The Ferrari California has been on the market for three years now, which means the time has come to give Maranello's first-ever front-engine eight-cylinder GT some attention. At Ferrari, the march of progress is denoted by increased power and reduced weight -- and both are here in the 2013 California.
The 4.3-liter V-8 now spins out 483 hp at 7750 rpm, an increase of 30 hp. Torque increases from 357 to 372 lb-ft. Credit for the extra output goes to reshaped pistons, a reprogrammed ECU, reduced friction losses, and new exhaust manifolds that lessen back pressure.
Its V8 is paired to either a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or a six-speed manual transmission, and Ferrari says that the California will go from zero to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Reviewers love the performance, and say that the California is also comfortable enough for daily use, thanks to its excellent suspension.
While the California gets the performance nod from the automotive press, it’s not without fault. On the outside, not all reviewers are in love with the look of the California’s rear end. This Ferrari had to be designed to house its retractable hardtop, and test drivers say that to gain that functionality, the California had to trade off some of its otherwise good looks.
Inside, the interior is beautifully crafted, and reviewers say that the front seats are comfortable and supportive. Most dislike the navigation system, which is sourced from Chrysler, saying that it looks out of place in a car in this price range. Another minor concern is behind the front seats. The California can be equipped with either a storage shelf or two small rear seats, but reviewers say that it makes more sense to go with the former since no one will be able to sit in the California’s rear row.The normally aspirated V-8 revs to 8000 rpm, and its 180-degree crankshaft makes for a unique and characterful engine note. Slap the over sized downshift paddle a couple times and press the long-travel throttle toward the firewall, and this grand tourer sheds its relaxed demeanor in an instant. The California has the reflexes of a sports car and fantastic chassis balance. It changes direction eagerly, never pushing or feeling front-heavy. Although light, the steering is ultra precise, which helps the driver confidently place this wide car on narrow Italian byways that seem sized for a Fiat 500 -- the old one. Although we didn't drive on a track, the carbon-ceramic brakes (which have been standard on all Ferrari's since 2008) certainly inspired confidence on the road, hauling the car down from triple-digit speeds. And they were (almost) squeal-free in town.
The comfort part is there, too, starting with the wonderfully shaped seats. Like the seats, the cabin is lined from stem to stern in rich, aromatic, hand-fitted leather. The aggressively sculpted steering wheel feels great, and on our test car it was tricked out with carbon fiber trim and a series of red LED's at the top of the rim that light up sequentially as your approach the red line Neat. As in other Ferrari's, the tachometer occupies the central spot in the gauge cluster (with a digital gear readout inside), flanked by an analog speedometer and a re-configurable LCD screen. The switch gear isn't hard to decipher, although it's a little jarring to see the same touch-screen navigation unit you find in a Chrysler (and not even Chrysler's best one). Visibility is quite good, top up or down, except that you sometimes have to look around the over sized A-pillars.
One area that was not addressed in this update was the exterior design, and the car has received some brickbats for its styling, particularly the rear. The J Lo butt remains, as the exaggerated rear is necessary to accommodate the retractable hard top. Styling, of course, is subjective, but having seen several California's with a contrasting-color roof (it can be painted in any standard color), we'd say that seems to help a lot. And we'd also say that the car looks just great from behind the wheel. Indeed, one aspect in which the California is every bit as potent as its stablemates is in the reluctance it engenders when it's time to give back the keys.
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