Everyone should have a ‘bucket list’ – a checklist of things to do before kicking the bucket. Yours might include a meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant, a bungee jump or running a marathon dressed as a rhino. Mine was driving a Ferrari.
Now, I should explain that, in eight years as a journalist, I’ve been lucky enough to drive Aston Martins, McLarens, Porsches and plenty more, so I’m not entirely unqualified to write this review. But all thoughts of rigorous road-testing go out of the window as I board my flight to Pisa. What’s even better than driving a new Ferrari? Driving a new Ferrari in Italy. The car in question is the California T Handling Speciale, a more focused take on Ferrari’s V8-engined GT. Available as a £5,568 option when you splash out £155,230 on a new California T, the Handling Speciale pack is designed to offer a sharper, sportier driving experience. A sporty Ferrari – whatever next?
Updates include stiffer suspension with adaptive Magneride dampers (usually a £3,168 option), a quickershifting dual-clutch gearbox and – pay attention, poseurs – a louder exhaust. There’s no extra performance, but 62mph in 3.6 seconds and 196mph flat out should suffice. In the words of Ferrari’s product manager: “The California is already fast enough.”
Leaving the hotel car park, I immediately entered a maelstrom of feisty Fiats and suicidal scooters. Fortunately, the Ferrari does its best to put me at ease. There’s lots of low-down torque from its 3.90-litre twinturbocharged V8, and its gearbox defaults to automatic mode, leaving me to concentrate on keeping that gleaming Rosso Corsa paintwork intact.
Traffic thinned as I climbed into the Tuscan hills, so I switched the F1style Manettino dial to Sport mode, clicked the carbon fibre gearshift paddle back twice and buried the throttle. Oooof! It may be a ‘softer’ Ferrari, but the California T is still savagely, brain-scramblingly quick.
The steering is light, but very direct, and – should you happen upon a mountain road with only crows for company – it’s remarkably easy to go sideways. After several recent drives in 4WD sports cars, the Ferrari’s lairy, rear-wheel drive attitude is refreshing. It’s the kind of car you want to keep driving until you miss your flight home. And I very nearly did.
The Handling Speciale isn’t perfect, though. Ferrari showed us no less than five graphs to reveal how the new exhaust was tuned, but it doesn’t sound all that special. Blame the turbos, which growl and roar, but rob the V8 of any high-pitched wail.
Also, the California’s size and weight mean it doesn’t have the agility of, say, a McLaren 650S. But this is a supercar you could drive every day, with decent ride comfort and effortless cruising ability. It even has a pair of (toddler-sized) rear seats and a boot big enough for two sets of golf clubs.
Driving the California T Handling Speciale in Tuscany was a genuinely special experience. Everywhere I went, camera phones were pointed, thumbs were held aloft and old men nodded appreciatively. Italians are rightly proud of Ferrari, and they make you feel like a local hero for driving one.
In the UK, the Prancing Horse’s image is a little more mixed, sullied by the patronage of Premiership footballers and a mountain of tacky merchandise. So while I adored driving the California on home turf, I wouldn’t buy one; the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet is faster, sharper to drive and less attention-grabbing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to a rhino costume fitting…