2010 Ferrari California

29 Jul 2009 | 2,644 views | No Comment
Have you ever had a goal that you worked at for 15 years, and then finally achieved it? In the time I’ve been testing new cars, the Holy Grail has always been to get to drive a new Ferrari. Werner Pfister of Miller Motor Cars has been kind enough to assist me in testing most of the newest models, and that’s been great. But, this week I journeyed to Englewood Cliffs, NJ to Ferrari NA HQ where Matteo Sardi handed me a key and said, “You are the first journalist to drive the California in America.” Ferrari_California_86 Ferrari California The gleaming, red vision before me represents a number of firsts for Ferrari. This is the first time a V8 engine has been placed up front. Its position behind the front axle makes the California a front/mid-engined car with a 47/53 front/rear weight distribution. While the 4.3-liter V-8 is based on the unit fitted into the F430 model, this version is Ferrari’s first use of direct injection in a road car. After sliding into the sumptuous bucket seat, the key is inserted into the conventional column mount and is given a twist. Now you punch the button on the right spoke of the shapely steering wheel, and the engine barks to live. The 460 horsepower and 357 lb-ft of torque are apparent in the growl of the engine. Thanks to a flat crankshaft, the note that pours forth from the stacked quad exhaust pipes is deep and authoritative, not as high pitched and urgent as its sportier siblings. Ferrari_California_6 You see, the mission of the California is to offer the Tifosi a practical Grand Touring automobile. There is even a small back seat that folds down to allow a pair of golf bags to be transported. With a push of a button on the sensuously shaped “bridge” mounted on the center console, the aluminum roof folds back into the trunk. The sleek coupe shape is converted into an open top roadster in only fourteen-seconds. A tug of the right-hand shift paddle engages the twin-clutch seven-speed rear-mounted transmission and it is time to begin the adventure. I am immediately struck by the dual-nature of this vehicle. It can glide on down a boulevard with the sun shining in, the automatic feature of the manual gearbox shifting right up into seventh, and all is tranquil. It’s easy to daydream about cruising the streets of Monte Carlo, New York, or your hometown. The ride is firm, but quite comfortable. But, when the open road beckons, you snap down a few gears and the California shows you that it is built by a company with decades of racing heritage. The factory quotes a 0-62 mph time as under four seconds, and a top speed of 193-mph. This Ferrari is no poser. The magicians at Ferrari have managed to add utility and practicality to a car that can easily devour most sportscars on any slice of twisting road you would care to enjoy. Technical features abound, but do not intrude. The F1-Trac traction control system uses complex software instead of heavy mechanical bits to precisely meter out the exact amount of horsepower that the wide tires (245/40x 19 fronts, 285/40 x19 rear) can use. The carbon-ceramic brakes provide short and consistent stops worthy of an F-1 car, but operate just fine in stop-and-go traffic, too. In keeping with its less intense mission, the steering wheel mounted Manettino knob has only three positions. “Comfort” still provides gearbox shifts far faster than a human can accomplish, while “Sport” increases the urgency of all the appropriate hardware and software to allow a greater amount of driver reaction before the electronic safety nets catch you in their embrace. The final position removes all the electronic nannies and is for those folks braver than this reporter. The California is one of those rare cars that elevates your heart rate every time you see it, and improves your mood whenever you can slip behind the wheel. Some traditionalists feared it would be a “Ferrari Light,” with the performance blunted in favor of comfort. One blast up to 140 mph should be enough to convince any skeptic. My tester’s sticker started at $192,000. With the gas guzzler tax, dealer prep and transportation, you’re looking at $196,450. This particular car carried $20,103 worth of options. Congratulations Ferrari on making a sports car that is comfortable enough for every day use, yet still manages to stir my soul to a boil. Sidebar by Bob Larson: Forget California’s jammed freeways, urban sprawl, and occasional natural disaster. Life in Ferrari’s California is always a Beverly Hills blend of blue skies, palm trees, and red carpet galas, seasoned with the occasional side trip to turn blistering laps at Laguna Seca. With 0-60 dispatched in under 4 seconds to a tuneful wail, the Ferrari pedigree is never in doubt here, yet the ride is supple and the cockpit accommodations delightfully artful and luxurious. Featuring an all-aluminum chassis and body shell, this car is still no lightweight at over 3800 pounds. You’d never suspect the extra heft from the helm, though. Between the superb, low-effort feel and deft chassis dynamics, we often found ourselves going 20 MPH faster than we guessed. Of course the other have-it-all feature here is the pushbutton choice between a closed coupe and convertible, and both configurations are gorgeous. If some photos make it look a bit, um, generous at the rear, fear not. The masterful play of lines, volumes, sweeps and curves are an addicting pleasure to study in person. The slightly nostalgic front end deserves a special, shout-out “salute!” to Ferrari for its sports-car sexy face that clearly loves life. (Note from Italy to the Audi R8: cheer up.) The price of getting it all is understandably steep, and there are surely other fabulous cars that could announce your arrival. But there’s nothing quite like a Ferrari.

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