First Drive: 2009 Ferrari California luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2009 Ferrari California luxury cars first drives ferrari
2009 Ferrari California. Click image to enlarge

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Ferrari North America

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2009 Ferrari California

San Diego, California – Ferrari aficionados were a trifle worried about the 2009 California. Developed with the intent of expanding Ferrari’s market beyond the highly-focused V8 mid-engined F430 and the classic V12 front-engined 612 Scagliatti and 599 GTB, would this “user-friendly” 2+2, featuring the marque’s first front-mounted V8, first twin-clutch transmission and first folding hardtop be less of a Prancing Horse and more of Mincing Pony? A trophy car for trophy wives? Would it be a real Ferrari?

Allow me to answer those questions. No. Most likely. Hell, yeah.

Prodding the California’s throttle delivers eye-widening forward thrust accompanied by a wail from the flat-plane-crank 4.3-litre V8 that could wake the dead – and have them cheering. Added to this is a symphony of snaps, crackles and pops while flicking through the gears of the fast-shifting 7-speed box. Nothing sounds like a Ferrari, and with the hardtop accordioned after its 14-second ballet, you’ll feel you’re getting every penny’s worth of that $262,000 investment.

First Drive: 2009 Ferrari California luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2009 Ferrari California luxury cars first drives ferrari
First Drive: 2009 Ferrari California luxury cars first drives ferrari
2009 Ferrari California. Click image to enlarge

The all-aluminum California is a striking car, and here in been-there-done-that So-Cal, the red specimen I drove with optional 20-inch wheels was mobbed at every stop. The raked snout and large grill are pure Maranello – the side vents and functional hood scoop recall the 1954-1964 California 250 GTs from which this car gets its name.

The back end is a tad, er… voluptuous, but its girth is pretty well disguised by the sweeping fenders carved into the rear flanks. This car literally has a lot of junk in the trunk – the roof and its hardware, the twin-clutch transaxle, the fuel tank and a surprisingly useful cargo area with a pass-through (12 cubic feet roof up, 8.5 cubic feet roof retracted).

Swathed in finely stitched leather, the interior is unmistakably Ferrari, especially if you go for the classic tan hide. The beltline is high, and even with the roof retracted, backing up is tricky due to the elevated rear deck.

The back seats are pretty much unusable, so if you don’t need to carry small children or circus performers, the no-cost parcel shelf option seems a good idea.

A large central tach dominates the gauge cluster and the rotary “manettino” switch on the steering wheel calls up a trio of dynamic presets that adjust the stability control, transmission shift maps and, if so equipped, the optional Magnaride adaptive dampers ($6,900). ‘Comfort’ is the most relaxed, with ‘Sport’ loosening the reins on the stability control, firming up the suspension and delivering faster shifts at higher revs. The third setting disables the stability control. None of the test cars I drove had the active dampers, so I can’t comment on that system, but the standard suspension strikes a commendable balance between ride comfort and body control.

The Getrag-built seven-speed transaxle can be operated in fully auto or manual mode, with large column-mounted paddle shifters doing duty. For those who like to abuse their machinery, launch control is standard.




About Peter

Peter Bleakney is a Toronto-based automotive journalist. He is also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).