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2009 Ferrari California Review

Fri, 21 Nov 2008

Cars UK [rating:4.5]

A new Ferrari is always an event. For most of us, owning a Ferrari is beyond dreams. But what’s life without aspirations, and even if we can’t afford it we can lust after it. And Ferrari knows that. That’s why they have always made cars that are beyond the reach of normal mortals. At this level price is subjective. It’s all about lust.

2009 Ferrari California

But times are changing, and Ferrari want to grow. So what do they do? Churn out a 4×4 like Porsche? Oh, no. Not the boys from Maranello. They’ve decided to chip away at the car market just below the stratosphere. Think high-end Mercedes SL.

The new Ferrari California is actually a real departure for Ferrari. Not since the Dino has there been a Ferrari that nudges in to the mainstream. It’s not an extreme car like the 599, nor a mid-engined supercar like the F430. It’s actually a very classy 2+2 (actually, 2 + 2 legless people) with a trick folding metal roof; a first for Ferrari.

So is it any good?

Ferraris of old were probably best described as ‘challenging’ in the quality department. Always striking, many were seduced by the looks, and devastated by the reliability. Ferraris were not everyday cars. But in recent years that has changed. In the UK, Ferraris come backed by a full 4 year warranty. Yes, the servicing costs are pretty horrific, and they do have a habit of eating clutches, particularly on the F1 ‘box, but overall you can now buy a Ferrari knowing what it’s going to cost to run.

Interior of the 2009 Ferrari California

The California is a real Ferrari, and the cabin shouts it from the rooftops. Elegant and understated, it’s a really nice place to be. And surprisingly, for a Ferrari, it’s a very comfortable place to be. Some of the big Ferraris can leave you a bit on edge on a long journey. The 599 always seems ready to explode and twitch at any moment, but the California is cosseting and relaxing. But that’s only with the suspension in comfort mode. If you want to drive real Ferrari just switch to sport and you’re in a baby 599. A clever trick, well executed.

With the top up the California is remarkably refined. Low noise levels and very little wind noise make this feel like a coupe. And with the roof down, things are still very civilised. Buffeting is kept to a minimum, and you can still have a sensible conversation, even at three figure speeds.

This is the bit that Ferraris are all about – the driving.

On paper the California looks set to disappoint. It’s the least powerful Ferrari. It’s engine is the same size as that in the F430, but it produces less power. It weighs more than some luxury saloons. And the engine’s at the front which, although that is the place it should be, you can’t help but feel it can’t possible handle like a mid-engined supercar. Boy, are you in for a surprise.

The 2009 Ferrari California

0-60 takes less than 4 seconds. By any measure that’s quick (remember, the standard Porsche 911 takes over 5). Use the launch control (as long as you can afford to keep changing the clutches) and you will be propelled at ridiculous velocity towards the horizon. The new engine revs to 8000 rpm, and before you know it you’re tugging on the right hand paddle to find the next gear. And the speed of the change is nothing short of astonishing. On and on it goes, up to a less than legal 194mph.

The power and performance are spectacular, but the brakes and suspension are even better. It’s handling is a true revelation. As already mentioned, it can cruise in comfort setting better than any Ferrari, but turn the switch on the steering wheel to sport and the car changes out of all recognition. It feels stiff; sharp; responsive. It can take any corner you throw at it at speeds you wouldn’t believe possible. It’s easily as good as its big brother, the 599, and that is one hell of a bench-mark. And the brakes (carbon ceramic) are up with the best of the best. In all honesty, the only way to stop any quicker would be to drive in to a brick wall!

Do you care? Well, yes you probably do if you’re considering the California, because if Ferrari has got its buyer profile right you’re probably trading from a high-end Mercedes or Porsche.

The heart of the 2009 Ferrari California

The warranty is cast-iron, so you know what it’s going to cost to service (a lot, but at least you know). The new direct-injection is fuel efficient for its size and power, and it’s overall consumption is 21+ mpg. But you won’t get that! What’s the point of having a Ferrari and tootling around at 30mph? No, you’re much more likely to be doing your Mr Toad impression at every opportunity, and that will probably mean seeing 15mpg at best.

On residual values it’s hard to judge. Big, front-engined Ferraris usually fall out of bed quite badly price-wise. The 612 Scaglietti is the worst, probably shedding around half its value in the first year. And even the F430, the most stable of the Ferraris on residual values, has taken quite a hit in these troubled times.

But the California will be different – at least for a while. Early Californias in the UK are attracting premiums of around £15k, and with limited availability (Ferrari claim the California is sold out until 2011 – yeah, right), they should hold their value well for at least the first year. But even if they lose just 30% in the first year you’ll still lose £43k based on the base list price of £143k (and the options list is huge – you could easily spend £20k without blinking).

No Ferrari is cheap to run, that’s a given. But, relatively speaking, the California should be economical – comparable to a Porsche 911 Turbo or a Mercedes SL65.

The California has its weak points. From some angles it can look a little ungainly. It has a few odd styling details and, just like every car with a trick tin top, it can look a little boot-heavy.

But these are minor niggles. The California is arguably the best Ferrari made. It’s not the fastest. It’s not the best handling. It’s not the prettiest. But it is much more than the sum of its parts. It is an incredibly well-packaged, well-rounded supercar with astonishing performance and handling. It gives you the best of both worlds with its trick roof, and promises to be a real threat to the sales of Porsche and Mercedes.

Cars UK [rating:4.5] If it wasn’t for some of the styling detail, we’d have seriously considered giving the Ferrari California a 5 Star rating.

2009 Ferrari California Road Test Video

By Cars UK