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Ferrari California 2009 Review

We haven’t got give five clicks down the road from the six star pub Ferrari is using as a launch pad for its all new California before its carbon ceramic brakes come sharply into play.

A posse of Sicilian urchins, apparently inflamed by the ripping V8 of the first car out that morning, essentially bushwhack us, scampering out in front of the oncoming missile, hands upheld. Bandit country though this once was, these pre-pubescent Don Corleones mean us no harm. Gesticulating, grinning and gibbering, they want to touch and feel the unobtainable for just one moment.

We’ve been lent this circa $450K motor by Ferrari with the thinly veiled implication that our continued well-being hinges on its safe return. Realising that it’s not going to be boosted, we lower the windows – the retractable lid’s still up - shake each of the half dozen out thrust hands and suggest that standing back might now be wise as we oblige their wishes by taking off as though we had indeed stolen it.

There’s an instant of fishtailing, deftly curtailed by electronics, a stunning engine blast, and four seconds or so later triple kilometres an hour have been obtained.

So it is that before the fifth klick has been reached, we’ve grasped both the fulsome aural and accelerative response of this marvellous 4.3-litre direct injection V8 and the efficacy of Ferrari’s traction control system, without which the hideously expensive ultra low profile tyres would soon be incinerated.

All day the California does its work of widening eyes, dropping jaws and exciting sessions of barely understood yammering. This Mediterranean island might be at the toe of the Italian boot, but this week Sicily is getting all the kicks.

Yet for all the fulsome response and over excited locals, this is the Ferrari that according to all forecasts is supposed to be the dully pragmatic take on the prancing pony marque. The lack of an alpha-numeric name’s no accident. This one’s supposed to be for the state that gave us soft rock (and a certain “dreamy” song that only dullard journalists play on), a state of the union which happens to be Ferrari’s biggest market. That the roof is made, not of fabric, but aluminium, is a gesture to the freezing winters of the US north-east - their second biggest market.

Moreover, the California comes with a seven speed twin clutch transmission, which essentially means it’s going to be an automatic just about all of the time. While the lines are svelte by the mark of its siblings, the newcomer weighs in at a porky, all-too American, 1735kg. And perhaps worse in the eyes of Fazza fanatics, the newcomer courts illegitimacy by having that 338kW/484Nm V8 mid-mounted at the front. Yes, the California rides the rutted road surfaces of Sicily (all too reminiscent of our own) with quite exceptional poise. Yes, induction and exhaust noises come from opposing ends, not both from the rear. And, yes, it is almost too easy to drive purposefully. And so what? The California embodies not compromises, but improvements in terms of daily usability and even future viability. That engine has the same 4.3-litre capacity as the F430, but the resemblance to that assault weapon end there. This is an almost entirely new unit which feature, for the first time in a Ferrari, direct fuel injection. The chief purpose of this is to improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions – down to 306 grams of Co2 per km – but it also imbues the California with a chest-punching bottom end without cheating on the glorious revability so synonymous with the marquee.

You’re going to love how it looks or damn it with faint praise. It’s probably fairest to suggest that they’ve done a pretty good job of designing a package that has a metal roof which folds in without eating boot space while retaining an exotic veneer. Suffice to say, it looks best in black rather than traditional testo rosso or the new kind of blue shade.

Any misgivings that the Italians have gone PC on us are rapidly blown away. Capable of dispatching the 0-100km/h sprint in a tested time of less than four seconds, the California is blazingly fast for a road car, thanks going in no small part to the brilliant transmission. It’s a twin-clutch a bit like a common Volkswagen’s DSG, but the difference is immeasurable. Designed by Getrag to Ferrari’s design, this one is devoid of the least hesitation, a blindingly slick mechanism abetted by the manetinno mechanism mounted on the steering wheel.

You can keep grabbing gears through the paddle shifter, achieving speeds that might as well be science fiction for all the application they have in Australia. But then you can always just paddle about at 80km/h in seventh and still the California will pull with immense assertiveness. That’s all in Comfort mode.

Flick manetinno to sport and it’s a whole different ball game. It instantly feels more alive. Suspension is tauter and traction control looser. Response sharpens. Margins diminish. Gears hold on redline. It points into corners with altogether greater authority.

Mind you, get on the gas too enthusiastically on the way out, and you’ll know it. As to going into CSD mode, which withholds all electronic safeguards, well, not on the greasy roads of Sicily, grazie very much. Maybe not even on the track at Fiorano unless you’re a certain Michael Schumacher who participated in the California’s development.

Indeed, unless you are him, you’ll surely find this all the car you can handle and a whole lot more. It also happens to be one which is not ashamed to hold comfort and driver accessibility as virtues not vices. While those on the 200-strong, two-year waiting list that already exists in our apart of the world won’t be given access to the 2+2 version with its joke back seats, the two-seater is almost decadently luxurious within.

If only it were a bit easier to see out. Pretty much impossible to reverse safely, fat A-pillars and the high waistline restrict forward and flank vision as well. At least you can see up soon enough – the roof drops at a button’s push in 14 seconds.

A Kiwi colleague joked that the California is Ferrari’s first multi-purpose vehicle. So it is; a relaxed boulevard cruiser, a freeway eating grand tourer and a B-road bully to boot. And it’s completely beguiling in any guise - if not quite enough to make you want to step out in front of it.


Price: $450,000 (estimate)

Engine: 4.3L/V8; 338kW/484Nm

Economy: 13.1L/100km (claimed)

Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch

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Range and Specs

(base) 4.3L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $100,000 – 126,390 2009 Ferrari California 2009 (base) Pricing and Specs
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