2015 Ferrari California T. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt
Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy – In the six years since the Ferrari California convertible’s debut, no one ever said it needed more power. But quite a few people said that its high and bulbous rear end that hid its folding hardtop in top-down mode was just a tad too…generous. And even Ferrari’s comfiest and arguably least sporting GT car could not be seen to be anything less than athletic – from any angle.
Whether you like big butts or not, the California’s curvaceous rear end didn’t appear to hurt sales, as it has become Ferrari’s best-selling car ever. The last naturally aspirated California came off the assembly line in Maranello in late May, with its 2015 Cali T replacement set to begin arriving at North American dealers by October.
Which is what brought us to this small town in the Tuscany region of Italy, about an hour outside of history-steeped but tourist-clogged Firenza (Florence). Ferrari itself is starting a new chapter in its own corporate history, one that started with the explosive but awkwardly named LaFerrari, its million-dollar plus gas-electric hybrid hypercar. It’s a blisteringly fast engineering statement that says Ferrari now also cares about fuel economy, but its core priorities of passionate performance and aesthetic artfulness have not changed.
The California T is another step in that direction, though it doesn’t go as far as the LaFerrari obviously in terms of exotic technology or performance. The Cali T is more of the friendly neighbourhood Ferrari, not quite the strongest superhero in the land of exotics, but meant to be used more often as a daily driver and commuter than any other Maranello product – and yes, that means it now offers a cupholder.
Ferrari being Ferrari, it went ahead and increased power greatly, from 490 to now 560 hp, despite downsizing the size of the California’s V8 engine from a 4.3L to a 3.9. As the T in its name suggests, that power boost comes courtesy of turbocharging, Ferrari’s first turbocharged engine in a generation, since the beastly ’87 F40 racecar for the road, and the famed ’84 GTO.
Unlike in those cars, however, the Cali T twin turbocharged and direct injected powertrain is meant to help Ferrari owners save fuel when commuting or simply attending meetings, while still having access to eye-curdling power when the open road beckons invitingly. Ferrari says owners can expect a 15 percent decrease in real-world fuel use, listing its overall consumption on the optimistic and very un-real-world European scale at 10.5 L/100km. By the time it’s subjected to more rigorous North American EPA tests, that decrease implies an overall average closer to 12.5L/100km.
“Of course, if you use all 70 extra horsepower (with full throttle), you will use more fuel,” said Vittorio Dini, the California T’s powertrain manager. But outside those occasional throttle blasts, even at the higher EPA ratings, that’s still midsize-SUV-ish fuel consumption from a Ferrari V8 hardtop convertible, one that the firm says can blast from 0-100 km/h in 3.6 seconds, and on up to a top speed of 316 km/h.
2015 Ferrari California T engine bay & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Stepping into our hotel’s cobblestone courtyard to see a line of California Ts basking in the warm Tuscan sunshine, the last thing on our minds was its fuel consumption. Ferrari folks had gone over the visual changes to the T the prior evening, with new body panels all around save for the roof, with the differences most noticeable on that back end. Ferrari resculpted the Cali’s derriere by lowering it only half an inch, keeping its width and cargo room the same, but visually widened it by unstacking the four rear pipes, adding horizontal accent lights, plus a more prominent diffuser. Fog lights have been banished from the front end to force feed extra air to the twin turbos at speed, with a more classic Ferrari pontoon front fender treatment that replaces the gills with a heat-releasing vent.
Climbing into the California T is easier than in any other Ferrari, due to its higher height, but it’s still easier with the roof open. The switch that transforms the Cali T from a hardtop coupe to a breezy cabrio lies just between the two front seats, a simple rocker switch that stacks up one rear roof panel on top of the one above front passenger heads, then folds both stacked panels back into the trunk, all in a appropriately quick and balletic 14 seconds.
2015 Ferrari California T. Click image to enlarge
Sunshine now flooding our car’s interior, nav system programmed for wherever, it’s thankfully now time to drive.
There’s both a shiny red key to insert, and then a steering-wheel mounted Start button to fire up the V8, which alights with a civilized bark that’s loud enough to perk you up, but not one’s sleeping neighbours. Pulling back on the car’s right steering wheel paddle and adding a drop of throttle gets the car moving, the seven-speed dual-clutch F1 gearbox designed with little to no creep at all, leaving us wondering a couple of times if the e-brake was still engaged. Like the 458, the steering wheel now houses the turn signals and the wipers, which all take some getting used to, but it also means that the only appendages to that lovely flat-bottom steering wheel are the shift paddles.