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Ferrari California T Handling Speciale 2016 review

Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Ferrari California T Handling Speciale 2016 at its Australian launch.

Ferrari is famous for the concept of building one less car than is needed at any one time.

Demand for the Italian supercars continues to surge, with the latest 488 GTB taking up to 12 months to get to customers.

Like most supercar companies, though, the great Italian marque needs something… not so super, let’s say, to pay the bills with.

While it hasn't fallen for the SUV trick quite yet, the company's California T Roadster was designed to offer potential Ferrari buyers something a little bit more affordable and achievable, while serving to boost the company’s bottom line at the same time.

Even though it lacks the firepower of a 488 or a F12, the California is still Ferrari through and through, with a raucous V8 upfront, rear-wheel drive, and in the California T's case, a metal folding roof that gives you two cars in one.

Price and features

If you are in the fortunate position to buy a $409,888 California T, the first thing you'll notice is that the option list is long and expensive; there are many and varied ways to customise your Ferrari exactly the way that you want it.

Our tester, for example, sports an eye-watering $112,000 worth of extras, including about $35,000 worth of carbon fibre interior trim pieces.

However, some owners felt that the California was, perhaps, a little bit too aligned towards being a Grand Tourer.

Laying a single finger on one of the steering column-mounted shift paddles is seemingly enough to initiate a change and it’s all over before you can believe it.

Enter the Handling Speciale Package. This $15,400 option doesn't exactly give the California dripping fangs and long claws. What it does do, however, is take key areas of the car and improve on each of them just a little bit.

Key to the package is the changes to the suspension system. At the front, the springs are 16 per cent stiffer and in the rear, they are nine per cent firmer. As well, the adaptive shocks have been re-tuned all around to cope with the slightly stiffer spring rate.

A new backbox system for the exhaust finishes with four new matte black tips that help to signify that you're looking at a Handling Speciale-equipped car. In true Spinal Tap fashion, these exhausts turn the California's noise all the way up to 11.

The final piece of the puzzle is the California's seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and it’s somewhere Ferrari's engineers have really worked magic. A retune of the shifting software has brought astonishing results, with the shifts in Sport mode now almost faster than thought.

Laying a single finger on one of the steering column-mounted shift paddles is seemingly enough to initiate a change and it’s all over before you can believe it.

Just like on the top-end Ferraris, the California features what they call a Manettino dial on the steering wheel, which allows you to change the settings of the car from Comfort to Sport all the way up to Track. Unusually, the steering wheel also carries the left and right indicator switches on its spokes.

There's also a headlight high-beam flasher, along with a button with a picture of a small shock printed on it. That little button can be directly attributed to former Ferrari racer, Michael Schumacher.

It's a long held belief that a sports car needs to be very firmly tied down in its ride quality to be any good. Schumacher thought the exact opposite, and asked the engineers to provide a setting where all of the other parameters of the car were at full attack mode, but the dampers remained in the softest mode possible.

It's known as the Bumpy Road Setting, and it works a treat on Australia's back roads.

All the other key elements of the California T, Including its 412kW 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 engine, its massive brakes, and its stiff chassis remain the same.

The real intention of the California T is to cover great distances in comfort and style. The Handling Speciale package does nothing to dull that; rather, it adds 10 per cent more performance in those key areas.


Driving the California T takes a little bit of re-calibration. The controls in the cabin, for example, are quite different to anything that you're used to.

Take the gearshift, for example. Once you've turned the car on, via the start button on the steering wheel, you simply click one of the paddles to engage a gear and push a buttons on the centre console to switch between manual and automatic.

You also need to do the same when you're looking for reverse, which is also a button on the centre console.

There's also no traditional park brake to speak of, and you simply turn the car off to engage it, which is a little bit unusual and disconcerting at first.

The indicator switches, too, require a small retraining of your brain to get right. If you're trying to flip these in manual mode, you'll find the right-hand indicator and shift paddle at about the same moment. It's easy to get a little bit lost.

The California's strongest market is in the United States, so it's no surprise to see a cup holder in the centre console. A neatly integrated entertainment system rests in the centre of the dash, while a TFT screen on the dash displays as much information as a driver will ever need.

In a nod to Ferrari's racing heritage, the steering wheel actually features a row of LED shift lights that light up as the engine’s 7,500rpm limit is approached.


Once out of the city and on the back roads, the Cali T really comes to life. The steering is light, yet direct and incredibly rich in its feedback. The brakes are mighty and meaty and never fade, and those absolutely instant gearshifts really add to the experience.

The howling V8 exiting through the quad pipes sets the hairs on the back of your head tingle, too. The Cali’s overall presence, its theatre, has also been improved via that awesome exhaust.

The re-tuned suspension package hasn't gone too far towards race car stiff, either, and the Bumpy Road Mode is a real revelation.

Being Italian at its core, the California isn't totally free of pecadillos. Having to twist a regulation ignition key two turns before actually pressing a start button seems a little odd, while the indicator buttons require a lot of brain – and thumb - retraining to get right.

While that gearbox loves to be used hard, it can shunt at low revs around town, and even with the exhaust turned down, there is still a drone at middling load and low revs at times during cruising speeds.


Ferrari has done a great job of bringing a little bit of supercar magic to a car that is aimed at first-time Ferrari buyers. It also has a firm fan base, among owners of more high-powered and high-strung Ferraris who are looking for something a little bit more easy to live with day to day.

The Handling Speciale pack doesn't turn the California T into a fire-breathing F12 chaser; rather, it takes the already excellent attributes of the standard car and massages them subtly to bring even more out of an excellent package.

Buying a supercar is usually merely a serving suggestion and the options lists are long and often very expensive. This option, however, is quite a good deal. You're only paying a bit more to let that Prancing Horse off the lead.

Would the Handling Speciale be the California T for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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

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Range and Specs

T 3.9L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $228,800 – 263,010 2016 Ferrari California 2016 T Pricing and Specs
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist


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