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Ferrari California T 2016 review

Jack Pyefinch road tests and reviews the Ferrari California T on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway in California, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

It's not the fastest, or the prettiest, and it's certainly not the best, but the California is the most popular car that Ferrari makes, which probably reflects the fact that a lot of people who buy one want to drive the brand, but not so fast.

If you're buying a samurai sword to display on your mantelpiece, rather than to slice and dice your enemies, it really doesn't matter how sharp it is.

Similarly, if you're buying a Ferrari because you desire it as a thing of beauty or a solidified piece of prestige, rather than to slice through windy roads at speed, it doesn't much matter how sharp it is at the pointy end, either.

This was the criticism that some purists made of the early models of Ferrari's big, grand-touring, convertible, the California; that it was some kind of Faux-rrari, unworthy of carrying the famous prancing horse on its hefty flanks.

It was neither a slow or turgid car, of course, but compared to every other Ferrari big money could buy, it was soft. This did not stop it from becoming very popular with buyers, of course, who also appreciated how spacious the cabin is, and how easy it is to get in and out of, and it is now the biggest seller the company offers, which means the Italians could feel justified in blowing loud raspberries at the purists (which is actually the kind of noise the exhaust on the new car makes, coincidentally, a kind of trumpeted raspberry with an angry growl underneath).

The people who work at Ferrari are fiercely proud, however (so much so that they won't tell us just what percentage of their sales are taken up by the California, because it probably upsets them, at some level) and when it came to releasing the new T for Turbo version, there was much touting of the ways in which it had become more of a driver's car.

The new twin-turbo 3.9-litre engine, which it shares with the riotously ridiculous 488 GTB - a samurai sword so sharp it could cut you from across the room - makes 412kW (a big jump of 46kW) and a whopping 755Nm of torque and can hurl the California T's considerable 1730kg bulk to 100km/h in just 3.6 seconds.

This is a good start, and a statement of intent (although you could argue that the old, naturally aspirated one sounded better), but fitting it with a "Pit Speed" button isn't fooling anyone. A California T, roof up or down, would look as happily at home on a race track as Donald Trump in a dole queue.

To drive a car like this on a road like this really is an experience.

This car's natural home is where Ferrari took us to drive it; California (the US is the company's biggest market globally, with 34 per cent of sales) to experience it in the setting for which it was largely created.

Fortunately, this golden state also offers what is arguably the world's greatest road, particularly for driving convertibles, the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs from the minted mansions of Malibu, on the edge of Los Angeles, all the way to San Francisco.

It is a stretch of tarmac so scenic, and so long, that it makes our own Great Ocean Road look a little dwarfed, as if ours was designed by the Reg Grundy TV production folk, and theirs was knocked up by Dreamworks and James Cameron. Even the eagles that swoop overhead are larger and more numerous. Show-offs.

To drive a car like this on a road like this really is an experience as transcendent and pinch-me dreamy as the photos suggest.

The problem with the Pacific Coast Highway, from an enthusiastic Ferrarista's point of view at least, is that you have to tackle it slowly. Partly this is because driving it fast will mean you miss too much of the scenery, which shifts from rolling expanses and vertiginous vistas to towering trees blocking out the sky and back again, all the while abutted by a brilliant, broiling blue ocean that you might recognise from home; the Pacific.

More pressingly, though, taking your eyes off the enjoyable windy road could see you pouring over a cliff (late one night we saw at least 80 police cars and ambulances and two cranes attempting to recover a vehicle that had done just that) or into one of the scarily solid looking giant Redwoods that often nudge the road's edges.

Outside the early hours of dawn - when sea fogs tend to add even more magic to the views, but can also obscure the road entirely - it is also generally impossible to pick up the pace on this highway, packed as it is with slow-moving motor homes, hired Mustangs and people suddenly swerving into lay-bys to take their one-millionth selfie for the day.

Unlike most Ferraris, of course, the California T does not feel unhappy with this kind of crawling progress. Keep the Manettino setting in Comfort and the big beast is as docile as a puppy full of pethidine. It rides smoothly, steers effortlessly and still offers quick-fire overtaking, should you get lucky enough to find space to do so, by drawing on its vast well of torque.

The California T is excellent and effortless on long sweepers.

In this mode it is a soft Ferrari, but on this road that is no bad thing.

The Pacific Coast Highway does branch off into diverting and deserted detours, of course, and none better than the Carmel Valley Way, which spears inland not far north of Big Sur, which is pretty much the epicentre of the road's beauty.

It is here that it finally feels worth switching to Sport mode, and a different, apex-sniffing, exhaust-barking beast emerges.

In many cars, Sport buttons make a difference not far from negligible, but here the changes are both tangible and audible. Your throttle comes alive, the suspension hunkers down, the gear shifts get serious, and produce proper percussive bangs if you make them at high revs, and the steering muscles up nicely.

The car's F1-derived differential and traction systems also start earning their money as the big Ferrari struggles to get all the power to the ground, particularly when the road turns bumpy.

The California T is excellent and effortless on long sweepers but it is less at home and more of a handful when forced to carve through sharp switchbacks.

You can feel all that bulk being bothered by changes of direction, and there's even a trace of the dreaded scuttle shake modern convertibles are supposed to have done away with. My driver's side window rattles and vibrates in protest, but only when we really push on.


The T is undeniably a better car than the original California, and brings far more Ferrari DNA into play when driven hard. It's also seriously fast, and feels even more so with the roof down and the wind whipping your hair plugs.

It is still, of course, a far lesser car than a 488, or even a 458, but super-car sharpness is not its intended function, nor what this Ferrari's customers desire. Indeed, those who stump up the $409,888 asking price (which will quickly climb over the $500K mark with a few necessary options) will be delighted that they can do so.

You can argue over whether the California T - which does look heavy-butted from some angles, and yet also boasts a highly cool looking venturi at the rear - is a thing of beauty, but it is distinctly a Ferrari. And that's always a good thing.

Now, more than ever, though, this Yank-o-phile, entry-level ticket to Ferrari World actually feels like the real thing as well.

Has the California T redeemed its image? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Ferrari California pricing and spec info.

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T 3.9L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $229,400 – 290,070 2016 Ferrari California 2016 T Pricing and Specs
Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist


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