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Ferrari California HELE

Click to view picture gallery“Wim Wenders created a cult classic
  with his movie Paris, Texas
  has Ferrari managed to do the
  same with its ‘California, Italy
?


FERRARI'S CALIFORNIA EXTENDS the marque's repertoire, offering as it does novel-to-the-brand features such as a retractable metal hardtop, seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, a multi-link suspension set-up that provides grand touring ride comfort and a sophisticated Stop&Start system.

Let's start with that one-press automatic folding metal roof. While the soft-topped 430 Spider is a blast to drive both topless and top-up, the California additionally offers the security of a metal roof when your Ferrari is parked, with more refinement in bad weather and for long cross continent trips.

Top stowed away in the boot, the California offers draught-free exposure to the sun and sky; the supplied windblocker can be installed in seconds and, importantly, stops the usual frozen neck unavoidable in many convertibles. So, ten out of ten for all-year-round refinement.

“With 490bhp on tap
(and 372lb ft at 5,000rpm,
75% of which is available
at just 2,250rpm)
few cars can hope to stay
with a hard driven
California: en route to
193mph, it passes 62mph
in 3.8 seconds
...”
Making sure the California can justify its Ferrari badge is an all-aluminium V8 installed not behind your back like the 430, but ahead of your feet in the nose, affording it the distinction of being the first Ferrari with a V8 (as opposed to a V12) to be mid-front mounted.

With 490bhp on tap (and 372lb ft at 5,000rpm, 75% of which is available at just 2,250rpm) few cars can hope to stay with a hard driven California: en route to 193mph, it passes 62mph in 3.8 seconds.

The California is without doubt a Ferrari; you could peel off all of the badging and it would still be a Ferrari. Painted metallic blue, it is as an attractive car as the traditional red and is every bit as desirable as everything else that comes out of Maranello.

Confirmation comes the moment you look inside. Highlights include that fine Ferrari steering wheel with the starter button on the left and red manettino drive mode switch on the right with F1-style shift paddles; and the distinctive instrument panel dominated by the large buttercup yellow rev-counter dead ahead of the driver, its large numerals running all the way to 10,000rpm.

Like all the best cockpits, it's functional first. The horns, for example, are built into the steering wheel rim and if you squeeze the leather at ten-to-two the resulting strident note will arouse the Titans.

The sports seats are expected Ferrari-grade: soft leather encased, beautifully supportive (heated, naturally). Those in our test California were somewhat conservative in plain black with half-a-dozen small embroidered 'X' motifs each on the base and the seatback. A Prancing Horse emblem is proudly embossed on each headrest.

You can, of course, specify far snazzier upholstery. Ferraris are, even more so than Astons, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, highly customisable and, through Ferrari's Personalisation Programme, clients are offered an amazingly wide choice of options to make their car as unique and as individual as they are.

“Thumb the red start
button and the
direct injection 4.3-litre
V8 fires up with a rifle-
shot bark that will
wake sleeping dogs.
Pull back on the shapely
aluminium paddle to
select first, squeeze the
throttle and the
California’s new twin-
clutch gearbox takes it all
nonchalantly in its stride
as you move off
...”
The central lower section of the California's deep fascia is home to the large multifunction touchscreen SatNav that also serves as a jukebox. Call me a Philistine (I'm okay with 'Phil') if you will, but I could never listen to music or a radio whilst driving a Ferrari. And why should you, if you've just spent a six-figure sum on such a fabulous mechanical soundtrack?

Beneath the hi-fi is a pod containing the climate controls and below this you'll find the buttons that call up launch control, reverse, and auto.

To the left of the rev-counter is a TFT multi-display screen that can be configured to show a variety of information — the default is a pair of analogue-look 'dials' for coolant and oil temperature. To the right, a small speedometer is a token nod to the existence of limits. A bar graph keeps you apprised of your fuel; an important readout given the official average is 21.5mpg.

Nothing is overlooked: leather interior, heated seats, powered retractable metal roof, electrically-adjustable seats, windows, door mirrors and steering wheel, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system (SatNav, hard-drive jukebox, AUX and USB input, iPod connectivity, and voice commands), Bluetooth, satellite tracking security system, fold-down rear seatback, reversing camera, bi-Xenon headlights, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system, adjustable vehicle dynamics (manettino), traction and stability aids, carbon ceramic brakes, automatically deploying roll-bar (just in case), and 19-inch wheels.

Setting a perfect driving position couldn't be easier as the firmly-bolstered seat adjusts in every direction at the touch of a switch, as does the steering wheel for reach and height. Grip the flat-bottomed wheel — it's satisfyingly hard with perforated work-areas — and familiarise yourself with the manettino knob on the right of the boss: whereas in the 430 you have five drive modes, the California has but three, all equally appropriate: Comfort, Sport, and CST-Off. Switching between them is simple on the move.

