The year was 1987, and the event felt like the pinnacle of my life's achievement. Though both of my Italians had been die-cast in 1/18th scale, I coveted the two supercars with the verve of a true collector, taking in the intricacies of their engine bays, opening their doors and turning their working steering wheels. In reality, the two could have hardly been more different, and yet they both looked like finely crafted perfection to my seven-year-old eyes, their questionable day-to-day practicality completely overshadowed by their unquestionably exotic shapes.
More than two decades later, I'm belting myself into the driver's seat of the 2015 Ferrari California T, the first turbocharged Ferrari since the F40 went out of production in 1992. The Tuscan countryside spreads out ahead, a twisting barrage of two-lane roads on the agenda, and I can't help but reminisce of my much younger self as I twist the red key and thumb the equally red ignition button on the steering wheel.
For a brief moment as I relieved the glory days of my misspent youth, I almost felt envious of my future self. And in a fleeting moment of clarity, I considered the split-personality of me at seven, wanting nothing more than visceral thrills and to be seen by all my friends, and the current me – appreciating the comfort afforded by modern luxuries while still relishing the unbridled performance of an Italian thoroughbred – as an interesting lens with which to experience the California T.
Would either side of me be let down by the experience of reality in a Ferrari? I pulled a paddle to the right of the California's steering wheel, clicking it into first gear, intent on finding out.
Opinions in the Autoblog offices are split on the second-gen California's appearance. While only some would describe it as unattractive, there's seems to be the prevailing opinion that it is the least beautiful Ferrari currently available. I don't agree – the California T doesn't have the drop-dead looks of such undeniably beautiful front-engine coupes as the early '60s 250 or the iconic Daytona, but it has presence, especially in person, with a very pretty silhouette serving as its defining characteristic.
The number of pictures I was asked to take of bystanders with the car tells me it has a certain appeal.
I polled several Italian passers-by, and the typically style-conscious citizens of Tuscany anecdotally seemed impressed. My Italian isn't great, but the number of pictures I was asked to take of bystanders with the car tells me it has a certain appeal. Current and future California owners will like its styling just fine, and it's safe to assume that the model will remain the brand's most popular product, as it has been since its introduction in 2009 with over 10,000 units sold.
Dimensionally, the 2015 California is almost exactly the same as last year's car, but nearly every body panel of the new T has been altered from the original, with the exception of the folding hardtop, which remains untouched. A good bit of massaging has taken place at the rear of the car, where designers have sought to visually lower the car's wide rear haunches through a more pronounced spoiler and a wider, horizontal theme to stretch the otherwise flat expanses. The lines are, overall, a bit sharper than before, especially up front, where new light clusters extend further into the fenders than before and where angular vents at the lower left and right of the fascia feed air into the engine's twin intercoolers. As a bit of styling flourish, the fenders call to mind the pontoon wings of the original 250 Testa Rossa of the late 1950s.
It's under the shapely bodywork that we should be most keen to discuss, as this new T, as mentioned before, boasts the first turbocharger in the Ferrari lineup in quite some time. I can tell you that Ferrari has gone to great lengths – some might argue a few lengths too far – to ensure that the dual twin-scroll turbo units don't impact the California's driving experience any more than necessary.
Under the shapely bodywork this new T boasts the first turbocharger in the Ferrari lineup in quite some time.
There are intricately cast three-piece exhaust manifolds on either side of the 3.9-liter flat-plane V8 engine that serve equal lengths of tubing from each exhaust port into the turbochargers, and they are really works of art in their own right. It's a pity most owners will never even see them. Still, their effect will be felt – when combined with the unique phasing of that flat crankshaft, the manifolds allow for much quicker spooling of the turbochargers, which in turn reduces lag to the point where it's practically nonexistent. And they'll be heard, too, as these pipes have been tuned to emit a high-pitched wail instead of the more subdued sound of most turbo engines.
In practice, there's certainly a difference to be felt at low revs when the turbos have yet to spool, but it doesn't feel like lag so much as an aggressively theatric state of tune. This, too, is completely by design. So concerned was Ferrari that a turbocharger would ruin its hard-fought reputation of high-rpm screamers that it artificially lowers the engine's torque in all but seventh gear using technology it calls Variable Boost Management. First through third offer the lowest torque figures, though it's still over 400 pound-feet with an impressively flat plateau, and things get progressively more powerful in fourth, fifth and sixth gears until the full 557 lb-ft is achieved in seventh. The peak of 553 horsepower is achieved at its 7,500 RPM redline.
I'd wail and gnash teeth at the apparent torque snub if not for the fact that the California T accelerates to Usain-levels of speed with alarming quickness. With launch control enabled, the 3,813-pound California T hits 62 miles per hour in a claimed 3.6 seconds, and I've no reason to doubt that assertion. Top speed is listed at 196 miles per hour.
The peak of 553 horsepower is achieved at the V8's 7,500 RPM redline.
