Reported by Matthew Thomas
Times are changing at Maranello. Ferrari, like many other luxury car manufacturers, is moving away from its traditional dislike of turbo charged engines in favour of naturally aspirated ones. Ferrari plan to migrate their entire 12 cylinder Ferraris to incorporate hybrid drive chains whilst charging all their smaller models. Carbon output and miles per gallon are ever increasingly important figures to all car designers as the planet becomes ever more energy conscious.
With this in mind I took the California T, the smallest Ferrari on the market, for a spin around Dubai. The California T boasts a 3.85litre V8, which is down from the 4.2litre in its predecessor, but this beast of a car now sports two scroll turbo chargers. Features retained from the previous California include the roof panelling. The new model is exactly that; new. It cuts a sleeker, more elegant line than the previous model and with it comes the justifiable admiring glances from many a Dubai petrol head. This is a car you’ll want to drive for the sheer wow factor alone.
The new California T races to 100kph faster than the older version; in 3.6 seconds in fact, with the help of the launch control system. This is just enough time to hear the famous Ferrari roar before you have to break profusely to make it over the Palm Jumeirah speed humps at minimal speed.
With the addition of the turbos the torque figures are up to an impressive 557lb-ft all resulting in an increase in its top speed bottoming out at just below the 200mph mark. Of course, there are few roads in Dubai that allow for this speed but that’s hardly the point. As with any supercar, it’s the fact that you could, if speed cameras were obsolete, put your foot down and make the car do what it was designed to do; Speed.
Thanks to these small engine changes, power is up by 14% overall and let me tell you that is a noticeable increase making the California T sporadically hard to handle. Despite the turbos, Ferrari is adamant they want their cars to retain the feel of a naturally aspirated engine and have eliminated almost all turbo lag by cleverly controlling the torque in lower gears. A tiny amount of turbo whistle is present higher in the rev range but it’s certainly not the abiding sound in this vehicle; the flat plane V8 wails beautifully all the way up to 7500rpm. Just as impressive as the might of the acceleration, is the speed at which this car stops. This is a useful feature for Dubai roads. Carbon ceramic brakes (that never fade) are fitted to the California as standard and they are a very welcome addition to rein in that extra 70bhp which makes taming this car all the more easier and certainly, all the more fun. With fantastic brakes aligned to an excellent cornering grip, this car belays its weight around the bends.
The steering is noticeably 10% sharper and as we expect from Ferrari, is light without sacrificing the sense of feel. Even on the limit the car feels incredibly balanced. The California T boasts the classic rear wheel drive front engine sports car layout so expect a hint of understeer on turn in, but with a chassis so well put together married to oodles of power, a dap of opposite lock and a touch of throttle and this is easily manageable.
I liked the California but I love the California T. The improved ride owes much to the adaptive dampeners which are able to stiffen or soften depending on the road surface and cornering angle. In ‘Sport mode’ the car is able to stiffen and handle like a Ferrari should. Yet, switch to ‘comfort mode’ and the car can cruise along with minimal fuss, purring along Sheikh Zayed Road. The 7 speed gearbox is superb when pushing on but is also perfectly at home in auto mode in slow moving traffic when so many other sports cars feel cumbersome and fidgety. The improved electronic shock absorbers allow for less than perfect road surfaces which in the land of construction we often have to face and this alone makes the California T the ideal Grand Tourer.
As the smallest engine car in the Ferrari brand, a car with back seats (albeit for pint-sized people)and being a car with an FR layout, I’ve heard many die-hard Ferrari fans argue that the California is less of a Ferrari than other models. I strongly disagree. In fact, I would argue that none of these facts are fair points of criticism. Ferrari claims 70% of California owners are new to the brand and even the remaining 30% are not going to be disappointed. I’m in the 30% and am most certainly not. The engineers really have done a fantastic job making this car brutally fast and agile if you want it to be, whilst still producing a car that does 27mpg and is no more daunting to drive than a family saloon. It’s the everyday Ferrari that makes every day just that little bit special. It makes driving a pleasure and getting stuck in Thursday night traffic less of a chore.
In my opinion, this car feels like a Ferrari should. The simple elegance of the cabin, the formula 1 inspired steering wheel and the simple way the car feels through the corners makes the driver feel truly special. The folding hardtop roof allows the occupants to truly appreciate the fantastic soundtrack from the engine when the weather allows. The California retains the magic and the feel that only driving a Ferrari can, but in a model you can enjoy all year round.
Available at Al Tayer Motors