Ferrari California T Review: Is It Sweeter Secondhand?

Ferrari California T Review 16There is something extra-remarkable about the Ferrari brand. It’s more of an exclusive lifestyle club than just a car company at this point. The car is merely your ticket to join, but all Ferraris are not created equal.

The Ferrari California T bears the burden of being the entry-level member of this most exclusive club. It’ll get you in the door, but that’s about it. It is the low man on the totem pole, and in this world of elitist snobbery, many enjoy looking down on that. But you know what? If we can cast aside the country club mentality for a minute, the California T was, in many ways, the best real-world package Ferrari made. And now that it’s being replaced by the Portofino, the California T is one of the best value grand touring cars you can buy.

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Bright red is great and all but I must admit I’ve always had a real thing for Ferraris in blue over tan leather. It’s the color combo I’d actually buy. I recently took this beautiful California T for a spin, and it’s the first Ferrari I’ve driven in that elegant color combo. Driving on real roads, top-down with the sun on my skin, I gained some valuable perspective on what the California T is all about. I drove the first-gen California on a racetrack a few years back, and while it performed surprisingly well, it was nice to experience the Cali T more in its intended setting.

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After driving the California T, I actually think its relative lack of collector car status may be its biggest assets because it’s a Ferrari you can actually use and put real miles on. I know in the Ferrari world that opinion may seem the opposite of what’s desirable, but this car isn’t for the person who wants to just look at the car and maybe drive it twice a year. The California T is a phenomenal car to experience driving on the best roads to interesting places. It’s a car for someone who wants to drive it at least a few thousand miles per year. I mean, what good is a grand touring car that you’re afraid to put a bunch of miles on? The whole point is to take the car and travel great distances quickly in style and comfort. Forget flying, take the Ferrari.

If you’re reading this, and you think I don’t “get it” then this probably isn’t your car. The California is the “least special” modern Ferrari, but that’s not demeaning, that’s liberating!

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Ferrari’s road car division has always been about making the best grand touring sports cars in the world. The whole exotic and hypercar thing developed much more recently, but Ferrari has been making GTs since the early 1950’s when Enzo first decided that selling road cars would be a great way to fund his racing efforts. To anyone who thinks a California isn’t a “true” Ferrari, I say it’s arguably more true to the brand’s heritage than the LaFerrari or the Enzo. Sure, it may not be a V12, but it’s the same type of road car that Ferrari has been making since the early days.

Plus, for whatever it’s worth, the California T will run rings around either of the Maranellos on the track, and it will stay with a 599 in most settings. So, in terms of performance, this is very much a real Ferrari experience. I agree that the previous California was a bit down on power for the type of car it was, but two turbos and an extra hundred horsepower have fixed that. It is a very, very fast car, indeed.

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What was most remarkable to me was how well Ferrari implemented the turbocharging in a way that didn’t really compromise the Ferrari experience much at all. The engine still howls its way up close to 8,000 rpm, but now there is also a ton of push lower down in the rev range. The turbos added 100 peak horsepower, but the extra low and mid-range torque have added a huge amount of easily accessible performance on the road. With the T, the California takes off like a bat out of hell no matter the gear or the revs, and if you let the engine rev out to the top, you’ll be breaking the law by a huge margin very quickly. I maxed out 2nd gear and hit 3rd running hard, and I found myself doing 95 mph in a zone that was, well, a lot less than that.

Like any Ferrari, high speed comes naturally to the California T, but this car has all of the modern Ferrari tech that makes it devastatingly quick on the street. 0-60 mph comes in just 3.5 sec, and I got to experience that first hand on my drive when I tested out the launch control. It’s unbelievable just how easy such a savage launch is in a RWD car with 552hp and loads of torque. Ferrari’s technology underneath makes this car, which should be ferocious, so simple and easy to use. It’s sort of like a 196 mph iPhone.

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The modern crop of Ferrari road cars has really raised the bar for the brand in terms of build quality and the total driving experience. One of the biggest things was Ferrari’s move to their fantastic dual clutch transmission, which makes the single clutch paddle shifts in the older cars feel archaic. Shifts happen so quickly and so smoothly in the California T that there seems to be no interruption in the onslaught of the acceleration at all. You pull the paddle and the shift is already done. Behind the wheel, you only notice the abrupt change in tone from the engine and the scenery flying past you even more rapidly.

Ferraris have a special connection with the driver that makes the car feel like an extended part of you. At speed, the car seems to react instantaneously to the thoughts in your mind, rather than waiting for the motions of your limbs. That’s why the switch to the dual-clutch gearbox was such an important step for Ferrari because there’s so much less perceptible difference between your brain and the car’s behavior when shifting.

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In terms of handling, Ferrari is a pro at making larger cars like the California feel very light on their feet. The California may be a 3,800lb GT car, but its handling is playful and unbelievably composed. It’ll be happy apexing on the racetrack or attacking back roads with on your morning drive. The Cali T is as satisfying doing the duty of a sports car as it is being a GT cruiser, and that’s a balance many of its rivals don’t strike quite as perfectly.

