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Ferrari is famous for creating race-tuned sports cars, but every now and then it also turns its hand to softer, more compliant grand tourers aimed at people who want to eat up the miles in style.
Its California, a drop top with a folding metal roof embraces that cruiser ethos perfectly. It's the first Ferrari grand tourer to feature a front mid-mounted V8 engine and an optional HELE (high emotion low emission) CO2 reduction system that includes stop & start technology. It promises a versatile blend of sportiness and everyday usability, the likes of which are normally associated with less exotic vehicles.
The California retails for a £146,960, but our press car came with a host of optional equipment including the premium HiFi with iPod connectivity, rear parking camera and magnetic suspension that pushed its total price up to £178,262.
Low drama, high performance
Climb into the Ferrari California and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how sedate a drive it offers. A dramatic engine bark on start up reminds you you're in exotic Italian metal, but caress the accelerator and it'll cruise forward in gentle fashion, its suspension soaking up bumps and road scars like your nan's Vectra.
Don't be fooled by this car's laid back nature, as it's no slouch. The California's 4.3-litre direct injected V8 produces 453bhp, which is enough to propel it from a standstill to 60mph in 3.9 seconds. Keep the go pedal planted and it'll cover 1000m in a stomach churning 22.1 seconds, which is enough to outpace even muscular V12-powered cars such as the Aston Martin V12 Vantage (that car manages 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and covers 1000m in 22.46 seconds.
Part of the California's speed can be attributed to Ferrari's 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Unlike single clutch systems, which require the driver to press a clutch pedal and disengage the accelerator while they select a new gear, this system provides shifts without any breaks in performance. It accelerates in odd gears using one clutch and pre-selects even gears with another. When a shift is required, an onboard computer disengages the first clutch whilst engaging the second, ensuring the Calfornia is pushed forward on a seamless tidal wave of power.
Pull the upshift paddle behind the steering and gear changes happen with the speed and aggression of a pistol discharging. It's fast, fun and helps the California leave nearly everything else in its wake.
Most cars that offer murderous performance also deliver murderous emissions, and the California is no different. However Ferrari has taken steps to reduce the car's carbon footprint. It supplies an optional HELE system (HELE stands for high emotion low emissions) which integrates new and old technologies to provide best in class carbon pukage.
The system, a £986 extra, incorporates an intelligent cooling fan controller, which uses pulse wave modulation to spin the car's twin cooling fans at precisely the correct rate required to cool the engine -- no more and no less. If only one fan is required to keep things cool, then only one will spin. If things get slightly hotter under the Cali's bonnet, the second fan will engage to provide just the right level of cooling. Both fans use low resistance brushless motors that spin more easily than conventional motors, so they spin effortlessly.
Stop and start
Also joining the party is Ferrari's Stop&Start system. Like most systems of this kind, it kicks in during heavy traffic situations, turning the engine off when you're at a standstill in order to save petrol and reduce carbon emissions. Ferrari's implementation is about as effective and non-intrusive as these systems come. When operational, it'll restart the engine in a mere 230ms the moment the driver lifts off the brake pedal, hits the accelerator or pulls the upshift pedal.Usefully, the engine remembers what state it was in before it shut down, so restarts are far less dramatic than they are when you first start the vehicle manually. Vehicles adjacent to you won't think you've accidentally stalled. It can be disengaged entirely, but we preferred to leave it switched on as it never once found it got in the way of our driving.
The HELE system also provides continuous control of the car's fuel pumps to ensure there's less waste. It also has a more efficient climate control system. Unlike many air conditioning setups, which cool the car excessively then bring the temperature back up to your required temperature setting using the heat of the engine, Ferrari's method provides exactly the temperature you request in the first place, so there's less energy lost in the process.