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Ferrari California


Our NZ drive of Ferrari's California again raised the conundrum motoring journalists wrestle with when testing performance cars... Do you conform to the open road speed limit at all times?

If you do, it's impossible to test outright engine performance, and difficult to properly evaluate the car's handling unless you live near a road that's challenging at real-world speeds.

Or do you drive a performance car as it was designed to be driven and risk your licence, your health - and that of others - and your job?

One Australian journalist recently made the wrong decision when driving Ferrari's California. He's currently living with the consequences - and so did the few NZ motor noters to try the California on our home roads.

Local conditions are vital to truly tell what a car will be like in NZ, and this drive was handicapped by the presence of Ferrari's PR man, reciting insurance costs and speeding penalties like a protective mantra.

Clearly, we weren't going to test outright performance today, but that's not always as important as you'd think. We know there's a Ferrari V8 under the bonnet; we know it's fast - with a claimed 0-100km/h claim of under four seconds. We know it'll travel quickly with the roof down too, for we'd tried it in more relaxed climes overseas.

What we really needed to know was is this car really as easy to drive as Ferrari claims? Is it truly the Ferrari for everyday; the supercar for keen drivers with timid, comfort-loving spouses?

Tech bits first. This is Ferrari's first front-engined V8, though it's mounted sufficiently rearwards to sit between the axles. It's Ferrari's first engine with direct injection; its first auto trans with a double clutch and seven gears and its first car with an electrically folding hard-top roof.

It even gets cruise control - following last year's 612. Other relaxing goodies included a Ferrari-branded iPod, part of the $33,956 of add-ons in this $442,750 car along with the magnaride active suspension and 20-inch diamond finish wheels.

Climb in, thumb the start and the 4.3-litre, 338kW/485Nm engine fires into glorious life. This car delivers all the aural shenanigens you expect from a road-going Ferrari V8, but none of the driving drama.

I'd expected a Ferrari to be a bit of a pig driving round town - but this set-up, with the double-clutch auto, is idiot-proof. As long as you realise the 'R' button is reverse, that is.

There's a steering wheel-mounted Manatino switch that instantly recalibrates the gears, throttle, brakes, ESP, steering and suspension.

She's almost supple on 'normal', so much so that though she handled even 45km/h corners at the open road speed limit the underbody tended to graunch on our bumpy back-road tarmac - sport firmed the handling for calmer, if no slower progress.

Want a Ferrari for real-world roads and this is the car for you. It won't be the fastest prancing horse on the race track, but may be the only one you - or your less car-savvy spouse - will be happy to drive every day.

Ferrari aimed to attract more women and new buyers with the California. So far it's succeeded, with 70 per cent of NZ sales to first-time Ferrari owners. Order one now and it'll take two years.

Want something harder? This comparatively softer car lets Ferrari further hone its 430 replacement, the entry-level 458 expected to be quicker than the most extreme 430.

See new and used Ferrari for sale here.

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