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First Drive: Ferrari California 2+ 2dr F1 (2009-2014)

£151,034 when new
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So, is the Ferrari California the V8 Ferrari for people who aren’t manly enough to buy a 458?

Not quite. This is the new harder, faster Ferrari California, so quit with the not-manly jabs. While happily admitting the Cali appeals to a less chest-thumping audience than the 458 or the upcoming F12, Ferrari has listened to customer feedback over the last three years and sharpened the front-engined cabrio to make its road manners more befitting of a Prancing Horse badge.

So what exactly have they done to the new California?

Glad you asked. The Cali’s 4.2-litre direction-injection V8 gets a modified ECU, revised exhaust system and a very clever new reed valve in the lower crank case…

Which means what exactly?

Which means, in technical terms, an extra 30bhp and 14lb ft of torque. That brings the grand totals to 483bhp and 372lb ft, and the California’s 0-62mph time down to 3.8 seconds, which is hardly peroxide-perm hairdresser territory. The California’s chassis has been entirely toughened up, too, and now features twelve different types of aluminium. Yes, 12. So the California is now 30kg lighter, which, with entirely retuned suspension at front and rear, means it should be at least 40 per cent more Top Gear than the old car.

So what’s it like?

Bloody brilliant. Really. The California is no limp-wristed relative of the 458 and FF: this is a proper supercar now. On real-world, real-width roads, it is hilariously, ridiculously fast, whanging up through the gears like a bright yellow, foldy-roofed banshee, cornering and braking with face-restyling force. Sounds ace, too: with the roof down, that V8 makes a noise like some sort of orchestral section/seismic event/vengeful deity.

Which means the new California is a proper scary supercar then?

No, not scary. That’s the smartest thing about the California: it offers up all the trad Ferrari noise and speed, but in a more accessible package. We drove the California flat out in the nastiest of weather on the nastiest of roads - bad tarmac, great pools of standing water, potholes, gravel - and it was entirely superlative. The revised suspension serves up immaculate body control, the Cali refusing to get either bouncy or clangy no matter how broken the surface. It’s a wonderfully balanced supercar, letting you know when you’re at the edge of grip but gently coaxing you back from oversteery death with the subtle F1-Trac stability system.

Very nice. But what if I wanted a harder version of the California with faster steering and harder suspension, and was happy to pay a premium of approximately £4,320 over the standard car?

Funny you should say that. The new California is available with the ‘Handling Speciale’ pack, which adds stiffer springs front and rear to reduce body roll by 6.2 per cent, and a steering ratio quickened by nine per cent for more nimble handling. Yours for an unusually reasonable (by Ferrari standards) £4,320 atop the base California.

So that’s the one to order?

Actually, no. The stiffer chassis is no improvement, while the steering on the HSP is frankly a bit weird: so viciously quick off-centre that it gives the whole car a nervous, unsettled feeling. Driving the California HS in the middle of an apocalyptic downpour on bumpy mountain roads probably didn’t aid our sense of unease: on a warm clear day - or a dry racetrack - the super-quick steering would probably be ace. But for anyone planning on driving their Cali on British roads on a day-to-day basis - and some 20 per cent of California owners use their car daily - we’d advise you leave the HPS box unchecked.

So, in summary…

The revised California isn’t the poor relation in the Ferrari family. In its own way, it’s as enticing as anything else Maranello produces right now, especially if you go with the base car instead of the that twitchy handling pack.

What do you think?

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