The other upside of the variable boost system is a decrease in fuel consumption, and therefore improved emissions. No matter what enthusiasts or perspective owners may think, the world's governments won't be giving Ferrari a pass on efficiency requirements, and this downsized turbocharged engine, which also features variable valve timing and direct injection, has been designed to help meet those requirements. Official estimates stand at 22.4 miles per gallon on the European cycle, and will likely come in a bit below that in the States. Expect hybrid technology to be the next advancement to filter its way down the automaker's lineup.
Such need for efficiency is understandable, and we all appreciate Ferrari's enthusiasm for high-strung engines that progressively make more power as they reach for their redline, but I wish those laudable goals were possible without such drastic torque-limiting measures. In any case, firing through the seven ratios offered by the F1 dual-clutch transmission, which swaps cogs quicker than ever before, never failed to put a Joker's grin on my face.
All of us at Autoblog typically prefer traditional, honest-to-goodness manual gearboxes in our sporting machines, but in the case of the California T, the flappy paddles are completely appropriate and work splendidly. The rest of the interior is likewise befitting a car meant for top-down touring, with supple leather for the driver and passenger, plus two mini perches in the back for the kiddies, or, more likely, for a change of clothes for two. Note that the bench seat that only one percent of California buyers opted for is no longer available, leaving tiny twin buckets as the only option. It's also worth knowing that there's enough room in the trunk for a set of golf clubs, even with the folding hardtop stowed.
Ergonomic deficiencies are forgiven once the engine is started and the 14 seconds required to retract the hardtop tick past.
Ferrari has fitted the latest version of its infotainment tech into the California T. That means there's a high-res, 6.5-inch screen atop the center stack that offers both touchscreen and button control for the audio, navigation and climate control. Also updated is Ferrari's so-called Human-Machine Interface, which means there are no stalks on the column – all necessary functions can be found on the steering wheel, though I did stumble a few times while thumbing the turn signals, not to mention the dozen times I inadvertently activated the wipers while working the wheel at parking-lot speeds.
Any ergonomic deficiencies are quickly forgiven once the engine is started and the 14 seconds required to retract the hardtop tick past; the V8 engine settles into a comfortable idle, the mirrors and seats are adjusted and the journey begins.
Life at the pace of Ferrari is comfortable, at least in the case of the California T. Whether the Manettino switch is set to Comfort or Sport, the ride is well controlled, courtesy of the latest generation of Magneride dampers, which react to changing road conditions quicker than ever before. Also quicker is the ratio of the steering gear. It's almost too quick for a gran turismo omologato, reacting more immediately than expected and sometimes requiring minor mid-turn corrections. Springs are 11-percent stiffer than before, leading to less body roll, which is most certainly appreciated, especially considering the comfortable ride quality.
Life at the pace of Ferrari is comfortable, at least in the case of the California T.
Pulling to a stop a few hours into my drive, I push the wheel-mounted lever into ESC Off and click into first gear after pressing the button for Launch Control. Left foot firmly on the brakes, I mash the accelerator, wait for the slight calm before the accelerative storm as the engine revs to its desired spot midway up the tachometer, then I jump off the brakes, holding on for dear life with both hands on the wheel.
First gear ends more quickly than anticipated, mostly because the turbo engine maxes out at 7,500 rpm, 500 revs earlier than the naturally aspirated mill it replaces and several grand earlier than you'd like. The force of acceleration, however, leaves nothing to be desired. Second gear, too, runs out quickly, and by the time you find yourself in third, it's time to slow down. Way down.
Carbon-ceramic brakes from Brembo perform just as well as expected, with a firm pedal feel and instantaneously powerful force. The minor squeal caused by the impossibly durable surfaces seems a small price to pay for a lifetime of stopping power – Ferrari says owners who don't regularly visit the track, an unlikely place to find a California anyway, will never need to replace any braking components.
The seven-year-old inside us all will want nothing more than to be seen while making a scene in it.
I spent a little time playing with the California T's new Turbo Performance Engineer – which is a gauge, and not an actual Italian engineer coming along for the ride as its name suggests. The outer ring of the gauge, which sits between two circular air vents, is touch sensitive, and drivers can switch between five different readouts covering anything you'd like to know about the turbo's operation.
It seems a little sad that the full stable of torque isn't available until seventh gear, especially considering that the three most likely gears for all-out acceleration on the street offer the least amount of thrust. But that detraction only stands out on paper, and in fact would likely just lead to a distinct lack of tread on the Pirelli tires wrapped around the standard 19- or optional 20-inch alloy wheels. Put simply, there really isn't much worth complaining about when behind the wheel of this California T, which is expected to stay in the same $190,000 ballpark as the current model and will include seven years of maintenance.
Late in the day, a bright-red sports car flew past me on a winding two-lane in Italy, leaving little more than a shrieking wail and burnt hydrocarbons in its wake as I stood next to my own bright blue steed while taking the pictures you see on these very pages. The fact that I, too, was driving a Ferrari hardly mattered – I still stopped what I was doing to relish the moment. That should tell you all you need to know about the emotional impact of this 2015 California T.
It means this turbocharged thoroughbred is fully worthy of wearing the iconic Prancing Horse emblazoned on its fender, it means that the seven-year-old inside us all will want nothing more than to be seen while making a scene in it, and it means the well-heeled buyers it attracts won't be disappointed.