Cruising California

Experience Ferrari’s luxury Formula One cruiser

In the recent past, Ferrari has emphasized rear- or mid-engine cars with sleek, low bodies by following Formula One racing technology. With the brand-new Ferrari California, which is a remake of models produced in the 1950s, Ferrari has hit upon Formula One performance and features in a practical and luxurious package.

Besides a taller overall look, the California is front-engined and offers rear-drive with sterling performance. Power is provided with a 4.3 liter V-8, which produces 460 horsepower feeding to the independent rear-end through a seven-speed double clutch transmission.

This model is a true hardtop convertible. With the push of a button, the trunk opens up and swallows the hardtop, ultimately hiding the top completely. This process takes about 15 seconds.

The overall look is classic Ferrari, with an oval-shaped grill and the traditional Ferrari horse in the center. To keep the rear end from lifting at its 190-plus top speed, a subtle spoiler is located at the top end of the trunk, and a true diffuser is at the bottom of the rear bumper, surrounded by four exhaust pipes. It is a design that is good-looking, but distinctly Ferrari.

But the price of admission is in the California’s stellar driving, handling and cornering. Press the red “start” button, and a throaty, deep sound comes from the four exhaust pipes. Shifting with the sequential seven-speed can be handled in two ways. Push the “auto” button, and the computer runs the show much like any automatic. Hit the large paddles behind the steering wheel, and that tells Mr. Computer to drop out, letting the driver select gears by tapping either the up or down paddle.

Give this baby a little throttle in the city streets with some buildings on either side, and you could swear you were at a Formula One race. Shifts are instantaneous, with echos of the V-8 going through the gears and sounding off thunderous gear-changing blips. No need to lift off the throttle.

And there is one more transmission/throttle button choice. This is called, very descriptively, “launch.” Step on the brake and throttle at the same time; push the “launch” button and let go of the brake, and the computer applies all the torque to the pavement without spinning the tires. Result: 0-60 in a little less than four seconds.

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