Car Review: Ferrari's California T offers comfort and crushing performance

Ferrari's new California T offers comfort and a crushing performance

The California proved that people do not necessarily want a hard-as-nails Ferrari. So the marque's first hard-top convertible was uncharacteristically soft. Perhaps a tad too soft.

Hence the California T, a hardened revision with twin turbochargers for more go, a more aerodynamic body and a typical all-in-one racing steering wheel found in Ferrari's core models.

In terms of look and feel, the California T is closer to what you expect of a Prancing Horse. Sleek, yet untamed. Fluid, yet edgy.

Its grille is a bit more pronounced, with headlights that are a little more similar to those you see on the F458, and twin bonnet vents replace the previous single slot. In the rear, stacked tailpipes give way to a more conventional arrangement - a pair on each end of a prominent diffuser assembly.

Inside, a new 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment monitor takes pride of place in the centre of a plush cockpit. Everywhere your eyes or hands land, there is either soft leather or shiny carbon-fibre panels.

Build quality is impeccable, and equally important, cabin ambience is warm and inviting. The only quibbles lie in the rather hard headrest padding and a rather unreliable navigation system.

But the most obvious change at the helm is Ferrari's famous all-in-one steering wheel. Everything from turn signals, horn, drive mode selection to wipers are now within thumb's reach. So access to the car's shift paddles is unencumbered.

This serious steering sets the tone for the new car, a car that dashes from zero to a hundred in 3.6 seconds and on to a maximum velocity of 316kmh (0.3 seconds less and 6kmh faster than the California).

The work of its turbochargers cannot be summed up by those digits, though. The California T's performance envelope is a lot broader and surprisingly textured.

With each gear change, the engine seems to reveal a bit more of itself. A bit more thrust, a bit more bass, a bit more excitement.

Peak torque of 755Nm is accessible only in seventh gear. You get up to 600Nm in sixth.

But as with most Ferraris, there is more than ample shove in whatever engine speed or gear you are in. The fun is in unleashing as much of its potential as possible without getting into trouble.

Driving with the top down gives you unfiltered access to the car's sound and fury.

There is nothing quite like the punchy rendition of a beefy V8 reverberating off other cars. Or better still, tunnel walls.

Clearly, the California T is more lethal with its new forced-fed engine. And the car's chassis is more than capable of coping with the extra oomph. Its steering is direct, communicative and thoroughly engaging. Its carbon-ceramic brakes are easy to modulate at high or low speeds.

The car carries itself around corners with poise and balance, betraying little of the hefty V8 beneath its bonnet. And opening up the throttle as the road straightens just shows off the 560 horses in rein - up from 460bhp in the California.

Yet, the car retains the user- friendliness of the original, making it one of the most accessible sports cars around.

In Comfort mode, it has an utterly civilised demeanour, making city driving no more taxing than in a performance compact. Surprisingly, Sport mode is also usable in an urban setting, thanks largely to the car's satiny dual-clutch transmission.

Its adaptive suspension system offers an unbelievable mix of sportiness and comfort. So much so that you sometimes look forward to speed humps - just to experience how the dampers magically make them disappear.

As before, the seating position of the California is relatively high for a sports car. But that does not dilute your enjoyment at the wheel at all. And it makes getting in and out of the car a lot easier.

In fact, that sums up the California's proposition: power and glory - without the discomfort. After all, not everyone wants a hard-as-nails Ferrari.

christan@sph.com.sg