Can traction aids tame a prancing horse on snow?

Top down in sub-zero snowy conditions from behind the wheel of a Ferrari seems about as irrelevant to Australia as you can get, but there’s a valuable tale in how such a situation is even possible.

With a folding hardtop, two-plus-two seating and a brilliantly tractable twin-turbo V8, the Ferrari California T is already arguably the most versatile model to wear the prancing horse badge, even though it sits at the lightest end of the price list.

This is all dandy for a summer weekend jaunt along the coast, with the ability to switch between coupe and convertible in a mere 14 seconds and the V8 centrepiece able to simply demolish traffic with 755Nm of torque available from just 2750rpm, before carving a fine line through the twisties with its razor-sharp chassis.

The California T’s brilliantly revised styling also makes for a grand entrance, well, anywhere but the reality is that many owners still treat these everyday heroes more like fairweather friends when the elements conspire against such postcard scenarios.

Yes it’s wise to protect your circa-half million dollar investment, but the reality is that modern Ferraris are developed with the same levels of weather hardiness as a Toyota Camry.

Modern safety rules also see them fitted with ABS, traction and stability control to help Grandma use one to visit the chiropodist, or for more enthusiastic drivers to exploit its 0-100km/h in 3.6s performance and 316km/h top speed at least twice.

Ferrari’s traction control system is usually mentioned in the context of its F1 racing program, with the California T’s three-position steering wheel "manettino" switch hinting at taking you one step closer to Schumacher with each click to the right.

Satisfied with its track abilities, Ferrari is keen to prove that the F1 Trac system also extends the California T’s versatility to the opposite of its summery ownership stereotype.

And that’s what brings us to Andermatt in Switzerland, an also-postcard perfect winter escape high in the Alps that is generally prowled by Range Rover and Porsche SUVs. James Bond visited here once in his Aston, but it was summertime when he was pursuing Goldfinger.

During the winter months it’s covered in the sort of white blanket that Thredbo would die for. There was so much snow during our visit that the ploughs were merely clearing the fresh powder from the surface of the ice-like compacted snow on the main street.

Putting the surface to the pedestrian test, this correspondent fell over twice just crossing the road. How on earth could a 412kW/755Nm two-wheel drive Ferrari cope?

Andermatt kindly donated a giant carpark on the edge of town for us to push the California T to its limits, where cones marked a course of alarming complexity.

With just the snow tyres mandated for such conditions deviating from the California T’s factory spec, we selected full-assistance Comfort mode on the manettino and set off very gingerly.

Admittedly this was on flat ground, but the California T slowly moved off the mark with no fuss, and then confidently negotiated the twisty cone circuit, impressively obeying steering inputs and avoiding the surrounding snow banks. Increased throttle inputs were instantly matched by stunted engine response, and the same confident progress.

Clicking across to Sport mode, the assistance is slackened to enable a degree of wheelspin and lateral sliding. Ferrari proudly boasts the Sport mode is the quickest way around its Fiorano test track, but on snow the ensuing fun actually slows progress. If it’s fun you’re chasing, Sport gives you a good taste while ensuring you remain pointed in the right direction, and again avoiding snow banks.

Stepping up to fully-liberated ESC Off mode makes moving off the mark your first challenge, and could equally be labelled ‘shoot rooster tails of snow mode’ for fending off Bond baddies.

ESC Off is a story all about understeer, oversteer and spinning within the California T’s own length. It’s like slow-mo figure skating but without the elegance, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you’ve ever played with an RC car on wet tiles, you’ll understand.

Once mastered via intense concentration and throttle and steering discipline, completing the course in a constant drift is one of the most satisfying feats on four wheels.

On a dry racetrack you’d be well into triple digit speeds before you could pick such differences between the modes, but the Andematt surface makes the shift in personality as clear as night and day at less than jogging pace.