Ferrari invited us to San Diego to test drive the new Ferrari California, and I fortunately drew the lucky straw at our editor's meeting. We have always held Ferrari in great esteem for its dedication to design and innovation, but hadn't thought of ourselves as Ferrari enthusiasts. That's changed now that I've had the opportunity to spend a day with one of the most exciting new cars on the market. The California takes its place as Ferrari's entry level car, and was designed to fill out its offering in the Gran Turismo segment of the market. From its Ferrari DNA (inspired by the 1960 250 GT Spider California SWB) to its performance, innovation, looks and drivability it succeeds in every way.
New in just about every way, the California represents many firsts for Ferrari: It's the first retractable hard top (it weighs a mere 11 pounds and opens/closes in a mere 14 seconds, see video to the right). The first to have a complete aluminum unibody. The first front-mid mounted, direct-injection 4.3l V8. The first dual clutch 7-speed transmission. The first Ferrari with a pass-through trunk (and a trunk you can actually put stuff in, even with the top down). The first digital display. Ferrari hopes that in addition to pleasing its fiercely loyal clientele people who might otherwise consider an Aston Martin or Porsche 911 Turbo will be swayed the Maranello way.
My co-pilot for the day, Michael Mraz (formerly the Managing Editor of Men's Vogue, an expert driver and master of the controls to the convertible top, as seen in the above video), and I decided to drive from San Diego to Santa Monica via Borrego Springs in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park (see photo opp on the left), Palm Desert and Malibu. We drove the first half, through amazing hairpin turns and desert flats with the top down. Our casual timing confirmed the 0-60 in under 4 seconds, and we hit a top speed of around 125. By the time we hit Palm Desert it was nearly 120° and after our Double Doubles (it's not a real California until it proudly wears an In-N-Out sticker, below) we put the top up and cranked the air conditioning until we made our way down Mulholland Drive. Michael's 6' 4", and he sat comfortably in the cabin with the top up.
Driving the California was an incredible pleasure. From the moment you hit the "Start" button on the hearing wheel (listen to the engine of our car) you know you are in for an incredible ride. The California is all Ferrari, though it seduces you with its comfort, curves and ease-of-use.
I was expecting a very loud engine and a clutch you had to muscle your way through. The California purrs, not shouts, and its dual-clutch 7 speed transmission defaults to automatic, though can easily be controlled by the F1 style paddles on the steering wheel (which also contains the Manettino control for the suspension, the Start button, and the very awesome F1-inspired red LED lights across the top arc, which light up when you start to redline).
The cabin is luxuriously outfitted in leather and carpet and aluminum. Dark leather interiors feature a new treatment that can reduce the leather's temperature by 20° C/70°F. I was very impressed with the Bluetooth pairing process, which was easily followed with the helpful voice instruction and enabled me to phone a few friends and ask "Hey, calling from the California, just want to test out the Bluetooth. Can you hear me?" I know they could, but most of them hung up while shouting obscenities. The California comes with a rear bench or in a 2+2 (though the rear seats are better suited to groceries and pets than human passengers). Extras include the incredibly chic luggage which will set you back $3,211 for the bench set and $6,212 for the trunk set, though they are of course matched to your car's interior; the Ferrari car seat is a must if you are taking the kids to Gymboree. Need more? The California is part of Ferrari's Atelier program, allowing you to customize nearly all of the car's paint and finishings.
The California isn't perfect, however. For nearly two hundred grand I'd like to see metal control knobs instead of plastic. I don't really need a cup holder, but if you're going to include one, it shouldn't feel inexpensive and wobbly. The navigation system, an improvement from other models, is still substantially inferior to what you'd expect to find in an automobile of this calibre. The vanity mirrors, requisite for primping for the constant stares of everyone around you, were plastic-y and small. These are very small grievancesâtrite evenâ but they do impact your overall day-to-day experience with the car.
Base price is $193,000 not including gas guzzler tax, destination, etc. Delivery started this spring in Europe, and the first few US-bound Californias were shipped by air to their impatient owners in June. Ferrari expects to deliver around 450 Californias to the US this year, and next year's production of 2,500 has yet to be allocated. Most of you will have to wait your place on the list, which is currently about two year's long. Learn more at the Ferrari California site.
View more photos after the jump
Big photos are by Eric Simpson. Small photos by Evan Orensten and Michael Mraz.