The "T" in the badge of the turbo V8 could easily stand for "theatre".

The original Ferrari California was a soft car. Parked alongside the riotous 458, it was more likely to be chosen just as an open-air cruiser or for day-to-day commuting than a flat-out Sunday morning blast.

I understand the appeal to people who think driving is a chore but still want a Ferrari to impress themselves and their friends.

The new California is very different, much sharper in every way. It packs the first mainstream turbo engine from the Italian supercar maker.

It keeps the name and the same basic shape and drop-top package as the original but the new California is faster and harder and much more enjoyable.

This one is "on" all the time, thanks to the bottom-end punch from its turbo V8, but it also feels more rigid in the body, sharper in the steering and grippier in corners. It also has carbon-ceramic brakes that kill speed.

Best of all, for Australia and Australians, is the "bumpy road" button — the suspension setting that keeps things tidy yet still allows the car to grip hard in all conditions, not just the super-smooth bitumen so common across Europe.

It's not just a Ferrari but it's one you can use

I know you're worrying about the price, so here it comes. A California T is going to cost at least $409,888, without worrying about on-road costs or options. So the sticker on the car I'm driving, with all sorts of tasty extras, runs to $549,387.

That's not unusual, I'm told, for Ferrari buyers. They're happy to put $10,050 into 20-inch forged alloys, or $12,500 into a two-tone roof, or $2700 into red-painted brake calipers.

Since I'm just a guest I'm not looking to quibble but I've owned cheaper houses.

What makes the California T a winner, even at this price, is that it's not just a Ferrari but it's one you can use.

The rear seats are not big but can take the six-year old, the folding roof works quickly and efficiently, fuel economy is not too bad and the look, smell and feel of the leather is, well, fantastic.

There is also the theatre of the California T.

The styling is special. There's the sound of the 4.0-litre V8 when you give it a tickle. Then there's the sensation when you slide behind the wheel.

It sits firmly on the road, a little too firm on some surfaces without the "bumpy" setting, but the brakes are just plain brilliant once you adjust to the light touch they require.

The engine is fantastic from about 3000rpm, really punching through the seven-speed DSG gearbox, although I miss the scream of a non-turbo Ferrari. It always has something to give but does not take too much skill to handle, given it has the latest electronic aids.

It's a Ferrari speed machine that's also a convertible

It's massively quick, with a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 315km/h, but never feels as if it's going to bite me. And it's easy to balance with old-school rear-wheel drive.

There is no way to rate the safety of the California T, because no one has crash-tested one, but it should be at least a four-star car.

On the resale front, Glass's Guide has no data but the waiting list in Australia and the Ferrari badge means it's going to do all right. The fuel economy looks good on paper but not so good after a thrash.