It’s imperative every new Ferrari sounds right. Prod the start button on any machine from Maranello and the hairs on the back of your neck should stick up, a tingly sensation should wash over your body and the butterflies in your stomach should stir. It’s a primal response to raw power that you have no control over.
Ferrari knows this. Its boffins are well aware that they can shape the sheet-metal any way they see fit, but if a car doesn’t sound right, no-one will want it. You only need to look at the FF to understand that the heart of a lion trumps external appeal.
The Ferrari California has been an enormous success since its launch in 2008 with more than 10,000 cars sold in that five years stretch, 70 percent of whom Ferrari says were new to the brand, and not traditional Ferrari sports car owners. More than 50 percent are used as a daily driver, and 60 percent of journeys are shared with a passenger. As such, Californias rack up 30 percent more mileage annually than do any of the rest of the Ferrari range. The 458 Spider and Italia sell in greater numbers combined, but the California is Ferrari’s biggest selling single model ever.
We’ve got used to the bark and roar of Ferrari’s highly strung naturally aspirated V-8s and V-12s, but for the new California T, Maranello turned to twin-turbo power to help give the 2+2 GT a kick in the trousers. It wasn’t an easy job: the brief called for a more powerful engine that used less fuel and, above all, sounded like a true Ferrari powerplant. The first two bits were solved by reducing the size of the engine from 4.3-litres to 3.8 and bolting a pair of turbos on. The sound was mastered by meticulous attention to detail on the inlet and exhaust manifolds.
The result is sublime. The car’s 560 horsepower is 70 more than the model it replaces, and the 755 Nm torque is more than what the naturally-aspirated F12berlinetta’s 6.3-litre V-12 makes. Ferrari may not have dabbled in turbo power since the sphincter-puckering F40 last rolled off the factory floor in 1992, but they’ve certainly made up for lost time. The sound is immense from the minute you fire the engine into life and pull first gear.
It was also imperative that the California T retain its everyday driveability. Ferrari could have gone nuts and made it a bonkers supercar beater, but the California attracts a different type of buyer – someone not necessarily aligned with the company’s traditional racing links.
In cruise mode, the car’s natural tendency is to climb through its ratios (they’re taller than before) as quickly as possible and settle into a seventh-gear (23 percent taller) burble. That means the car can buzz about without troubling the turbo most of the time, and it helps cut fuel use by 15 percent by running at lower engine speeds.
Bury your right foot to the firewall, and this disappears and makes way for the kind of high-pitched wail of the V-8 we’re used to. There’s a throaty roar at 3,000rpm which dissolves into the unmistakable Italian war cry at higher rpm, barking through every upshift and gargling every off-throttle down shift with a blip and flutter.
Ferrari has cleverly mapped boost delivery in each gear to limit the sort of delayed onset ditch-finding disease that plagued turbo cars of old. Instead of serving up a dollop of torque for the driver to then sort out, the California T increases boost in each of the gears – eventually tapping the car’s full 755 Nm in seventh gear. That has two effects: it means the car will happily sit in seventh gear at around 2,000 rpm, and it means that you can press on more aggressively over twisty mountain roads without the worry that the back end is going to break away without warning.
The turbo serves up something of a conundrum for sports drivers used to operating their Ferraris at the tooth rattling end of the rev range. The variable boost management gives the car tremendous acceleration up through the gears – Ferrari says it will hit 100 km/h from standing in 3.6 secs, and 200 km/h in 11.2 secs – but changes down the box from third to second, say for a hairpin or tight corner, are a little aggressive. It’s much better to simply stay in third and rely on the car’s low-end torque to haul you through the bend.
Driving in full auto is a lesson in trust too. There’s a level of comfort that comes from hustling a highly strung Ferrari along by flicking through the gears but the California T isn’t that kind of car. You can switch the manettino dial to deliver a more engaging drive when you want, but there’s a lot of pleasure to be hand from simply carrying seventh gear through a bend and letting the chassis, suspension and revised F1-Trac traction control take care of the car’s trajectory.
Ferrari has another winning blend on its hands. Traditionalists may not like the push towards turbo power, but Maranello isn’t without form in this area, and their latest thinking is an absolute revelation. We’re likely to see Ferrari roll out turbo power on other models in its stable over the next few years and, if the California T is anything to go by, the future looks very promising indeed.