► Ferrari California T HS tested
► Benefits from chassis upgrades
► Well worth the additional £5568
Ask to see someone’s bucket list and it’s likely to include ‘drive a Ferrari’, regardless of whether they’re from Palermo or Preston. But getting behind the wheel of something like a 488 or F12 can be a pretty intimidating event to the uninitiated.
Maranello knows this and for nearly ten years has baited childhood-wish fulfilling customers with the softer, comfier and easier to use California. In fact more than half of the current turbocharged car’s drivers are Prancing Horse debutantes.
So, on paper at least, it does seem rather at odds that you can now opt for an optional Handling Speciale package – which makes the California T less comfortable, louder and more edgy, in exchange for sportier dynamics.
What’s so Speciale about it, then?
The HS pack is a collection of chassis tweaks designed to encourage drivers out of their Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet or Mercedes-AMG SL 63, who might have previously overlooked the California T and its comparatively laid-back approach.
Tick the £5568 ‘special handling equipment’ option box and you get stiffer springs (up 16% on the front and 19% on the back) plus retuned dampers and a louder exhaust.
There are also revisions to the gearbox for faster shifts, and recalibrated traction control that allows a bit more leeway when accelerating out of a corner or driving over bumpy roads.
Accentuating this new athletic edge are a matte grey rear diffuser and front grill, black tail pipes and a California T Handling Speciale badge on the central armrest, broadcasting your helmsmith alter-ego to concertina-legged passengers squeezing into the back seats.
Do the upgrades comprehensively ruin the ride?
We drove the Handling Speciale in Italy and were impressed by its suppleness, but have been itching to get one on our wrinkled tarmac to see whether it can cope with the UK’s lumpy roads.
At low speeds it’s noticeably firmer but still acceptable. Ferrari reckons the standard ride is somewhere between the Comfort and Sport settings in the standard car, with the hardest of all California T set ups accessed by dialling Sport mode into the boiled-down, three-option Manettino.
The result is reduced (but not eliminated) bodyroll and a more composed feel when you’re pushing on. It’s still a car best enjoyed just shy of its limits but the stiffer set-up allows you to enjoy the wonderfully balanced chassis and light, fast steering.
Any changes under the bonnet?
No, you get the same 3.9-litre V8, and despite faster gearshifts the 0-62mph still takes 3.6 seconds. The ’box is quicker to react both in automatic and manual paddle mode and can tumble down four gears in the time it takes the standard car to do three.
Helping create the illusion of greater speed is a new, three-decibel-louder exhaust. It doesn’t really find its voice until about 3000rpm, so you can cruise around in comfort without your exhaust barking at pensioners trying to cross the road. It drones on a bit on the motorway but it’s nothing the £3552 premium Hi-Fi system can’t drown out.
The take-up rate for the Handling Speciale pack on the old, naturally aspirated California was 20%. We reckon this new version will prove even more popular. After all, the premium it commands is small change in Ferrari terms, and the upgrades add considerable handling and aural verve. You could even call it good value for money – the black alloy wheels on our test car cost more.
While it won’t turn your California T into a 488, the Handling Speciale package ramps up the emotional impact of a car that already majors in usability. We reckon it’s a better all-rounder than ever.
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