The new 2014 Ferrari California T is the first of a new generation of turbocharged road cars from Maranello. But does a pair of blowers enhance or detract from the Ferrari experience? We went to Tuscany to find out when we reviewed the new California T.
Turbocharging a Ferrari? That sounds like a capital offence!
Don’t be so hasty. Have you forgotten the F40 and 288 GTO? Hardly lacking in character were they? And before them, in the early 1980s Ferrari built a series of 2.0-litre turbocharged 208 sports cars to circumnavigate some tough Italian tax laws that made cars with big-capacity engines hideously expensive to run in the home market.
You had better get used to the idea because next year’s 458 replacement will use a tweaked version of this California’s 3.8-litre V8, too.
Run me through some of the technical highlights on the 2014 Ferrari California T. It’s a Maserati engine, isn’t it?
Ferrari builds a blown 3.8 for Maserati, but this isn’t it. Only the proper Ferrari engine features the flat-plane crank, which gives a different firing order, different sound and completely different character.
Ferrari has gone to great lengths to make it sound and feel like a naturally aspirated engine, creating complicated three-piece exhaust manifolds with equal length pipes, fast-spooling twin-scroll turbos and even managing the boost level to tailor the torque curve.
What do you mean?
Manufacturers often crow about having a torque curve that’s flatter than a dining table, but cars like that are often dull to drive because the rate of acceleration doesn’t increase with revs like it does in a performance-tuned petrol engine.
So in gears 1-3 of the California T’s seven-speed dual-clutch ’box you get a maximum of 443lb ft of torque, but that maximum is reached in the mid-upper end of the rev range. In seventh gear, by contrast, where low and mid-range torque is far more useful than top-end power, there’s more torque (557lb ft), and it arrives much earlier.
That compares with 368lb ft for the old California, while power increases from 483bhp to 552bhp. The idea is that you get the feel of a naturally aspirated engine when going through the gears, plus the easy pace of a turbo engine when you need top-gear go on the motorway.
That’s the theory covered, but how does it work in practice when you drive the Ferrari California T?
It’s impressive. Yes, there’s that unmistakable lull between planting your right foot and the turbos working their magic, but it’s fleeting, and quickly forgotten, and while the new engine doesn’t wind quite as high - 7500rpm, instead of 8000rpm - it does at least pull hard right to the redline.
The 0-62mph time drops from 3.8sec to 3.6sec, but up to 124mph, the difference is more than 2.0sec, and the mid-range punch means this is night and day faster on real roads. It sounds reasonably rousing, too, if not exactly tuneful. The new 2014 Cali T certainly doesn’t scream like a 458, but neither did the last car. This is meant to be a GT, remember, not a car to thrash for 10 minutes before returning it to its garage slumber and reaching for the Paracetamol. But if we’re talking soundtracks, an Aston V12 engine has it licked.
What about the green gains on the California T? That’s why it’s gone turbocharged, after all…
Ferrari says the new car is 15% more economical in real conditions. CO2 output falls from 270g/km to 250g/km. Not that you’ll be running one of these as a company car, of course.
What else is new on the 2014 Ferrari California T?
Well it looks vastly better, for a start. The biggest improvement is at the rear, which ditches the stacked tailpipes and lowers the bootlid’s leading edge to create a much leaner-looking car.
There’s still a lot of metal beyond the cabin (to be fair, the boot is huge), but it’s now balanced by the reshaped front wings, more aggressive grille and headlights, two bonnet vents, and deeply coved flanks.
Any other changes beneath the skin?
The California T gets the latest of everything at Ferrari’s disposal: new-generation carbon brakes, fast-acting magnetorheological dampers, updated software for the traction control system, stiffer springs and a much faster steering rack from the old California’s Handling Speciale pack.
You might dismiss the California as a beginner’s Ferrari (the mere three positions on the manettino are a clue), but this can still be an enjoyable car to drive fast, as well as slow. After the brilliantly communicative 458 Speciale and LaFerrari, the steering predictably feels more remote, but the balance is lovely. Over half the weight is over the back wheels, so it adopts a sweetly neutral stance when pushed.
>> View our first drive of LaFerrari in Italy here
Compared with the original California, this one delivers much better body control, but without the slightly snatchy, over-aggressive character of the bad-riding handling Speciale. This car’s ride comfort is astonishingly good and the structure impressively stiff in open mode, although the thick pillars aren’t great for visibility. With the roof closed (a 14sec button push), noise levels are very low.
The new 2014 California T might not be your pick of the Ferrari range, but it has been a massive success for the company, which sold 10,000 in five years, and - just as Ferrari hoped - 70% of those cars went to first-time Ferrari customers.
Having sucked those people in, Ferrari has now delivered a car that looks and feels closer to what existing Ferrari fans might want from a Ferrari. And for this application, the turbo engine works pretty well. Accept that its rivals are not the 458 Spider, but cars like the AMG SL65 and Aston DB9 Volante, and you have to conclude that this is a strong package.
If there’s a concern, it’s that, as it stands, I wouldn’t be satisfied with this engine in a 458. The expectations are so much higher when it comes to Ferrari’s sports cars. It needs to sound more exciting and kick that bit harder at the top end. Ferrari says not to worry, it has some tricks ups its sleeves. We’ll find out what they are in 2015.