Ferrari California T convertible (2014-2017)
“The Ferrari California T is more at home cruising the streets than tearing up the race track, and it’s all the better for it”
- Clever folding roof
- Decent size boot
- Easy to drive
- Running costs
- Unusable rear seats
- Not the prettiest Ferrari ever
Not all Ferraris are snorting beasts. Models like the Ferrari California T are more at home on the M1 than the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. This is a drop-top ‘grand tourer’ rather than a sports car, so it counts models like the Bentley Continental GTC, Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet and Maserati GranCabrio as rivals.
It’s more conventional than many other Ferraris, with the engine in the front and a usable boot at the back. It’s even got four seats, although you can’t really use the back ones, as legroom there is virtually non-existent.
This is actually the second generation of California, having gained the letter T at the end of its name. That denotes the car is now turbocharged, in pursuit of both better performance and lower running costs.
That, coupled with an automatic gearbox, means it’s all rather Jekyll and Hyde. At low speeds, it’s no harder to drive than a BMW 5 Series, but pick up the pace and it develops a harder edge. Despite that, it’s still perfectly comfortable and surprisingly quiet.
It's easy to live with too, thanks to an electrically-operated roof, cruise control and a the availability of Apple Carplay, which effectively turns the car's infotainment system into an extension of your iPhone. It's currently one of very few supercars to offer such a feature.
Some purists have been left underwhelmed by the California T's GT personality, so Ferrari introduced an optional Handling Speciale package in early summer of 2016 to provide a more involving drive. Consisting of some styling and mechanical tweaks for just over £5,500, the pack gives the car more dynamism and appeal when you want to make the most of its performance.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Although significantly better in this respect than the old California, the California T still costs a packet to run. Ferrari claims it’s capable of 24.1mpg on average, but unless you have enormous self-control, a few heavy prods of the accelerator will lay waste to that figure. CO2 emissions stand at 273g/km.
After the first year's CO2-based road tax (generally included in the on-the-road price), the Ferrari California T costs £140 a year to tax plus an additional surcharge of £310 a year (because the car costs more than £40,000) in years two to six, bringing the annual bill to £450 during that period.
Running costs are fairly standard for a car like this, but it’s worth remembering the California T looks like it costs far more than its £155,000 asking price. As long as you don’t get carried away with options, that is – our test car cost more than £200,000!
However, running costs are mitigated by a complimentary Ferrari Genuine Maintenance programme, which covers scheduled servicing for the first seven years of the car's life, irrespective of mileage. Ferrari claims that, alongside strong values on the used market, the service plan makes the California T cheaper to run over the first three years than many of its rivals.
Owners also have the option to extend the full four-year factory warranty to five if they wish. For further peace of mind, Ferrari offers a ‘New Power’ warranty to cover all major components, including the engine, gearbox, PTU, suspension and steering, from years 6-12 of the car’s life. After that, 'New Power15' is available, offering the same level of cover until the car is 15 years old.
Engines, drive & performance
At the heart of the Ferrari California T lies a turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 engine – something that might make Ferrari purists wince. But the fact is, adding a turbocharger has done nothing to quell this car’s character and there’s huge enjoyment to be derived from working the engine hard. It sounds great, and making the optional LEDs on the steering wheel shine – for the full Ferrari F1 effect – is endlessly entertaining.
The California takes just 3.6 seconds to cover 0-62mph and its top speed is a dizzying 196mph. Response from the accelerator is instant, but not so much that you’ll be lurching in traffic. That has a lot to do with the paddle-shift gearbox. You can leave it in automatic mode and waft along, or you can change gears yourself. There’s no gearstick, rather a row of buttons, so you need to manually select first regardless of whether you’re in auto or manual mode.
There’s also Ferrari’s famous ‘Manettino’ switch, which allows you to switch between normal, sport and race modes. These variously configure suspension and traction-control settings. In normal or sport modes, ride is more than acceptable for UK roads, but you can choose a ‘bumpy road’ mode in the sport setting, which gives you the best of everything.
Finally, Ferrari offers a ‘Handling Speciale’ package for those seeking greater thrills. This £5,500 option pack features stiffer suspension, a louder exhaust and a gearbox capable of faster shifts. It doesn’t turn the California T into a bona-fide supercar, but it feels glorious on the right road and is well worth the money if you have enough to buy the car in the first plaec.
Interior & comfort
There’s no doubting you’re in anything other than a Ferrari when you sit in a California T, not least because of the abundance of prancing horses. The dials look like they’ve come straight from a racing car, with a huge rev counter, a smaller speedometer and a screen that displays all manner of performance or trip data. What it doesn’t display is the sat nav, which is relegated to a rather ordinary-looking unit.
The gear selector buttons are in the centre console, near the ventilation controls – the labels of which are quite hard to read. The strange thing is that it’s hard to be exact about the California’s interior, because so many parts are optional – and expensive.
Practicality & boot space
First things first: while the California T has four seats, it’s described as a 2+2 – so the rear seats are only suitable for kids at best. There are even two ISOFIX mounts there, but you’ll still struggle to fit a child seat. Space up front is excellent, although there are no cup-holders – or any real storage at all for that matter – should that be a deal-breaker for you.
With that out of the way, plus the realisation that the rear seats are useful for additional storage space, the California T is fairly easy to live with. With the roof up, the boot measures 340 litres, which is about what you’d find in a Ford Fiesta. Fold the roof and, predictably, the available space reduces, becoming sufficient only for a couple of squashy bags.
Wind buffeting isn’t too bad with the roof down, although a wind deflector that folds and stores in the roof will keep all but the most wayward hair in check.
Reliability & safety
Unsurprisingly, Ferrari doesn’t feature in our Driver Power ownership satisfaction survey, so it’s hard to be objective about what the California will be like to drive every day. It certainly doesn’t feel like a fragile supercar, although few Californias will cover the kind of big mileages you’d expect of a BMW M6 or Porsche 911.
There’s a usual array of safety kit, too, including a range of airbags and a pop-up rollover hoop. Plus, there’s a set of incredibly powerful carbon-ceramic brakes to stop you hitting something in the first place.
Price, value for money & options
We’d be amazed if Ferrari has sold a California T without any options fitted. There are lots of them and they’re all very expensive. Highlights include special paintwork that costs anything up to £7,100, Ferrari badges on the front wings (£1,000) and myriad of interior trims that can add up to wallet-wilting amounts.
Still, the optional audio upgrade fitted to our test car impressed (as it should for £3,500). The sound is balanced and bassy tracks sound great. Best of all is that the interior doesn’t rattle when you turn the volume up – although who wants to listen to music when you have a big V8 engine under the bonnet.
Even if you avoid those options, there’s still plenty to enjoy. A vehicle tracking system is fitted as standard, as are a set of 19-inch wheels, power-operated heated seats and a 6.5-inch touchscreen that powers the DAB radio, sat nav and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a shame that it’s rather fiddly to operate, quite slow to react to inputs and is rather old-fashioned looking - especially compared to the rest of the California's interior.
Apple CarPlay is a particular highlight. This allows the touchscreen to work as if it was your iPhone. It’s a clever development and the California T was one of the first cars to offer it. The system works very well, provides a level of operational familiarity iPhone users simply wouldn't find in a regular 'native' system. If you organise your life using your iPhone - and plenty of us do - then the California T is the perfect extension of that.
There's also a cruise control function that is surely one of the most impressive looking fitted to any car. It's operated by a control labelled 'Pit Speed'. Who wouldn't want that?