Harder choice

The Ferrari California Handling Speciale comes with an upgrade that gives the car a harder edge.
The Ferrari California Handling Speciale comes with an upgrade that gives the car a harder edge. PHOTO: FERRARI

Ferrari has released a Handling Speciale (HS) package for its California T. This package, Ferrari is quick to emphasise, is not a new model variant. Rather, it is an optional add-on, for those who prefer their California T with a harder edge.

As with the HS package on the pre-facelift California, the suspension is firmed up, with 16 per cent stiffer springs in front and 19 per cent stiffer ones at the rear. Its magnetic dampers are retuned as well.

The car's traction control has also been recalibrated, for improved corner exit ability.

Unlike with the previous package, the steering ratio remains unchanged, Ferrari having deemed the current rack to be quick enough.

On the switchback mountain roads of my coastal test route, the HS-equipped car certainly feels more wieldy than a normal California T, with markedly keener turn-in and less roll. While it still betrays its 1.7-tonne weight with slightly too much front-end dive on corner entry and with understeer on tight bends, it is noticeably sharper.

  • SPECS/FERRARI CALIFORNIA T HANDLING SPECIALE

  • Price: $939,560 without COE

    Engine: 3,855cc 32-valve V8 turbocharged

    Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddleshift

    Power: 552bhp at 7,500rpm

    Torque: 755Nm at 4,750rpm

    0-100kmh: 3.6 seconds

    Top speed: 316kmh

    Fuel consumption: 10.5 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Ital Auto

Despite the car's improved cornering prowess, ride comfort is still excellent. With the switchable adaptive dampers in Comfort mode, the set-up is slightly firmer than the non-HS car in Sport mode, yet the HS-equipped car sails blissfully over the potholes and cobblestones of the villages along my test route. It also shrugs off ruts and undulations as I charge up the mountain passes.

The stiffer set-up feels less cossetting, but it remains resolutely composed. It displays not a hint of harshness, even with the dampers in Sport.

Aurally, the HS package ups the ante with an all-new silencer box that acts as something called a Helmholtz resonator. Whatever the label, it works a treat, with the exhaust note sounding fruitier, louder and more purposeful. Even better, there is now a wonderfully evocative burble on lift-off and a muted crackle on a trailing throttle.

At full bore, it is still no match for the unbridled howl of a naturally aspirated Ferrari such as the old 458, but it is more than enough to bring a grin to the driver's face, particularly with the top down.

Despite the louder voice, there is no boost in engine output, with the turbocharged 3.8-litre engine's 552bhp and 755Nm of torque remaining unchanged.

But revisions to the software of the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox have given the drivetrain a much greater sense of urgency.

Ferrari says the upchanges and downchanges are 30 and 40 per cent quicker.

The car now fires through changes with proper venom with each tug of the steering-mounted paddle, instead of slurring each change seamlessly as before.

Coupled with its more interactive exhaust note, the revised gearbox makes you want to work your way up and down the gears just for the thrill of it, rather than merely out of necessity.

The HS option may not turn the California T into an outright sportscar, but it adds immensely to its fun factor. Prospective buyers should certainly tick this box.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Harder choice'. Print Edition | Subscribe