The California T is quite happy just to cruise, though, and it’s sublimely comfortable in traffic. The interior has a great amount of space, and top-notch ergonomic design. With fine Italian leather all over, it’s a very luxurious place to be. The new infotainment system is also much improved from the previous California. It has all of the luxuries you’d expect in a great GT car, with few or no shortcomings.

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I also applaud Ferrari for drastically improving the looks of the California with the T. What was once a pretty awkward looking car, now looks like a proper Ferrari GT car. It has that clean-cut, sleek design that people want when they buy a Ferrari.

This is the proverbial everyday supercar here. Anything its rivals can do, the California T can do, many things even better. That includes my favorite feature of the Ferrari California: it’s a hardtop convertible.

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Convertibles are very divisive in the car world. In general, you either love them, or you don’t. I am someone who absolutely loves a drop-top, and on nice days there’s nothing I’d rather be driving. That said, I live in the Northeastern US, where we have four distinct seasons, each with their own types of weather. Not every day is a top-down sort of day, but many of those days I still want to drive a fun car. A hardtop convertible is the perfect answer to that issue. It has all the wind-in-your-hair enjoyment on the nice days, but with the full functionality and security of a coupe when you want it. The Ferrari California T is literally the best of both worlds, and as a GT car, that is a huge functional benefit in my opinion.

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Dollars and Sense

Being last year’s Ferrari now, I want to emphasize that the Ferrari California T is very much a sub-$200,000 car at this point. I don’t care if it’s brand new with literally zero miles, it’s the old model and it’s not worth more at this point. And when I say $200,000 I mean all said and done, after taxes, after delivery fees, the final amount you’re paying should have a 1 in front of it. The smart market is in the $150-185,000 range.

I’d honestly advise buying one with a few more miles if you can get it in the lower end of that price range, and that’s because this car is a driver. Looking at the current market for first-gen Californias, even an 8 year old 2010 Cali with 40,000 miles on it is still worth around $90 grand. As high-end luxury cars go, these Ferraris really don’t depreciate too badly once you’re buying them at a fair market price. For reference, a comparative Mercedes SL 63/65 AMG has fallen right to around $40-50 grand.

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Now, obviously, you have a ton of options in the $150-180,000 range, too many to discuss all of them here. The advantage I find the Ferrari Cali T has over all of them is its perfect balance between being a sports car and luxury cruiser. It does both jobs beautifully, with full satisfaction. It also has the hardtop convertible aspect going for it, and for me, that’s huge for year-round enjoyment.

The California is nowhere near the fastest car you can have for the money, but its performance is definitely supercar fast. If you’re considering this car at all, I’m assuming you’re interested in some semblance of its well-rounded grand touring package in favor of the impractical balls-out supercars you could have for the same money.

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Relevant competitors include the Porsche 991 Turbo / Turbo S, Mercedes AMG GT, Mercedes SLS AMG, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vanquish, and Aston Martin Vantage V12. On the Ferrari front, the competition is very fierce, as you can have a Ferrari 599 or a Ferrari FF. Both have V12s, and the FF has the dual-clutch gearbox like the Cali T. If you’re a Ferrari elitist, these options will be much more appealing.

I can’t tell you which is the best of these options for the money, but I can tell you that in my eyes the Ferrari California T makes a solid case for itself. It’s a very appealing package if you actually intend to go grand touring.

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Verdict

If luxury is having what you want exactly when you want it, then the Ferrari California T excels. It allows the sun and wind when they are pleasant and provides full cover when they are not. If you ask it for a thrill it delivers an engaging driving experience with staggering performance. And if you ask it to relax it will swoon you along gracefully.

Maybe that’s why some Ferrari purists don’t like the California T. It’s a Ferrari when you want it to be, but then you can sort of turn all that off and it functions as a normal car. I agree, that makes it less special in the eyes of collectors, but it was never trying to please them in the first place. I love the idea that this is a properly usable Ferrari, one that you can now, more than ever, pick up for a reasonable price and really enjoy driving a lot.

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If I’m honest, I always found the reality of most Ferrari grand tourers a bit of an oxymoron. Here is a machine designed to travel fast over great distances to grand destinations, and most owners barely manage driving them 1,000 miles per year. Maybe they don’t have the time, maybe they’re worried about the depreciation, or maybe they have too many cars to actually focus on just one. Either way, it’s like a stallion being kept in a small pen, and I find that a sad waste. These Ferrari Californias, the first gens and the Cali Ts, are getting more and more attainable for more people, and I love the idea that they will actually be driven, used, and even abused. Ferraris were never meant to be garage queens, so in that light, I think the California T is as true as they come.

A horse was born to run, so let it run.

-Nick Walker

Come along for the ride here:

MoM Score: Ferrari California T (pre-owned, post Portifino release)
Primary Function: Driving Experience: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 10 /10

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3 thoughts on “Ferrari California T Review: Is It Sweeter Secondhand?”

  1. Here’s your California brudda!   Bigger than it’s previous iteration to appease your small car safety issues, and, it’s a Grand Touring Coupe or a convertible (retractable hardtop). Plus a dual clutch transmission. I have a dual clutch tranny on my motorbike and it is outa sight! And for me, of course, first and foremost, it is one hell of a looker!   B  

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