Ferrari California

The Ferrari California is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car, powered by a 3.9L turbocharged V8 that makes 553 horsepower and 557 pound-feet of torque. The unit is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that offers seamless and lightning-fast shifts.

The California is built on an aluminum space-frame chassis, which helps keep weight down; the gearbox is also mounted at the rear, which provides an excellent weight distribution that biases 53 percent to the rear. Acceleration numbers are excellent, with 0¬-60 mph achievable in well under four seconds, while top speed is just a few mph short of 200.

The suspension can be upgraded to magnetorheological shocks that improve ride quality while preserving quick handling response. An additional Handling Speciale package adds quicker steering, a stiffer suspension, and a sportier calibration for those magnetic shocks. In either case, the California has a race-tuned double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear setup, with speed-sensitive hydraulic power steering, as well as vented ceramic disc brakes on all four wheels. A mechanical limited-slip differential helps deliver power more predictably out of corners.

The California is designated a 2+2, meaning that it also features two small rear seats-- seats so small they're probably best used as additional storage space. The California avoids many of the noise and weather disadvantages inherent to a soft-top roadster, due to its tight-fitting retractable hardtop setup. The system includes pop-up roll bar system, and there's a wind-blocker that mounts in place for high-speed cruising.

Standard equipment on the California includes auto-leveling projector-beam headlamps, rear fog lamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, a navigation system, keyless entry, power windows, a full floor console with storage, a leather headliner and leather and aluminum trim. The rear seatbacks are split 50/50 and fold forward to expand cargo space -- a handy feature for weekend trips.

Other options include adaptive front lighting, a backup camera system, iPod integration, carbon-fiber racing seats, full power seats, cruise control and special heat-reflective leather upholstery. You can also opt for a set of matching leather luggage. Ferrari's Tailor Made program allows the buyer to personalize every styling and performance detail.

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Editors' First Take

With the introduction of the turbocharged California T, Ferrari's least expensive ride really came into its own. But there's always room for improvement in Maranello, so the automaker is rolling out a new option that should up the fun factor by a couple of notches.

The Handling Speciale (HS) package comprises a series of updates to both the powertrain and chassis. New springs are 16 percent stiffer in the front and 19 percent stiffer out back, and the magnetorheological dampers respond quicker to changing road conditions than before. Ferrari also updated the transmission for snappier shifts in Sport mode.

There's also a new exhaust system included with the package. It's engineered to increase the volume as the revs rise, so you can enjoy the sonorous V-8 without waking up the whole town.

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