When: February 2011
Where: Snowdonia, Wales
What: Ferrari California
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 4/5
The Ferrari California was obviously developed more with cruising in mind than track day expeditions, but that just could make it the first Ferrari you'd drive everyday. We took it to Snowdonia on winter tyres to test its mettle.
Pricing: €273,000 (based on importing from UK at price of £146,910)
Engine: 4.3-litre naturally aspirated V8 petrol
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Body style: Two-door folding hardtop, coupé-cabriolet
Rivals: Aston Martin DB9 Volante, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz SL 600
CO2 emissions: 299g/km
Tax Band: G
Combined economy: 13.1 litres/100km (21.6mpg)
Top speed: 311km/h (193mph)
0-100km/h: 3.9 seconds
Power: 460hp at 7,750rpm
Torque: 484Nm at 5,000rpm
In the metal 3/5
The California looks different every time you see it. The angle you approach it from, its colour and the wheel size all have too much bearing on the design for our liking. Ferraris should be beautiful and we don't think that this one is. Or at least not always.
Inside, it's comfortable (so long as you don't try to sit in the back) and special feeling. There's much more luggage space than you'd expect too. The computer controls are odd though.
Driving it 5/5
In spite of the 'soft' image, the Ferrari California is actually a great car to drive. To compare it to the likes of the 458 Italia is to miss the point. And the great thing about the California's abilities is that they're accessible to any driver at legal road speeds.
The fun begins when you press the engine start button, prominently located on the steering wheel. The flat-plane V8 engine blares into life, full of intent. It settles down to a refined idle, but its none-too-subtle roar is easy to summon up and it sounds truly menacing at high revs with the roof folded.
Peak power is quoted at 460hp, which is more than enough to thrill when the road suits and the mood takes you. A 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds indicates just how quick the California is in a straight line.
Like all modern Ferraris, the California is not just about impressive acceleration; its chassis is designed to make the most of that power. In the dry it's a very quick point-to-point machine, stringing corners together at ever increasing speed. Grip is immense. Even in the wet we found it very surefooted and easy to drive quickly.
A special mention must be made of the F1 gearbox. It's a dual-clutch affair, but it's a world away from the clever (but rather too seamless) versions offered by Porsche and VW. The way the F1 transmission changes gear on full throttle in Sport mode is a highlight of the car.
What you get for your money 3/5
Relatively speaking, the Ferrari California isn't bad value. However, you're paying for the powertrain engineering and badge as much as anything else, as standard equipment is surprisingly lacking some items we would expect on a model such as this. Front parking sensors, cruise control and iPod connection are all extra for instance. Then again, you can spend thousands more on niceties such as the (must-have) Magneride suspension system and literally tens of thousands on carbon fibre bits and pieces.
Our test car was fitted with winter tyres. Due to the cold snap at the end of 2010, these are attracting more attention from Irish drivers. At first it may seem strange to fit them to a high-end car like the Ferrari, but in fact it makes perfect sense. Buyers of cars such as the California have the wherewithal to change their wheels and tyres twice a year and it means they can drive their prized possession more securely all year around.
It's easy to pick holes in the Ferrari California. However, driving it is still a special and exciting experience. The engine, transmission and chassis give this car real soul. That it can double up as a cruiser will be useful to buyers that intend to drive their Ferrari every day.