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First Fang: Ferrari California T

By Dylan Campbell, 10 Jun 2014 Reviews

First Fang: Ferrari California T

Ferrari has done away with the old California’s naturally aspirated V8 and replaced it with a twin-turbo version cranking out 412kW and 755Nm. So how does it drive?

The engine is the biggest change, baby-F12 styling aside. Some will sob, some will be thrilled, but Ferrari has done away with the old California’s 4.3-litre naturally aspirated V8 (the one that shrieked its way to a magnificent 8000rpm).

Now the California has a new, twin-turbo 3.9-litre V8, cranking out 412kW and 755Nm. And if you think it’s impressive the new California has 52kW more than its predecessor, the torque increase is frightening – up 255Nm on the old car. The chassis? It’s the same all-aluminium sled from the old car, though it’s been heavily refreshed for the T, and the smaller engine sits 40mm lower than the old 4.3-litre unit, working magic on the car’s all-important centre of gravity.

But another big change, particularly for Australians, is the price, which has been slashed by nearly $50,000. On par with the Audi R8 V10 Plus and Porsche 911 Turbo, you can now slide yourself into a twin-turbo V8 Ferrari for a not-entirely-unreasonable $409,888.

Does it sound any good now it’s turbo?

If a California T hammered past your house in first gear, you’d think it was a 458 with a few extra mufflers. It truly sounds great – the flat-plane-crank, naturally-aspirated V8’s beautiful, spine-tingling timbre hasn’t been blended into a homogenised drone by the turbos. It still sounds like a naturally-aspirated Ferrari, except two things. It sounds like the gloriously berserk, thing-thing’s-gonna-blow final 1000rpm has been skimmed off the redline because, well, it has. And, if you ask us, it’s not loud enough. Most MOTOR readers will search for an active exhaust button – but in vain. If only the exhaust had a volume dial, you’d crank it a few clicks clockwise. Ferrari argues California customers don’t want an antisocially noisy car, and fair enough, only 458 owners drive around stuck in first gear. But initial turbo California prototypes sounded ‘terrible’, says Ferrari, so they spent an inordinate amount of money, manpower and time making sure it sounded right, fussing particularly to ensure the exhaust runners were equal-length. Does it sound right? Yes. Is it loud enough? Not to our ears. But make up your own mind: we just posted two videos to our Facebook page – one of us kissing redline in a tunnel – though admittedly videos don’t really do it justice. 

Can you hear the turbos?

Yes. Fold the roof back and plant your foot at 2500rpm and you’ll just hear the turbos whistle as they cram air into engine. Past 3500rpm, though, the exhaust drowns them out. And if you sharply close the throttle at, say, 4500rpm, yes, you’ll hear a cute little turbo sneeze, though it’s more audible outside the car than in. Those who can afford a California T may have just inhaled their Gucci tie but you needn’t worry, it hardly sounds like an old Nissan Silvia.

Is there any turbo lag?

This was something we were worried about. MOTOR has driven many, many turbo cars over its 60 years and to us, drowsy throttle pedals were just an accepted curse of turbo cars. Throttle response was a focus area for Ferrari with the California T and as such, they worked hard to get it right. And they have, mostly. Aggressively pick up the throttle at high rpm in a low gear and the engine is ready to boogie. Mush throttle from low rpm, in a higher gear, and there is the tiniest of delays. But certainly, this is one of, if not the most responsive turbo car we’ve ever driven. It doesn’t have the tensed-with-kilowatts, ready-to-roar throttle of a naturally-aspirated car, but only a very sensitive right foot will notice any lag. Everybody else will be thoroughly distracted by the acceleration.

It’s fast, hey?

Yes. It’ll do 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds and, for your first experience, you’ll be swearing like you’re reading the script of Wolf of Wall Street. Put a nun in the passenger seat and she’ll reveal an until-then-unknown talent for profanity. Count to 11 and you’re tearing past 200km/h, on your way to a 316km/h v-max. Unless your daily is a 1000hp Commodore – which would probably be slower anyway – you will never feel unfulfilled by the California T’s mental acceleration.

