Ferrari's California T Touts a Twin-Turbocharged V8 at a Price Tag of $200K

Courtesy of Ferrari
Ferrari California T

From Steve McQueen to Justin Bieber, Ferrari has long been one of Hollywood's favorite rides. The California T convertible may well be the most beautiful of them all — and perfect for fun all summer long.

Ferrari has long had a co-dependence with Hollywood. To celebrate the marque’s 60th anniversary in 2014, it lined Rodeo Drive with 1,000 Ferraris, including the 308 GTS driven by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., Sonny Crockett's Testarossa from Miami Vice and the 275 GTB/4 owned by Hollywood’s most sainted gearhead, Steve McQueen. Would that Justin Bieber, who regularly takes to Instagram to post selfies with his multimillion-dollar motor pool, including an electric blue Ferrari 458, or Kylie Jenner, who drives a much-modded 458 herself, be so, well, grounded?

I was reflecting on this as I drove a crimson 2016 Ferrari California T through the streets of Santa Monica recently. At $200,000, the California T is Ferrari’s least expensive model but still a supercar in every sense of the word, with 557 unbridled horses of power and a top speed of 196 mph. It is meant to be the “affordable” coltish cousin of Ferrari’s fearsome stallions, plausible as a daily driver but still delivering classic Ferrari performance upon demand. The car’s eyeball-flattening naught to 60 time of 3.3. seconds is thanks to that “T”— a massive twin-turbocharged V8 that purrs like a kitten around town but snarls like a bobcat when you drop the pedal and the seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission gets busy. There are three performance modes: comfort, sport and (gulp) race, which jettisons the traction control, tightens the suspension and unleashes the California T’s inner stallion. (EPA estimated mileage is 16/23, but that goes out the window if the car is driven with any kind of exuberance.)

Climbing into the cabin, with its fragrant, crisply stitched leathers, firm but not punishing buckets, drilled racecar-style aluminum pedals and carbon fiber accents (and a snazzy "California" logo on the passenger-side dash), is to enter a parallel universe where driving a car capable of 747 takeoff speeds can feel as cosseting as a Cadillac, at least compared to brutal supercar standards. The steering is so precise it’s as if the car is laying down its own track with every foot it travels, and the exhaust is tuned so that atmospheric snarls and pops accompany every downshift. The carbon-ceramic brakes are a little grabby in city driving until you get the hang of feathering them but bring the car to a halt from 70 mph in about the same distance as a Gisele Bundchen turn on the catwalk. 

It’s a mostly flawless execution save for some inexplicable eccentricities, like replacing turn-signal stalks with buttons mounted at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel, which seems sensible until you try to engage them when the wheel is anywhere but in the center position. Starting such a putatively advanced car is an exercise in nostalgia and multitasking, requiring the insertion of an actual key while pressing a red button located, again, on the steering wheel. Meanwhile, the options pricing is one of the more shameless in luxury autodom — adding Apple’s CarPlay, which enables an iPhone to be controlled through the infotainment screen, will run you $4,210; add a breathtaking $12,486 for the admittedly stunning Rosso California paint job. At these prices, the $8,120 Handling Speciale Package, which delivers snappier shifts from the transmission and even tauter performance from the suspension, is practically a bargain.

Purists will probably howl, but — from slanting nose to bodacious butt — the California T may well be Ferrari’s most beautiful car, recombining several decades of hot car tropes, from Ferraris of yore to the more recent works of Maserati, Aston Martin and even Chevrolet’s Corvette. In a town where radically rendered supercar iron barely rates a second look (and occasionally an eye-roll), the California T inspires longing glances from fellow sporting car drivers as well as from women who looked to be sensibly indifferent to high-testosterone transport. This may be the first Ferrari that's both a chick — and chic — magnet.