California Dreaming

This Prancing Horse will gallop and lope for you all day and far into a Pacific-coast sunset.

Unveiled at the Paris International Car Show in October 2008, the new Ferrari California celebrates the tradition of the legendary 250 California Spider.

This all-aluminum Grand Tourer is not only the least expensive current Ferrari — a base price of $196,450, with an average equipped price of about $226,000 — but it’s an accessible Ferrari, offering in one remarkable vehicle muscular performance, Pininfarina styling, comfort, great handling and, of course, the panache of the marque.

This is a world-class GT for everyone — even for those who have never owned a vehicle of this pedigree and who might think it’s not for them. The California incorporates the best of Ferrari — sporty design and innovation — but it’s also a car with a wider appeal than ever before.

Drive one: “This car was meant to be an everyday car with great flexibility,” says Gary Simon, Ferrari/Maserati sales manager at Scottsdale Ferrari/Maserati, 6825 E. McDowell Road, a Penske Automotive Group dealership. “Once you are in the car, you want to drive it all day.”

He adds: “It is still Ferrari fast with 0 to 60 times of less than four seconds and has Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, so it stops just like the rest of the Ferrari line. In addition, it is a front mid-engined car, so the handling is also on par with the rest of the Ferrari line.”

For Gary, and others, this new Ferrari is uniquely versatile and drivable. The retractable top offers the advantages of both convertible and hardtop. What’s more, the new dual clutch and seven-speed transmission deliver shifts faster and smoother than any other Ferrari, including the flagship 430 Scuderia. And, Ferrari says the new gearbox also reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

Simon is impressed, too, with the California’s roominess and the list of options available to personalize the car, such as a palette of 16 pastel and metallic colors, carbon-fiber racing seats, a rear parking camera and lightweight diamond-finish 20-inch forged five-spoke alloy wheels.

Finally, Gary likes that the new Ferrari was designed to require 40 percent less maintenance than any other model — again making it attractive to those who might be scared off by prospects of expensive upkeep and mechanical downtime. For instance, Gary notes: “The gearbox is sealed, and the clutches are supposed to be good for the life of the car.”

Seven-time Formula 1 world champion, Michael Schumacher agrees. He tested and honed the Ferrari California at the challenging Fiorano circuit in Europe — as he had with the potent 430 Scuderia. He notes the differences between the two eight-cylinder supercars: “The 430 Scuderia is, of course, a more extreme model with a focus on absolutely cutting-edge performance. However, although the Ferrari California is very much a Grand Tourer in terms of its usability and high level of interior comfort, it is still surprisingly sporty and fun to drive under any kind of conditions.”

The cars meet and surpass two different, but equally high, standards, he explains: “The 430 Scuderia is aimed at drivers who want the very essence of a Ferrari and will get it out on the track as often as they can. The Ferrari California, on the other hand, is designed for everyday use and for weekends away whilst still guaranteeing all of the emotional impact that only an authentic Ferrari can deliver.”

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo also took the new car out on the famed raceway, noting, “The California is an extraordinary car, and I was delighted with the performance, comfort and driving pleasure it delivered.”

Performance: The California’s direct-injection aluminum V8 — 12.2:1 compression — generates 460 horsepower at 7,750 rpm, with maximum torque of 368 foot pounds at 5,000 rpm — with 75 percent available at just 2,250 rpm. If you can find the place, the car will deliver speeds up to 190 mph. That great Ferrari engine-sound signature has been tuned — a crafted compromise between acoustical comfort and exhilaration. And, the sleek air intake on the hood produces power and cooling.

You direct the gearbox (seven-speed plus reverse) with steering wheel-mounted F1-style paddles. The new Launch Control button, when engaged, optimizes start accelerations by ensuring correct torque and preventing tire spin. In addition, the dual clutch — one for even-numbered gears and the other for odd-numbered ones — provides for almost no gearshifting intervals and, therefore, no torque interrupt.

Making driving easy and exciting, the manettino on the steering wheel incorporates the gearbox, stability and traction control systems (CST and F1-Trac) and the SCM suspension system. You select the level of control desired: Comfort (everyday safety and wet or slippery road surfaces); Sport (high-performance driving); and CST Off (excepting ABS, no electronic intervention: complete driver control).

The F1-Trac system — introduced on the 599 GTB Fiorano and further honed for GT conditions for the California — optimizes grip, stability and drivability while ensuring comfort. Ferrari says that it delivers 20 percent improvement in acceleration coming out of corners compared with traditional systems.

Luca di Montezemolo praises the car’s comfort and driving pleasure as well. The California’s ideal weight distribution (47 percent front to 53 percent rear), for example, reduces vibration to the bodyshell. The Cx (drag coefficient) has been cut to 10 percent lower than on the other Ferrari models, making the California more aerodynamically efficient — and adding to fuel efficiency.

In addition, ride stability is enhanced with a new suspension system of double wishbones at the front and multilink at the rear. This ensures that the car, rather than the driver, absorbs any unevenness and noise and vibration is reduced. To further enhance control and comfort, you can order the SCM Magnetorheological Suspension Control System, which debuted on the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano.

Most importantly, this is a car that provides pleasure for any level of driver, enhancing any lifestyle. The aluminum retractable hard top completes opening and closing cycles in just 14 seconds, providing generous trunk space whether it’s up or down. You can order the California, by the way, as a two-seater with a rear bench or a 2 + version, with two rear seats; the magnesium-framed seats are electrically adjustable. The two-seater accepts two roller suitcases or two golf bags, but the 2 + configuration also allows for stowage of golf bags or skis. A choice of matching luggage and interior colors is available for the first time.

The interior is as stylish and functional as the aerodynamic curves of the body. Components include the aluminum-trimmed console, the instrument panel featuring four-screen TFT Multidisplay, and an infotainment system with 6.5-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, USB connection, Bluetooth, hard disc, voice commands and IPOD connector.

The California is a safe car in any state, with an ejectable roll-bar, driver, passenger and side airbags, bi-xenon headlights and LED rear lights. Adaptive headlights — the Advanced Frontlighting System — are available as an option, automatically adjusting with your speed and angle.

“When I first heard about the California, I wasn’t sure that Ferrari could build a super-performing GT that you could take to a business appointment in the morning as readily as you could to pick the kids up from school that afternoon — and take out to the track the next day,” Simon notes. “But, they really nailed it with this car. All in all, one heck of an automobile.”