But it’s the way it accelerates that’s interesting – and very new for a California. If there’s one good thing about all these new turbo performance cars, it’s the almost silly levels of torque – and the previously unheard-of rpm at which your newton metres are available. The California T’s redline is 7500rpm – high for a turbo – and though the California T’s full 412kW is made here, Ferrari has also sought to keep as much as possible of the old, naturally-aspirated engine’s deliciously stratospheric rev ceiling. Those who like to tickle their ears will indeed regularly light up the row of red LEDs atop of the steering wheel because the California T sounds best at 7500rpm.

That said, those just happy to go fast can pluck a new gear at 6000rpm and certainly won’t feel insatiate. Peak torque is available from just 2750rpm and hangs around to 5000rpm. Overtaking is addictively easy – most times, there’s no need to knock down a gear. In fact, there’s so much torque that Ferrari has different boost maps for each gear. Every new ratio unlocks more torque than the last, building to 755Nm in seventh gear. The effect is an unending surge of feral acceleration apparently never unrelenting as you pluck new gears. Only madmen (or women) who have garages full of spare tyres would be disappointed they don’t have 755Nm at 2750rpm in first gear.

It sounds like a missile, but what about corners?

The first thing you notice is the steering. The rack is hilariously fast, around 2.3 turns lock-to-lock. It takes some getting used to; the first, oh, two dozen corners you tip into, you find yourself having to bleed off the initial steering input. It’s almost too fast and certainly, you never have to move your hands from three and nine.

The California T has plenty of grip and its limits are beyond reach of most mortals on the road. Push to them, though, and not only will you be frightened to look down at the speedo, but you’ll find a car that is comfortable at its limit, predictable, and balanced. Like any front-engine, rear-drive car, it’ll begin to slip gently into understeer at first. But get bold with the throttle, which directs power through an LSD, and the balance of grip tips forward. Add as much throttle as you dare – any slides are easily managed thanks to the hyper-alert steering.

The California T rides absolutely blissfully, too. High tempo bumps are nibbled up easily and big bumps are smothered out nicely. And – this might sound strange – but the suspension is pleasantly quiet. You don’t notice how noisy suspension can be in other cars until you drive one on, well, an Australian road.

What’s it like as a GT car?

Brilliant. Silky ride aside, the interior is fairly incredible – peerless leather quality, comfortable and supportive seats, smart ergonomics (aside from a lock/unlock doors button, but that might’ve just been our shortcoming in finding it). The driving position is dominated by a giant yellow, central tacho. The fit and finish is also impressive – and we haven’t always been able to say that about a Ferrari. You could easily live with a California T every day and we’re not so sure we could say that about other supercars.

Fuel consumption is also improved 15 per cent, too, not that people who buy Ferraris are concerned about such things. A fairly central reason Ferrari went turbo for California was to future-proof itself against tightening emissions regulations (more on this in the magazine) and to save fuel (the T uses longer gear ratios than the old California because it has the torque to pull through them – but they also help fuel economy). Having said all this, there’s no average fuel consumption readout in the trip computer and Ferrari will tell you customers don’t care. What they do care about is how often they visit a dirty service station and the less fuel your car uses, the less you have to stop to fill it up.

Anything you didn’t like?

It’s a truly impressive car and, we’re told, miles better than the old one. If we’re honest, though Ferrari has fitted springs 11 per cent stiffer than the previous California, and fussed over the dampers like you wouldn’t believe, it’s still a bit too soft for us. That’s no fault of the car – most people will find its ride/handling balance perfect – and it’s certainly very deliberate of Ferrari for a GT car. We just wished the manettino had a race setting which firmed the dampers another smidge. And we wished the brake pedal was a bit more sensitive and delivered its immense stopping power in less pedal travel. But Ferrari knows these things; California customers don’t want brakes that bite like the pads are Hubba Bubba. They spend most of their time on city streets and perhaps don’t want adaptive dampers that firm up like a bodybuilder’s biceps. Ferrari says if you test drove a California T and found it a bit too soft, they’d politely plonk you in a 458 instead. Sounds fine to us. Where is it?

THE SPECS: 3855cc twin-turbo V8, 412kW, 755Nm, 0-100km/h in 3.6sec, 0-200km/h in 11.2sec, 1730kg, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, 10.5L/100km, $409,888