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Ferrari California T Handling Speciale (2016) review

Published:17 March 2016

Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

► Sharper, louder California T HS introduced
► Features revised suspension and exhaust
► California Handling Speciale costs £160k

Still not convinced that Ferrari’s latest California T is worthy of a horse badge on its nose despite the extra power and clever lag-free turbo engine? The new Handling Speciale pack is here to change your mind and close that gap to the sublime 488.

Handling Speciale? Is this the California’s Challenge Stradale moment?

Not exactly. There are no mods to the 552bhp turbocharged V8 - and it isn’t any lighter. Essentially it’s a set of stiffer springs, revised dampers and a new exhaust back box. And a set of extremely Speciale floor mats. Yours for £5568.

Haven’t we been here before?

There was an HS pack on the old naturally aspirated California, but it was a bit of compromise. Stiffer suspension and a 10% quicker steering rack gave the handling some real bite, but ruined the ride comfort and refinement.

It was more fun, but seemed at odds with the California’s everyday, everyman’s Ferrari remit.

And this one is better?

Much. The springs rates are up 16% front and 19% at the back, which helps cut body roll from what is, at 1730kg, a fairly stout car. The turn-in feels more immediate too, although Ferrari says the Pirelli P Zero rubber is unchanged. But because the magnetorheological dampers are better developed these days, it doesn’t hobble around like a newborn calf with a club foot on lumpy Tarmac.

What hasn't changed is the California’s sweet chassis balance, a result of its even weight distribution. You don’t drive this car with only the front wheels. Turn into a bend and you can feel it rotate, not slide exactly, but definitely working the rear tyres.

The manettino toggle only features three settings: Comfort, Sport and ESP off. Even in Sport the stability system never feels like its far from intervening, so you’ve nothing to fear from pushing hard even if you’ve never driven anything with this much power before. Switch the ESP out altogether and the California will slide with provocation, but you have to be trying quite hard in the dry.

The engine is unchanged, delivering 0-62mph in 3.6sec, almost zero turbo lag and stacks of useable torque. But the HS kit does bring quicker shift speeds for the F1 transmission. They’re not quite 488 rapid, but they’re noticeably faster than in the standard Cali T.

Any downsides?

The ride is good, but not quite as plump as the standard car’s, and although the extra exhaust noise is welcome, it’s occasionally a little boomy.

But that’s it.

So why didn’t Ferrari go full bore and build a proper hot rod in a 458 Speciale style?

Because the California remains a car designed to bring new buyers to the brand, not scare them off. And besides, if you build a trick California that costs almost as much as a 488 people are just going to upgrade to the mid-engined car.

Verdict

Unless you’re buying a California purely to swan about in Miami’s South Beach at 20mph, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t opt for the HS kit. It sounds better, the handling is tighter and by supercar standards it’s a bit of a bargain.

Last time out, one fifth of Cali buyers chose the HS kit. We’d be surprised if this new, much improved version doesn’t make a bigger impact in the options list.

Specs

Price when new: £160,888
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 3855cc 32v V8, 552bhp @ 7500rpm, 567lb ft @ 4750rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 3.6sec 0-62mph, 196mph, 26.9mpg, 250g/km
Weight / material: 1730kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4570/1910/1322mm

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  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review
  • Ferrari California Handling Speciale (2016) review

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

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