Ferrari is famous for creating race-tuned sports cars, but every now and then it also turns its hand to softer, more compliant grand tourers aimed at people who want to eat up the miles in style.
Its California, a drop top with a folding metal roof embraces that cruiser ethos perfectly. It's the first Ferrari grand tourer to feature a front mid-mounted V8 engine and an optional HELE (high emotion low emission) CO2 reduction system that includes stop & start technology. It promises a versatile blend of sportiness and everyday usability, the likes of which are normally associated with less exotic vehicles.
The California retails for a £146,960, but our press car came with a host of optional equipment including the premium HiFi with iPod connectivity, rear parking camera and magnetic suspension that pushed its total price up to £178,262.
Low drama, high performance
Climb into the Ferrari California and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how sedate a drive it offers. A dramatic engine bark on start up reminds you you're in exotic Italian metal, but caress the accelerator and it'll cruise forward in gentle fashion, its suspension soaking up bumps and road scars like your nan's Vectra.
Don't be fooled by this car's laid back nature, as it's no slouch. The California's 4.3-litre direct injected V8 produces 453bhp, which is enough to propel it from a standstill to 60mph in 3.9 seconds. Keep the go pedal planted and it'll cover 1000m in a stomach churning 22.1 seconds, which is enough to outpace even muscular V12-powered cars such as the Aston Martin V12 Vantage (that car manages 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and covers 1000m in 22.46 seconds.
Part of the California's speed can be attributed to Ferrari's 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Unlike single clutch systems, which require the driver to press a clutch pedal and disengage the accelerator while they select a new gear, this system provides shifts without any breaks in performance. It accelerates in odd gears using one clutch and pre-selects even gears with another. When a shift is required, an onboard computer disengages the first clutch whilst engaging the second, ensuring the Calfornia is pushed forward on a seamless tidal wave of power.
Pull the upshift paddle behind the steering and gear changes happen with the speed and aggression of a pistol discharging. It's fast, fun and helps the California leave nearly everything else in its wake.
Most cars that offer murderous performance also deliver murderous emissions, and the California is no different. However Ferrari has taken steps to reduce the car's carbon footprint. It supplies an optional HELE system (HELE stands for high emotion low emissions) which integrates new and old technologies to provide best in class carbon pukage.
The system, a £986 extra, incorporates an intelligent cooling fan controller, which uses pulse wave modulation to spin the car's twin cooling fans at precisely the correct rate required to cool the engine -- no more and no less. If only one fan is required to keep things cool, then only one will spin. If things get slightly hotter under the Cali's bonnet, the second fan will engage to provide just the right level of cooling. Both fans use low resistance brushless motors that spin more easily than conventional motors, so they spin effortlessly.
Stop and start
Also joining the party is Ferrari's Stop&Start system. Like most systems of this kind, it kicks in during heavy traffic situations, turning the engine off when you're at a standstill in order to save petrol and reduce carbon emissions. Ferrari's implementation is about as effective and non-intrusive as these systems come. When operational, it'll restart the engine in a mere 230ms the moment the driver lifts off the brake pedal, hits the accelerator or pulls the upshift pedal.Usefully, the engine remembers what state it was in before it shut down, so restarts are far less dramatic than they are when you first start the vehicle manually. Vehicles adjacent to you won't think you've accidentally stalled. It can be disengaged entirely, but we preferred to leave it switched on as it never once found it got in the way of our driving.
The HELE system also provides continuous control of the car's fuel pumps to ensure there's less waste. It also has a more efficient climate control system. Unlike many air conditioning setups, which cool the car excessively then bring the temperature back up to your required temperature setting using the heat of the engine, Ferrari's method provides exactly the temperature you request in the first place, so there's less energy lost in the process.
The final piece of HELE's efficiency jigsaw is seen in the California's intelligent adaptable gear shift patterns. The car monitors your driving style, spots when you're cruising gently around town and shifts gears a lot earlier, using less fuel in the process.
In isolation, each of these systems provides a negligible increase in efficiency, but together they offer a 23 per cent reduction in fuel use, which equates to 24.5mpg. Carbon emissions, meanwhile, are rated at just 270g/km -- 29g/km less than Californias that don't use HELE.
Watch our demonstration of the stop&start system to see it in action.
Make it personal
The basic California is Ferrari's cheapest car at £146,960. However if you want to personalise it, Ferrari will provide all sorts of options that can relieve you of well over £200,000. Want your front wing finished in carbon-fibre? That'll be an extra £3,444. How about a rear parking camera? That's £2,268 to you. Rev counter finished in red or yellow? £452. Ferrari's 'premium' hi-fi, meanwhile, is £3,150. Kennedee stitching on the front and rear seats and door panel inserts will set you back £4,152, and if you want Cavallino prancing horses stitched onto the headrests, you'll need to fork over £1,083.
Got more cash to waste? Well how about some 'nero' tyre valve caps at £78? Or diamond-polished 20-inch rims £8,217? Or silver contrasting on the retractable roof for £4,800? Hell, a cable to connect your iPod costs £551. It's all yours if you want it -- at a quite ludicrous price.
Inside every Ferrari is a Jeep waiting to escape. The car uses the same Harman/Becker sat-nav and stereo head unit used in Chrysler vehicles, and there are positive and negative implications of this. Those that are used to having high-end tech in their high-end sports car will be disappointed by the screen's low-resolution. It's sat-nav is fairly mediocre, too, as it only accepts 5 digit UK post codes and when playing music, the sound quality from its speakers is average at best.
It's not all bad news, though. The menu is easy to navigate, almost every function, from destination entry to phone calls can be controlled via voice, and the car comes with a built in hard drive for ripping audio CDs and music stored on a USB key (annoyingly, it's not possible to play music directly off USB without first ripping it to the disk).
The Ferrari California is surprisingly practical. You can read our full practicality report in Crave, but in a nutshell, the car comes with plenty of boot space, has Isofix mounts for a pair of child seats at the rear and has plenty of space to carry your shopping, including bulky items such as plasma televisions (no, seriously).
A special mention should also go to the car's climate control system, which keeps the car exceptionally cool in the hot and warm enough to cruise with the top down -- even in the dead of winter. Those who do cruise topless will forget they're even in a convertible, as the cabin is quiet and the rock solid chassis is devoid of any scuttle shake that plagues lesser drop tops.
The California isn't your typical Ferrari. It's brutally quick, certainly, but it's surprisingly civilised and is easy to drive around town. It also provides better economy and lower emissions than the vast majority of supercars, so if you drive it sensibly, it'll be relatively cheap to run. If you're looking for a vehicle that performs on the track and in the real world, you need look no further.