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Ferrari California


Stylish cruiser with a dash of practicality

Buy a Corolla and you want it now. Buy a Ferrari California and you'll wait two years - and won't know its exact price until delivery time. But when you order a Ferrari you don't mind a wait, and already around 30 New Zealanders are on the order books for the around $450,000 car.

They're buying Ferrari's first front-engined V8 road car; its first with direct injection, with a double clutch and with seven gears. This 4.3-litre V8 is a development of the 430's, its 338kW at 7759rpm and 485Nm at 50000 delivering 112Nm per litre and controlled by that Getrag-supplied transmission. It's a double-clutch set-up, but using three shafts to keep its size down, and offers normal, sport and super-sport modes, the latter also switching stability control off.

We kept it on for our Sicilian drive route - deselection would be frankly reckless on the mountain roads we traversed, and is aimed at track use.

Not that this is a track car. If nothing else, that folding hard-top roof (it takes 14 seconds to stow) tells you that. It adds weight to the equation, thus trimming outright acceleration though this is still a fast car, boasting zero to 100 in under four seconds and a 310kph top speed. We didn't get that far - but 277kph with the top down was impressive enough, particularly since we could still hold a conversation.

Not that you want to, when this engine's on song. It's surprisingly quiet on a trailing throttle, only the throaty undertone hinting at the mayhem to come. But floor the go-pedal for a feral howl that raises goose-bumps, and had us gambolling among the gears through every tunnel.

I'd had some reservations about the car's handling - cutting the roof off rarely makes for improvement. Incredibly compliant in comfort mode, it was impressive in sport - sure-footed without being hard; the slight rear weight bias felt as a willingness to take that next switchback turn, the stability control allowing just enough movement to delight - and not enough to frighten. There's very little scuttle-shake too; shame our drive involved just short stretches of swervery.

Still, cruising had its moments. After all the cabin is a wonderful place to be, with lashings of leather, plentiful Ferrari cues, yet more comfort than expected - particularly from these rather special seats. Mind you the vestigial rear pews are a joke, and we'll get a rear bench (read luggage shelf) instead.

Being a cruiser the California does tip a few nods to practicality - there's a standard wind deflector, an armrest cubby - and even an espresso holder within it (at least I assume it's for espresso - it's certainly too small for the average takeaway cup!)

There's just one fly in the ointment - the car's looks. The front's just fine, but the high rump required to hide the roof looks a tad clumsy from the rear, and Ferrari's attempts to disguise it by adding complex creases to the flanks hasn't quite worked. The profile is strong, but the detail detracts from it.

This isn't the prettiest Ferrari therefore, and nor is it the hardest. But the engine and suspension ensure it is a true Ferrari - albeit one that leaves an opening for a more aggressive car, with a 430 Scuderia Spider expected soon.


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