California dreamin'

- the Ferrari way

Ferrari California, front
Ferrari California, side
Ferrari California, rear
Ferrari California, instrument panel
Ferrari California, boot
Ferrari California, rear seats
Ferrari California, rear seats, luggage
Ferrari California, rear seats, golf clubs

EVEN in the supercar stakes the name Ferrari stands out as something special.

For those who spend a lifetime aspiring to own a dream car there's probably a 90 per cent chance it'll be one displaying the Prancing Horse on its bonnet.

Ferrari's combination of Italian style and chic with a heritage that runs in tandem with the very history of motorsport makes for a combination that is pretty much irresistible.

My Ferrari foray was a keenly awaited prospect but dulled somewhat by a weather forecast which promised ‘rain, rain and more rain'.

If there's one car you wouldn't want to be driving in the wet then this has to be it, though I consoled myself with the thought that if Michael Schumacher could manage it in an F1 car in Monaco I could cope with a California in the lanes of the UK.

In the event the gods were smiling on me and by the time I got behind the wheel the previously persistent rain had mercifully ceased.

The California has been billed as something of a departure for Ferrari - a step back almost from the raw power and aggression the marque is renowned for - but any accusations it's a ‘soft' Ferrari would be wide of the mark.

It certainly has a multi-purpose character - its folding metal roof and rear seats mean it can be all things to all men, a convertible or a coupe and even a grand tourer.

Arguably its versatility means its design lines don't make it instantly recognisable as a Ferrari but despite this you have to say they've done a good job and the California looks equally good with the roof up or down.

Its emergence as Ferrari's fourth model series certainly signifies the company's intent to reach out to a wider audience and clearly it's not targeting not your regular Ferrari buyer.

The California represents several firsts for Ferrari, among them being the first front-engined V8, the first direct injection engine and the first to feature a dual clutch sequential transmission.

That 4.3-litre V8 is an all-new engine and the first thing that grabs you is its deep throaty roar when you fire it up - a note that is 100 per cent Ferrari.

My vision of a Ferrari interior is dominated by the image of a gearstick that combines engineering excellence with impeccable style but the first thing I noticed in the California was that it had no gear lever whatsoever - just buttons and paddles.

It was launched initially as an automatic and this was the model I drove. There is now a six-speed manual available but the majority turned out feature the seven-speed automatic gearbox made by Gertrag.

The fact it's an auto might lead one to presume it is a softer car but this gearbox is one of the car's great strengths, ensuring the California is an agile and able performer and a worthy wearer of that legendary badge.

The 435bhp it delivers sounds awesome but this falls short of the F430 by around 30bhp and the California is also heavier than the 599 GTB.

Nevertheless it still manages a 0-62mph time of under four seconds and a top speed of 193mph, its pace assisted in part by a launch control but also by that sequential transmission which offers seamless gear changes to ensure amazingly swift progress.

If driving an automatic is not your idea of being behind the wheel of a Ferrari then the perfectly placed paddles allow for manual gear-changing. Some paddles are awkward but these feel like they've been designed around your hands and are wonderfully easy to use.

In either mode the power is breathtaking and the sequential transmission, far from the lazy option, seems to take on a mind of its own when engaged, changing up and down with a speed that is hard to take in.

What's amazing is how quickly you adjust to the power at your disposal. Despite the car's aggression the throttle is deceptively smooth and easy to acclimatise too. I imagined a Ferrari would have something of an uncontrolled quality but here the experience is measured but no less thrilling.

What was a revelation was the California's chassis and suspension. I was expecting it to be stiff to the point of uncomfortable, particularly on some B-roads that were not the smoothest after taking a severe winter pounding.

But it seemed to soak up the lumps and bumps with ease and at the same time offered a drive that was as exhilarating and engaging as one could imagine. Even an excess of surface water failed to put this Prancing Horse off its stride.

Despite the driving thrills offered it also displayed a reassuringly forgiving character, with balance and poise that maintain comfort and composure, even when you are exploring its handling capabilities to the full.

There aren't too many downsides to the California, other than a combined fuel economy figure of 21.6mpg, the two rear seats which have limited use and a centre console sat nav screen that looks strangely out of place.

As with any Ferrari ownership doesn't come cheap.

They are seen by many lottery winners as one of the classic ‘must haves'.

To be singing "California here I come!" on the way to the nearest dealer will involve and an investment of  £143,325 but for the experience and the prestige it's worth every penny.


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