First Drives

30 May 2014

First drive: the Ferrari California T

New engine, new looks: we drive Ferrari's 560bhp turbocharged GT star

Rowan Horncastle
Car image



California T. T for...?

Turbo. But you knew that, because the idea of turbos on a Ferrari engine is such a revolution that there's been an avalanche of advance hype and uninformed opinion. How would a Ferrari be if it had to do without sky-high revs, scalpel-sharp throttle response and an unmuffled scream?

So what's your opinion, informed as it now is by a drive?

That a turbo engine is just about right for a car like the California, a fast suave effortless GT.

Any old turbo engine?

Nope. Ferrari has done some clever stuff. And it does meet the aims above: little lag, nice noise, and torque that rises with revs.

How they do that?

It's an all-new 3,855cc V8 of a stonking 560bhp, power that's enough to see off that pesky AMG SL63. The engine is nothing to do with the Maserati Quattroporte's unit by the way. It's extremely compact, and tucks its turbos low down on the outboard side of each bank. They use normal anti-lag techniques: they're small, they are twin-scroll units, and the engine itself is direct injection with variable cam timing.

To make sure the thing sounds right, it has a pair of insanely complex (read: expensive) exhaust manifolds that look like a nest of vipers. This keeps each tract the same length, and from that issues sweet harmonics.

And as for the torque business, well the engine is capable of 755Nm in seventh gear, over a range of 2500-5500rpm. But in first, second and third, the torque is limited at low revs to about 556Nm, and then rises towards a peak at 6000 - just like a normally aspirated engine. (The curves for fourth, fifth and sixth are progressively more like the one for seventh). This sounded a bit silly to me at first - why limit the performance of an engine with a rampant horse on the red-painted heads?

So er, why?

Well, when you drive it, things become clear. For a start, lag is inconsequential at anywhere above 2500rpm. When you go peacefully in the upper gears, the things works like a normal turbo engine. You just surf along relaxedly on a wave of torque. And save gallons of fuel. But when you drop gears and drive with a bit of passion, you have to concentrate, use the right gear, and use the throttle with determination. Then you get that lovely feeling of more and more urge coming as the needle passes each notch on the rev-counter's circumference.

Still, sounds like a bit of an artificial game

Well yes, but driving is artificial innit? It's called character. If you want instant, silent, level torque, go drive an electric car. The other thing is, with torque limited in the lower gears, it's much easier to meter out the effort at the rear wheels. Anyone who's driven an AMG SL will be very familiar with the blinking of the traction light. Or the eye-widening jolt of sudden oversteer if you switch it out. In the Cali T, things are easier to control. But still, if you travel to 7500rpm, its blisteringly rapid. Ferrari says it'll do 0-100 in 3.6 seconds, and 0-200 in 11.2. Which from where I sit is both entirely believable and very much not hanging about.

And the sound?

Well the variety of sound effects isn't as wide as Ferrari's NA V8's, but it has a fruity and musical quality. And the fact it's quieter isn't at all a bad thing in what's supposed to be an everyday GT car. It does a bit of a cackle on gearshifts in sport mode. But in the end I wanted more vocals when I was really going for it.

This is a Ferrari. If I wondered before about the turbo engine, I was never worried about the chassis

Indeed. It's got amazing traction, heaps of grip and wonderful composure. But for a car that'll be driven as a GT, I think the steering is either a bit too quick (likely), or not progressively weighted (less likely). Whatever, I found myself taking too many corners in a series of bites not a smooth arc. And I spoke to others who found the same. Nor is there anything like the delicious steering feedback of the other Ferraris. Actually the best thing about the chassis is the amazing ride. Despite all that control, the way the car absorbs both big road-turbulence and little pineapple-textured roughness is a revelation, and a real asset for a GT.

Looks better too...

Yup. Every panel is new except the roof and glazing. The sides are maybe still a little overdone, but the designers have done a great job on the tail, killing that old tall pinched look and drawing it down to the road.

And inside?

Big change: a new satnav/ents system at very long last. TBH it has glitches, but they say it's still in beta. Also, they're due to add Apple CarPlay soon. In other interior news, you'll note a fresh dash and seats, looking good and working well, plus some slightly dodgy plastics (probably included as standard so as to nudge you into upgrading to expensive optional carbonfibre decor). Very nice aromatic leather. Low turbulence with the roof off. Half decent boot even roof down.

The boring numbers?

CO2 is 250g/km. The former number much like the old California, the latter some 49g/km better. And it's not like no-one bought the old Cali; it was one of the best-selling Ferraris ever, even though it attracted a bit of derision from hardcore fans.

OK, if the old one was sneered at, is this one the real Ferrari deal?

Hmmm. Well I felt like I was driving a Ferrari with very thick gloves on and earplugs in. It feels rather remote for a Ferrari, even if it's more engaging than an SL. Maranello's marketers would no doubt argue that this muted character is appropriate for their everyday car. But the FF is for everyday, and that's a wonderful sensory experience.

Pictures: Rowan Horncastle

Tags: california t, california, ferrari

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