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Ferrari California drops the top on a practical supercar

Last week we drove the Ferrari California from Melbourne to the Yarra Valley and (surprise, surprise) it's not only loud and fast, but also rather practical and usable on a daily basis, too.

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Derek Fung
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1 of 20 Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Last week we drove the Ferrari California from Melbourne to the Yarra Valley and (surprise, surprise) it's not only loud and fast, but also rather practical and usable on a daily basis, too.

The sweet-looking piece of Italian exotica will set you back AU$472,000 before you factor in registration and insurance.

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The California continues Ferrari's heritage for good-looking, slinky coupes.

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But this one is the first from the brand that can transform via a slick-folding metal roof into an open-air cruiser. Note that there are two very tight, very upright rear seats. Boot space shrinks from 340L to 240L with the roof down.

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It's the first Ferrari that we could envisage being used as a daily driver. That's thanks to the designer interior, and the inclusion of the mod cons and ergonomics we expect from more run-of-the-mill cars.

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A touchscreen entertainment and navigation system are standard. The graphics aren't flash, and the resistive screen requires a firm prod, but we'd much rather have it than not.

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There's a wonderful to touch billet of aluminium runs down the centre console.

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The buttons at the end of the piece of aluminium (in order from left to right) prime the transmission and safety equipment for maximum thrust starts, engage reverse, and toggle between automatic and manual gear selection.

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It's best not to fiddle with the climate control settings while you're driving, as they're tucked out of the way and a little fiddly to use.

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The LCD to the left can be used to display nav instructions or various other information. The Euro-friendly speedometer readings means that, along with the baying V8 engine, it's difficult to maintain a legal speed.

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Lovely hand-stitched leather covers almost every surface, so it's a shame that the air vent rings are plastic not metal.

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We did say that there's a possibility of using the California as a daily driver.

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The sides of the California rise quite high. So, strangely, for a convertible, the car feels claustrophobic.

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The boot lid is very high, too, meaning that shorter drivers have to peer over a cliff-face full of leather and metal.

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The yellow-painted brake callipers do a sterling job of hauling the 1735kg California up in a trice — a job Ferrari was asked to do time and time and time and time again.

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The car features funky LED brake and driving lights, but the stacked exhaust pipes still look awkward after all these years.

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The California features a fast-changing dual-clutch transmission. To operate the gears in manual mode there are paddles behind the steering wheel (you can just see the downshift paddle behind the steering wheel's left spoke). In the translucent panel inset into the carbon fibre portion of the steering wheel, red indicators light up as you approach the engine's red line.

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The F1-Trac switch (bottom left) sets the car up for different driving modes and conditions. In Comfort mode the throttle response is very noticeably dulled and electric safety nannies cut in at the first sign of danger. Sport makes the throttle as fast and as engaging as you'd expect from a Ferrari, and allows the car to drift about. CST Off basically sets the car up for a track day, with all electronic watchdogs switched off except for ABS.

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Sitting under the bonnet is a 4.3-litre V8 pumping out 338kW of power and 485Nm of torque. It produces an addictive bark and roar with the roof down; it's considerably more muted when the roof is between you and the sky.

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So what's it like to drive? In one word: well. As we've mentioned before, the height of dash, sides and back makes the car feel bigger and more unwieldy than it actually is.

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The California is set-up in the mould of a grand tourer. The suspension is surprisingly supple, with Melbourne's tram tracks producing barely a ripple. The rear end is easily provoked into sliding with aggressive use of the gas pedal. The California is capable of amazing pace through corners with only a slight amount of body roll, but it's obvious after driving the F430 that in the continuum between absolute pace and comfort, it errs towards everyday liveability.

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