Review: 2009 Ferrari California
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2012.
By Peter Burgess of MSN Autos
Folding aluminum hardtop, direct injection gasoline-powered engine, dual clutch transmission, multi-link suspension, even a folding rear seat — the California is packed with first-time innovations for a Ferrari. It's pitched as a touring car in the mold of the 599 GTB, but it costs F430 money. Well, almost. The California is intended to be a less demanding Italian Stallion in hopes of broadening the automaker's appeal, especially with women. But regardless of how Ferrari tames the beast, it's going to take a tidal change to ramp up female ownership levels.
It features a new dual clutch transmission of the type first seen on the Audi TT and more recently on the 2009 Porsche 911. Technically this is completely different to the F1 system of previous Ferraris, though in practice the operation is very similar. There are paddle shifts for manual changes and an auto button when you want to take things easy.
Diehards will be able to specify a manual shift later in 2009, but even in Europe Ferrari reckons the mix will be less than 10 percent. Regular wheels are 19 inchers with 20 inch as an option. Tire widths are the same whatever diameter you choose, 245/40 front and 285/35 rear. The optional Manettino suspension gives three chassis settings instead of one, but the option we especially like is the set of three tailored leather cases to maximize storage space, which sell for a mere $6,500.
Under the Hood
It is, of course, a naturally aspirated V8. Ferrari, as yet, has no need for anything as grubby as a turbocharger in its road cars, though that may have to change in the future. Power is 453 horses at 7750 rpm, with the maximum torque of 357 lb-ft peaking at 5000 rpm. So a touch less power but up to six percent more torque, all at lower revs than in the F430. It's a clue to the less racy nature of the California.
Choose the double clutch transmission, and you get seven instead of six gears. The big deal about this type of gearbox is that it has the next gear already engaged, so when you work the paddle it's a matter of clutches operating rather than gears having to move. All the power, naturally, goes through the rear wheels.
A couple of tiny seats have been squeezed behind. Ferrari calls it the 2+ concept and it provides enough room for a schnauzer but not a Labrador. In a pinch you might even fit small humans, though the more sensible option is instead to opt for the simple rear bench with luggage tie downs. Either way you get a fold-down backrest that allows a set of golf clubs to be pushed through from the trunk — another Ferrari first.
The instrumentation is slightly curious in that the enormous central rev counter forces the speedometer so much to one side that it's out of the direct line of sight. The paddle shifts and stalks are great to use, though again the light switch is almost completely hidden. And another thing: Couple the noise of the engine and the weakness of the turn-signal indicators and you risk driving for miles while flashing misleadingly to other traffic. Cupholders? There's none in the Euro version; perhaps U.S. buyers will be luckier.
The folding metal roof could be contentious. "The retractable hardtop is not a Ferrari decision, it's a market trend" is the official and remarkably honest line on the change. But it's a no-brainer and works extremely well; even the higher trunk line that this type of arrangement demands stays reasonably well disguised.
On the Road
It can take a while to zone into the California, and you could drive all day without ever getting close to exploring the depths of this car. Find the right road, though, and the performance is explosive. The combination of the thump in the back, the noise and the bang and sharp crack as you change up is simply intoxicating. The auto mode is now as good as a regular box, though there's sometimes a reluctance to kick down. Carbon ceramic brakes haul the car back to reality with a real sense of confidence.
The multi-link rear suspension (another first on a Ferrari) is designed to provide a compliant ride appropriate to a grand tourer. With the Manettino option the results are exceptional. In Comfort, the California deals with road imperfections with distain, and few flaws make their way through to the cockpit. An advantage not only in terms of comfort, it makes this Ferrari very fast on roads that would have other supercars slowing to avoid being thrown off line.
It's a situation that makes switching the Manettino to Sport a debatable indulgence. Sport speeds up the throttle response as well as alters the threshold of the F1-Trac traction control system. Ferrari is particularly proud of F1-Trac, because instead of cutting the engine power when the computers detect the car is starting to slide, it first brakes individual wheels to bring the car back into shape.
It's works extremely well, and in Comfort the rear wheels will kick out just a touch before the computers save you from disaster. In Sport lots more oversteer is possible and that oh-my-God moment is just an incautious stab of the throttle away. It's brilliant that Ferrari offers the option, but a little surprising that the boundaries are so extreme.
Right for You?
Peter Burgess started off as an aerospace engineer but moved into motoring journalism 30 years ago. He writes regularly for MSN Carsin the UK, runs an old 911 but really needs another baby Lotus Elan.