Every single petrolhead fell in love with Ferrari as a child. It’s just one of those things.
For over 70 years, Ferrari has delivered results on and off the track. Consistency in execution has been key to this success – Ferrari has competed in every Formula One world championship since the 1950 season.
Everyone knows that the company was built around motorsport, setting it apart from rivals who historically focused on road cars and participated in racing purely to promote the road cars. At Ferrari, the road cars were a distraction to pay for motorsport.
Think of it as the ultimate side gig to keep yourself competing on the track.
Although there are some iffy elements to the brand, like over-priced aftershave and silly pens, the recipe works. Brand Finance proclaimed Ferrari the World’s Strongest Brand for 2020. That’s not just among car brands, but among all brands.
Unfortunately, success can lead to snobbery. You cannot do a factory tour in Maranello unless you can prove that you own a Ferrari. This needs to be understood in the context that Lamborghini and even Pagani will let you tour their facilities. If an automotive spaceship manufacturer like Pagani thinks it’s important to let people share in the magic, then Ferrari has no excuse.
Arrogance aside, the Ferrari brand ultimately represents an intoxicating mix of performance and a sense of occasion. Despite no Formula One World Championships to its name since Raikonnen became an Italian national hero in 2007, Ferrari achieved its best-ever year of sales in 2019 by delivering over 10,000 cars worldwide.
The sales success over this unusual period in the company’s history is partly thanks to an expanded range. Instead of only offering the traditional V8 sportscar and V12 grand tourer, you can now buy everything from a turbo convertible through to a 4-seater shooting brake.
Changing the direction of the model range is always a risk.
Ferrari purists didn’t like the California when it was launched back in 2009. As the world imploded financially, Ferrari put a more “affordable” car on the showroom floors that offered two Ferrari firsts: a retractable hardtop and a dual-clutch transmission.
The California was accused of being too soft in appearance and performance. Both allegations seem to be a bit silly, really.
Let’s start with the looks.
The rest of the Ferrari range at the time comprised of the F430, the 599 GTB and the 612 Scaglietti. The F430 is pretty. The 599 GTB isn’t traditionally beautiful, although it started the muscle car design era for Ferrari. The 612 is as ugly today as it ever was.
In contrast, the California has aged brilliantly. It looks compact and inviting. The stacked exhausts suggest that there is serious power behind the magnificent derrière. Except, of course, there isn’t. The engine is in front rather than at the back, putting this car into grand tourer territory despite the smaller dimensions.
A decade after it was launched, the California is a head-turner for all the right reasons. It whispers good taste rather than screams money.
After arriving at the meeting point and taking a few moments to appreciate the exterior of the car, it was time to experience what Ferraris are all about: performance.
Although the first edition of the California was hardly a slow car, Ferrari seemed to take the criticism seriously enough to introduce an upgraded version of the California in 2012. This is the car you see in these pictures – the California 30.
30kgs lighter and 30bhp more powerful, the California 30 is definitely the one you want.
The engine might be in the “wrong” place and the overall weight might still be too high, but this is one of the best handling cars we’ve ever driven.
The experience starts immediately as you sink yourself into the soft Italian leather. The prancing horse on the steering wheel has an undeniable effect on your heartbeat. The only buttons on the steering wheel are to start the car and decide how vicious you want it to be. It’s just a wonderful place to be.
The bright yellow rev counter takes centre stage. Proper supercar manufacturers seem to care more about helping you shift at the right time than about keeping you out of trouble with the law.
Speaking of shifting, the DCT gearbox is an absolute gem. Downshifts are immediate and precise, allowing you to truly attack a corner rather than simply prepare for it. The chassis balance lets you precisely carve up the corners and the overall package means you can get the power down on exit without any drama.
Critics of great DCT boxes like to imagine themselves as Juan Manuel Fangio, clicking through the manual gearbox of a Ferrari with feet dancing over the pedals and tyres screeching on the limit. They tend to forget that Formula One drivers didn’t have the longest life expectancy. They also tend to forget that they have 1% of the driving ability of Fangio.
For mortals and people with any sense of self-preservation, modern DCT boxes are the answer in properly fast cars for road use. At no time in the California did we find ourselves wishing for a manual gearbox. Normal road conditions simply aren’t comparable to track conditions and the paddles let you prepare for a corner in far greater safety.
A Porsche GT3 is arguably a more rewarding car for experienced and talented drivers, but it’s debatable whether the risk outweighs the reward in real-world conditions. You have to commit fully to a GT3 to get the best out of it, which isn’t the smartest approach anywhere other than a racetrack. The California lets you have proper fun without making you wonder whether you’ll see your wife and kids again that afternoon.
The “softness” of the California relative to other Ferraris makes sense when you leave the undulating hills and wait for your heartbeat to return to normal. Comfortable and stylish, the California is a car that you can use to drive your mother around in, but also a car that you can use to terrify your mates.
The only disappointment in this car, other than the navigation screen that looks like it came straight out the Chrysler Voyager parts bin, is the exhaust note. The V8 barks well enough, but it doesn’t howl like a Maserati. The California’s noise isn’t distinguishable enough from a German V8. Most people will appreciate the sound, but we can’t help but feel that Ferrari held back from giving this car the noise it deserves. That’s especially a pity in an open-top car that would’ve been the perfect platform for the full-cream scream.
The owner of this California 30 is planning to upgrade to a Ferrari 458, which is of course even sharper than the California. It’s a natural progression and by no means casts the California in a negative light. The price differential between the two is substantial, suggesting that the California is terrific value for money as an entry point into motoring stardom.
Ferrari makes a fortune by selling magic. You should believe the hype.