Ferrari California T reviewed

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The Ferrari California T demonstrates how the rekindled fling between Ferrari and the Golden State is producing another generation of drop-dead-gorgeous sportscars, admits a reluctant Tiff Needell

What’s in a name? While I realise it doesn’t diminish the car’s quality, “Ferrari California” just jars. Ferraris started out with simple model numbers – usually reflecting the engine capacity or number of cylinders – and sometimes a name added afterwards.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Mondial arrived with standalone name, soon followed by the Testarossa; but a California? We know why: ever since Luigi Chinetti drove Ferrari’s first Le Mans win back in 1949 and persuaded Enzo Ferrari to make him the US importer, America has grown to become by far Ferrari’s biggest market, taking over a third of its production.

There was a Ferrari 340 America in 1950, a 410 Superamerica in ’55, then the 250 GT California Spyder in ’57. One of those vintage models will now set you back £5m. The name disappeared with the last of the 365 Californias in 1967 but the new generation are entry-level Ferraris – yours for just shy of £155,000.

With 10,000 sales since the Ferrari California T launched six years ago – 70 per cent of those to first-time Ferrari buyers – this new ‘T’ version has a lot to live up to. The ‘T’ stands for turbocharger, the first production Ferrari with such forced induction since 1987’s F40.

So why the turbo, which will surely mute the expected wailing soundtrack? Emissions, of course. A headline number that provides a greener image and goes hand in hand with better fuel consumption – not that there’ll be that much difference in real-world usage.

It’s not just the exhaust note that changes when you add a turbocharger but also the power delivery, as you suddenly get more torque in the lower rev range, which, with 560 horsepower on offer, can be more than you want.

Lazy drivers who want to cruise in high gears love more torque as it pulls them out of trouble when they can’t be bothered to change down a gear. But the enthusiast is better served by torque and power curves that grow in harmony. Too much too soon will break traction all too easily, or have the control light flashing like a strobe.

Ferrari has addressed these issues by creating an exhaust system that still barks as you fire up the V8 under the long bonnet and an engine management that only grants you maximum torque in seventh. The result is a sportscar that sounds and drives like a Ferrari, but with greener credentials. It’s beautifully made and has new body panels all round.

The suspension is a little stiffer, the steering a little sharper, but it’s still larger than you expect in the flesh. It might be perfect for cruising the boulevards of Californ-i-ay, but you’ll breathe in sharply when something comes the other way on an English country lane! There are also too many controls on the steering wheel, as Ferrari loves to add a touch of F1 to its road cars.

Quibbles aside, it’s a drop-dead-gorgeous Ferrari that gets to 62mph three-tenths of a second faster than the outrageous F40. Time to dig out that old Mamas and Papas CD and go California dreaming.

Ferrari California T 

Top speed 195mph
Acceleration 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds

Engine 3.9 litre turbocharged petrol generating 560hp
Gearbox Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic

Economy 26.9mpg
Price £154,490

Performance 9/10
Handling 9/10

Economy 8/10
Comfort 8/10

Quality 9/10
Desirability 9/10

ferrari.com

@Ferrari

Watch the Ferrari California T in action

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About author

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is a former Grand Prix driver who spent most of his professional career racing in the World Sportscar Championship including 14 Le Mans 24 Hour races where he had a best result of third in 1990. He is however perhaps better known as a former presenter of Top Gear throughout the nineties and then helped to create ‘Fifth Gear’ which enters its 14th year in 2015. Tiff recently wrote his autobiography Tiff Gear, is Director magazine’s columnist, races whenever the opportunity arises and has now rejoined Clarkson, co-presenting at Top Gear Live.

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