Thumb the red start button on the left and the California's direct injection 4.3-litre V8 fires up with a rifle-shot bark that will wake sleeping dogs.

Pull back on the shapely aluminium paddle to select first, squeeze the throttle and the California's new twin-clutch gearbox takes it all nonchalantly in its stride as you move off with what could easily be mistaken for torque-converter smoothness. At the other extreme, driven with attitude, shifts up and down are executed with a rapid-fire click-through, the V8 pulling hard and delivering relentless acceleration.

“Be bold. Select CST-Off and you can
almost physically feel the
California clearing
the decks for action.
You are now truly the
master of your fate,

with full manual control of the California’s
seven well-stacked
ratios...”
Seven twisty country miles later it's obvious that the California's new multi-link rear suspension serves up a taut and supple ride; one that perceptibly tempers the effects of poor quality A-roads. The resilient firmness of the ride panders equally to driver and passenger, particularly in Comfort mode, while the speed-related, power-assisted set-up is well-weighted with direct steering a given (so, too, is easy parking).

Reassuring road manners are underscored by the California's traditional transaxle layout (engine at the front and gearbox at the rear for a 47% front: 53% rear weight distribution) and encourage keen drivers to exploit the inner Ferrari at any time, and on any road. Twist the manettino clockwise to its penultimate setting — Sport — and you'll benefit from weightier steering, firmer suspension and gears held longer before up-shifts; and when the changes come, they're snappier.

Be bold and select the CST-Off setting; you can almost physically feel the California clearing the decks for action. You are now truly the master of your fate with complete freedom and control of the car and no electronic intervention whatsoever, apart from the ABS. Stability and traction control systems (CST and F1-Trac) are off, giving you, via the paddle-shifters, full manual control of the California's seven well-stacked ratios — any one of which is at your near-instantaneous command for as long as you desire.

While the V8 is always eager to embrace the red-line, you don't have to drive that way to make meaningful progress; you can mooch along B-roads, scene-stealing at fifty-ish on a light throttle, the engine as close to murmuring as a Ferrari engine can get.

But pull back the paddle and drop a few gears (if you drive civilly in auto it's eager to very quickly sneak up into seventh) and nail the accelerator. You'll rocket forward, trailing a liberated stereophonic yowl as the engine joyfully does what it does best — rev. It is something best appreciated with the roof down and the 14-second ballet is elegance itself. Do this, and the sound level ramps up enormously and tunnels beckon.

With a Ferrari it's taken as read that you get first class brakes. Brembo brakes with carbon ceramic material are standard fitment and fine for normal road work. Unlike some, they don't suffer the hard 'snatch' on initial take-up. In fact, Ferrari has been at pains to ensure that they're user-friendly and the result is that they scrub speed with absolutely no messing.

“The Stop&Start
technology is not solely
about improving fuel
consumption — it’s also
about driveability.
For instance, it doesn’t
cut out at roundabouts;
and when you ease up
in traffic it holds off
killing the power
until you actually stop,
just in case
you’re able to keep
moving
...”
And a word, finally, about the California's Stop&Start. Called HELE (High Emotion Low Emissions). It incorporates intelligent engine fan and fuel pump control, electronic air-conditioning compressor displacement control, and a gearshift pattern that adapts to driving styles: in Auto the gearbox 'brain' automatically identifies the current driving pattern and adapts the gear shifts to match.

So if, for instance, it recognises a driving style that demands moderate torque at low engine speeds (typically in city driving), it optimises the gear shifts to cut fuel consumption. If, however, a sportier driving style is adopted, then gear shifting becomes assertively pro-active.

The HELE technology is not solely about improving fuel consumption levels. It's also about driveability. For example, it doesn't cut out at roundabouts; and when you ease up in traffic it holds killing the power until you actually stop, just in case you're able to keep moving.

Once stopped, you can restart the engine not just by releasing the brake pedal but also by using the accelerator pedal (ideal for left-foot brakers) or the Up paddle on the steering wheel.

Surprisingly, roof raised, there's a practical 340-litre boot hidden in the California's tail. Park the hardtop and this reduces to a still-practical 240 litres (a space-saver spare is carried under the boot floor).

Also unexpected is the load-through facility that can be used after folding forward the rear seatback. Ferrari describes the California as a '2+' while, wisely, giving owners the option of specifying a storage shelf in place of the two token rear seats. Not only does the shelf look more in keeping, but it's actually really very convenient for spur-of-the-moment shopping, as we discovered.

Drive this high-performance grand touring California and you'll quickly realise that, despite being more user-friendly, is nonetheless a serious Ferrari. Equipped with the new dual-clutch transmission, it's also a genuine every-day-of-the-year driving machine that's as much at home in city traffic as it is surging through the gears on challenging mountain passes. — MotorBar

Ferrari California HELE | 153,086
Maximum speed: 193mph | 0-62mph: 3.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 18mpg
Power: 490bhp | Torque: 372lb ft | CO2 270g/km