By: IOL Motoring Staff
Every Ferrari model carrying the California nameplate - right back to the 1950s - has epitomised the way Americans see the brand: elegant, sporty and, of course, convertible.
And that's still true; the 2014 Ferrari California T, due to debut at the Geneva motor show in March, is undeniably elegant (spend some time with our gallery), seriously sporty thanks to an all-new 412kW direct-injection turbo V8 and definitely convertible, with Ferrari's ultra-tidy retractable hard top morphing from coupé to cabriolet in just 14 seconds.
But the T, predictably, is all about its engine, which uses a lot of the technology developed for the 2014-spec, 1.6-litre Formula One engine to extract 412kW out of 3855cc - that's 107kW per litre, Cyril - at a conservative (by Maranello standards) 7500 revs, backed by a no-nonsense 755Nm at 4750rpm, good enough to launch the Cali T to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds and 316km/h flat out.
'VIRTUALLY ZERO TURBO LAG'
The F1 connection is very real - the Scuderia's facilities are used for some production operations, notably at the casting stage, and the compact twin-scroll turbos, for which Ferrari is claiming 'virtually zero turbo lag' and a perfectly linear torque curve, thanks to variable boost management.
One major challenge with the turbo V8, however, was a distinctly human one; how to guarantee the signature Ferrari howl. Turbocharged engines typically damp out combustion sounds and emphasise the whistling and whining of the impellers, which is fine for an Audi quattro but not for a Ferrari California.
It took some meticulous design work and specialised manufacturing techniques, such as the flat-plane crankshaft and three-piece cast-alloy exhaust manifold and turbo housing, but the new engine speaks with a spine-tingling big-bore howl, both under power and on the overrun, that Ferrari says has never before been achieved with a turbo engine.
The engine is mounted very low, almost in the middle of the chassis, for perfect poise and balance, with quicker steering and improved steering response thanks to a new steering box and suspension set-up.
Revised spring rates and upgraded Magnaride dampers (which respond 50 percent faster, says Ferrari), together with body motion accelerometers, reduce roll and pitch for more precise handling without compromising the Gran Turismo cosseting demanded by pampered Californians, while an upgraded F1-Trac traction control system lets them put foot out of corners as hard as they like without throwing the car at the scenery.
Even the carbon-ceramic brakes have been upgraded with new composite discs and pads and revised software for the antilock braking and electronic stability programmes, for a 100-0 braking distance (when the brakes are hot!) of just 34 metres, which is astonishing for a car that weighs 1625kg dry.
The cabin, trimmed throughout in luxurious Frau semi-aniline leather, has been laid out so that you can get to the boot even when the top is down, through the hatch between the “+2” rear seats and the boot.
The steering wheel features all the signature Ferrari integrated controls, while a new 'turbo performance engineer' display takes pride of place between the two air vents at the top of the centre stack - complete with a touch-sensitive trim so you can scroll through screens with information on making the most of the new engine's performance.
A second, 165mm touch-screen, lower down the centre stack, accesses a revised, more intuitive infotainment menu.
South African Ferrari distributor Viglietti Motors is moving mountains to get a few California T's into the country before the end of 2014 but nothing has been confirmed yet. Prices, as always, when they get here.