Ferrari California T Handling Speciale
"It’s hard to leave this car without falling in love with it"
For many the California T (T for Turbo) will be their very first taste of Ferrari.
Maybe the first ever Ferrari constituting a relatively mild introduction to the brand, it is a car targeted at those who want a truly usable Ferrari that is driver friendly, practical, even reasonably economical, yet in performance terms remains a true Ferrari. It is also the ‘cheapest’ new Ferrari you can buy, proving an additional incentive to those keen to boast that Ferrari badge.
The California – initially devoid of Turbo but since acquired to achieve emissions, performance, and efficiency goals (along with styling revisions to make the car visually more enticing) – has proved successful in attracting approximately 50% new conversions to the brand. Consider that a long term commitment as new converts to Ferrari rarely go elsewhere thereafter.
The handling edge
Maybe what the current California T lacks is that slightly more hard core handling and performance edge that excites the really keen driver. You see, the user friendly understated driving dynamics of the standard California T work fine, but every once in a while either on your own or with an enthusiastic passenger, you may want to drive ‘the Ferrari’ simply for the adrenalin rush of hard core driving first.
The new Ferrari California T Handling Speciale is the solution. For a modest premium of £5,568 (which, let’s face it, will hardly matter) you will have a pathway to Ferrari excitement that is the total solution to the enthusiastic California buyer. It is still the same California T, but with tweaked suspension, engine and gearbox to create significantly better handling and grip
Here’s how it was done; springs are stiffened by 16% at the front and 19% to the rear along with revised damping. They’ve made the engine ultimately more responsive courtesy of a seven speed transmission which is a mighty 30% quicker on upshifts and 40% quicker going down the gears. Much else remains unchanged; the steering for example is exactly as it is in the standard T; the new quicker rack introduced into the California T proving quite good enough as far as Ferrari are concerned. Another change is a new deeper sounding exhaust system giving the car a more pronounced bassy sound yet without any performance advantage. External cosmetic changes are minimal . A ‘grigio ferro’ matt grille, a rear diffuser with black exhaust pipes, and a few giveaway interior badges are about it.
Yet the proof is in the pudding, as they say, or in this case the driving. We drove this new road burner on its home territory, and on some of Genoa’s finest roads. The Handling Speciale feels immediately more agile, better balanced, and grippier for high speed work. Most impressive is the neutrality and balance of the chassis under hard driving; there is naturally less lean and a much more talkative and balanced relationship between the front and rear end. As a result it gives you the confidence to go into bends significantly quicker, at the same time the car is both predictable and safe.
The gear-change is instant now, although a little abrupt under very hard throttle (especially third to fourth). Whilst the steering is quick and responsive, personally I found it too light for full on commitment when set in ‘Sport’, promoting an edgier feel rather than the smooth turn-in sort that would be easier for the driver to achieve with a little more steering weight on turn -in. But make no mistake, the carbon ceramic brakes shed the speed off in an instant.
It’s hard to leave this car without falling in love with it, and Genoa too for that matter. In ‘comfort’ setting the ride is still all-purpose high quality, so the slight ride comfort sacrifice is outweighed by the significant performance advantages the Handling Speciale achieves. As a result, the California T is now complete. If you’re in the market for this sweet entry level Ferrari, the Handling Speciale is a lot of excitement for negligible extra money. Why live with the curious itch? Buy the Handling Speciale and be done. You won’t regret it.
Engine: V8 3,855 cc twin turbo
Power: 552bhp@7500 rpm
Torque: 557lb @4750 rpm
Top speed: 196 mph
0-62 mph: 3.6 secs
Weight: 1729 kg
Basic Price: £160,798
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