this you will become the guy who drives out of his way to avoid potholes. [Fair warning: How to lose friends and alienate people.] I’ve had a flat in a Ferrari before – an F12, to be exact – and the events that led to its demise were well worth it. But flats are never fun. (The same goes for shoes, but I digress).

Cobblestones are no picnic, either. Driving 8km/h for what felt like hours through the Meatpacking District one afternoon was brutal. The suspension, the low clearance, the sport tyres – they all add up to tiptoeing over cobblestones and barely preserving your own sanity.

I enjoy how this car looks. By which I mean I like how I feel when I look at it. It seems sharper than its predecessor, with a rear that toned and simplified. At first glance you’ll swear it is lower and longer than the previous California. (The external dimensions are basically the same.) The car has the same headlights and fenders of the F12; the same wing line stretches from the taut rear toward the chiseled nose. It looks more serious, gaunter, than the original California.

This is one of the few convertibles that look equally cool with the top on and off. The roof extends in 13 seconds and seals well when it’s overhead. You’d be surprised how many high-priced convertibles rattle annoyingly at high speeds, or mysteriously develop tiny streams of water inside along the door and windows whenever it rains.

Ferrari 1 - Ignition Live

Italian Insides

Inside look for all the benefits of fine Italian craftsmanship (wonderful gloves, bags, and shoes belong to this blessed heritage). The stitching and badging on the seats clean and crisp; the carbon-fibre steering wheel is thick and perfectly proportioned for changing your mind – and your direction – at a moment’s notice. The sport seats hug your shoulders like the favorite uncle you haven’t seen in a while: a quick warm embrace, a few good-natured slaps on the back, and you’re off.

I liked the round dashboard gauges and the clear division between the dash and tunnel and the bridge. Sometimes boundaries — in this case, the space between the steering column and the center controls — are freeing. Twelve-speaker premium surround sound, “infotainment” (nav/media/modes, etc) and 3D mapping come standard. Special badging and paint colors are optional.

The California T has a push-button transmission system. There are three: Reverse, Auto, and Launch. Neutral is achieved by pulling the paddle shifters on the steering wheel together toward you; park is there only when you pull a lever to the bottom left. So you’ve got to watch that a bit – inadvertent rolling can occur. The turn signals sit on the wheel; you deploy them with your thumbs. Paddle-shifting is there when you want it.

Ferrari 7 - Ignition Live

Back-Seat Spin

I hold fast to my stance that a miniscule back seat is still a back seat, and as such is inherently useful. The one night a month when you DO want a third to join you on your way home from the club it will feel essential, even if she has to sit sideways with her legs across the back. (The impeccably trimmed leather and carbon fibre accents in the rear definitely played a role in convincing an extra dude or two to jump in the back while I was driving it.) What’s more: you can increase luggage space by folding down the back seats, so that things like golf bags or skis can fit.

“This is what a R2m car should feel like,” said the DJ with the pirate tattoo later that night. The three of us drove down Park Avenue admiring the multitude of lights illuminating the windows of bank buildings above. They spanned above our heads like the city’s own personal Milky Way.

Hannah Elliott