Entry Level Exotics: Ferrari California

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Brand purists hate it and Hollywood types love it. The Ferrari California may be somewhat controversial but it's still a true prancing horse in every way.

Unlike the Boxster, the Ferrari California hasn't earned quite as much approval from the legions of the brand's faithful. It's cheaper than any other car which Ferrari currently makes, and is quite a lot cheaper than any other Ferrari GT. It also accounts for 50 percent of Ferrari's sales, which means it has singlehandedly hugely diminished the prancing horse's exclusivity. But like the other cars in this series, it rakes in the cash, so you can bet it's here to stay. The name of the California comes from the old 250 GT California of the late Fifties.

Ironically, this was a hyper-exclusive model, with only just over a hundred built, counting both LWB and SWB models. Today these are some of the most valuable cars in existence, selling for more than 50 times the price of a new California. Of course, there's really no comparison, and the big similarity between the cars which Ferrari seems to be highlighting is that they are both convertibles. But this is perhaps a bigger deal than it seems. The California is the first Ferrari to be offered with a folding metal roof, a nice touch which is one of many included by Ferrari in order to make the California one of their easiest to live with models ever.

This was actually one of a few firsts for the California. It being the first front-engine V8 Ferrari has certainly been the focus of much of the California's criticism, but it being the first Ferrari with direct gasoline injection has been pretty much ok with everyone. It was also the first Ferrari with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission or multi-link rear suspension, but these are perhaps less dramatic than the first two. The 4.3-liter V8 puts out 454 horsepower, a very good figure for a naturally-aspirated engine. The engine also produces some of the greatest V8 noise in the world. Being a GT car, speed is not really supposed to be the California's primary concern.

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For those who want both supercar speed and GT comforts, you can still probably find some 599s on dealer lots, and there will soon be the F12berlinetta as well. But that will cost you a lot more, and this brings us to what is arguably the California's most important feature, its price. Base price is $194,000, which is $36,000 less than the base price of the 458 and more than $100,000 cheaper than any of Ferrari's other cars. Then there is the matter of exclusivity. Ferrari builds so few units of the 458 that it's theoretically possible that someone could have the money to spend and not be able to actually get their hands on one.

This is something which Ferrari has always done on purpose. But that's not likely to be much of an issue with the California, and about 60 percent of California buyers are new to the brand, something some 599 GTO owners are likely to be a bit sore about. There are rumors that the California began development as a new Maserati model, but as the price ticked north during development a decision was made to switch badges. Ferrari strongly denies this, but the front-mounted V8, lower price and overall softness and livability of the car do seem to support the rumor, and Ferrari would never, ever admit to this even if it was true.

This rumor hasn't helped the perception that the California isn't a proper Ferrari, but a quick drive in one is usually all it takes to make you feel better about the prancing horses on the fenders. It can hit 60mph in under four seconds (3.7 seconds for the 2013 model) and has a top speed of 194mph. Those might not be Ferrari's fastest numbers, but they are Ferrari numbers. In fact, thanks largely to the transmission, it gets to 60 faster than the F430, a car which was briefly sold alongside it. The car handles quite well too, and is surprisingly light (3,594lbs) for a car with a folding metal roof.

With its 0.32 coefficient of drag, it is currently the most aerodynamic Ferrari road car ever, at least until the F12berlinetta hits dealerships. But this aerodynamic shape does come at a price. We could safely say that the Pininfarina design has been a bit controversial. It is a rather busy design, and although it can grow on you, it does not always make the best first impression. In truth, the California is actually a very good car, and the perceived issues with it have in no way curbed its popularity. Ferrari is, at the end of the day, a business, and the California has made them a bundle of new money without jeopardizing sales of traditional models.

Along with the Porsche Cayenne (a major money maker for that brand as well), it shows that brand purists don't always exactly have the best interests of that brand in mind.


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