Ferrari California review

Half a century after the original Ferrari California 250 GT Spyder made its brief run, the exotic sports car maker revived both the name and its spirit in the form of the Ferrari California. Debuting for model-year 2010, the California represented several “firsts” for Ferrari.

Ferrari California

For starters, the four-seat convertible eschews a traditional fabric roof for a power-operated retractable hardtop that folds into the trunk. It lowers in around 14 seconds. With styling penned by Pininfarina, Ferrari’s designer of choice, the California looks as good (or better) with the top up as it does with it down. Borrowing design cues from the original iteration, tapered headlamps flow up and into broad-shouldered fenders and flank a broad low-mounted grille, creating a “happy face” frontal appearance. Smooth curves flow rearward organically into a rounded back end with quad exhaust tips and circular taillamps that run forward into the top of the fenders.

The California comes powered by the brand’s first direct-injection engine, a 4.3-liter V8 that produces a potent 453 horsepower and 357 pound-feet of torque. Engaging a “Launch Control” button delivers blazing off-the-line acceleration by minimizing tire spin at full throttle. Its 0-60 mph time clocks in at under four seconds, which is outpaced by only a very few and very expensive supercars. Another company first, the engine is “front mid-mounted,” which means it resides just behind the front axle; this helps maintain a beneficial front-to-rear weight balance which, in turn, helps contribute to the car’s handling agility.

The V8 drives the rear wheels via either a new-for-2011 six-speed manual transmission or a sophisticated seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which can be operated automatically or via steering wheel-mounted paddles. Shift time on the auto manual gearbox is claimed to be reduced to virtually zero seconds, and you simply can’t get any quicker than that.

Sharing common lineage with its corporate cousin, the Maserati GranTurismo, the California is built on a lightweight aluminum structure with aluminum body panels – excess weight tends to sap any car of power and even a modest savings in a low-slung sports car such as this can be significant in terms of added quickness.

The car’s suspension is likewise comprised of aluminum components, with a new multilink array at the rear that promises ultra-crisp handling, and is another first-time application in a Ferrari. The automaker’s sophisticated “Manettino” control system is onboard to tailor the car’s various integrated systems – including the F1-Trac stability control system that debuted in the 599 GTB Fiorano – according to “sport” and “comfort” settings. Intervention can also be switched off entirely for the benefit of accomplished – and courageous – drivers. Brake components come courtesy of Brembo and include standard carbon-ceramic discs for what is expected to be exceptional stopping power.

The California’s interior is fashionably and tastefully trimmed with straight-forward gauges and controls. A full range of features is represented, including a touch-screen navigation system and adaptive headlamps that automatically pivot to illuminate the road through the curves.

It’s not officially a roadster, but the California comes as close to one as is possible, with a pair of ultra-minimal bucket seats in the back that are strictly for the benefit of stowing modestly sized luggage and impulse purchases. The trunk is reasonably useful – at least for a low-slung sports car – though it becomes much less so when the top is retracted. It includes a pass-through from the rear seat to the cargo hold, which is a uniquely practical function in the decidedly unpractical world of exotic sports cars.

Being the automaker’s least expensive model and the only one to carry a sticker price shy of $200,000, could the California be the Ferrari for the common man/woman? Certainly. Provided he/she lives in Beverly Hills, California, that is.

Ferrari California Quick Facts

Engine: 4.3 Liter V8
Horsepower: 453 @ 7,750 rpm.
Torque: 357 @ 5,000 rpm.
City/Highway: MPG 13/19
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 7-Spd Auto Manual
Drive: Rear
Wheelbase: 105 in
Overall Length: 179.6 in
Width: 74.9 in
Height: 51.5 in
Curb Weight: 3,825 lbs
MSRP: $192,000

Did You Know?

The original Ferrari California 250 GT Spyder was built from 1957-1960, with the car switching to a short-wheelbase version during the final year of its run. Its bodywork made extensive use of lightweight aluminum – which was extremely rare and forward thinking at the time. This remains one of the most valuable collectible cars, with the rare examples put up for auction selling for millions of dollars each. The California 250 GT Spyder also has the distinction (at least in a fiberglass-bodies replica) of being the vehicle that inadvertently becomes trashed in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.