2012 Ferrari California review

2012-Ferrari-California This is the tweaked version of the front-engined folding-hard-top Ferrari California.

Back in 2008, Ferrari had a nail that absolutely had to be hit – it wanted new customers, and it wanted a different type of customer to the traditional fan of more hardcore Ferraris.

Despite criticism at the time of the California being too fat, too soft and too slow, it has actually proved to be an extremely heavy and well placed hammer; a full 70% of California buyers are new to the Ferrari brand. Many of them use their California every day, too.

Nonetheless, this new version is 30kg lighter with no loss of stiffness, thanks to Ferrari's continuing research into new alloy techniques.

It's also a bit firmer and has 30bhp more to appease those who wanted it to offer a more invigorating driving experience. The 483bhp 4.3-litre V8 engine also develops more torque at all revs, with a particular emphasis on the mid-range (3000rpm-upwards).

Ferrari is also offering a Handling Speciale pack on the California for £4320, which includes a quicker steering rack and still-firmer suspension settings. The company reckons 15% of California buyers will go down this route.

What's the 2012 Ferrari California like to drive?

We drove both versions of the car on a sodden day in Italy, starting with the HS-equipped model.

For a start, the extra power and torque are immediately noticeable. No longer are you obliged to explore the upper reaches of the rev counter to make the California really hustle.

Now it gets up and goes from far lower revs, which makes purposeful everyday progress less demanding than it was before. It also means that when you leave the gearbox to its own devices and it shuffles up into the most emissions-friendly ratio as soon as possible, the California will still accelerate briskly when you extend your ankle.

Of course, when the time comes, you'll want to take over yourself and click the steering-wheel-mounted dial into Sport mode. This firms up the dampers slightly, sharpens the throttle and puts the gearbox software into Defcon 2 alert. Changes become whipcrack-quick, and there's a slight thump as each new ratio engages.

The 0-62mph dash is over in just 3.8 seconds, top speed is 194mph, and the California now feels like it can do justice to those numbers.

However, the HS package isn't ideal. On the battle-scarred and drenched roads of our test route, the California HS sometimes felt too firm, a bit skittish, and struggled to put down its power. The steering also feels too sharp and hyperactive, and doesn't offer enough feedback.

We reckon that UK buyers will be far more at home in the updated California without the HS package, which felt much more of a cohesive package than its predecessor and the HS car.

The steering feels more natural, which gives much more confidence when placing the car in corners. The non-HS settings also allow the California to ‘breathe' with the road surface, which means turn-in is consistently strong, mid-corner grip is absolute, and traction good on the way out of turns.

The original California as criticised for poor body control, but the face-lifted car deals with its still-considerable 1735kg heft well. There's less body roll, and less pitching under braking and acceleration.

It rides reasonably well, too, in non-HS spec, but the Handling Speciale car allowed a little too many patters and thumps through. It would work well on smoother roads, or a track, but you've still got that overly sensitive steering to deal with.

What's the 2012 Ferrari California like inside?

The same as ever, so you get a good, roomy, multi-adjustable driving position for starters.

The California's cabin is trimmed in beautiful materials, but of course with Ferrari's tailor-made service, you can have pretty much whichever combination of trims and material your wallet desires. You fancy a cabin decked out in denim, with a wood-lined boot area? You can have it, although that might just massacre any chance of selling your California on.

You can have your California with just two seats are as a 2+2. Should you go for the latter option, you'd be wise to regard the two rear seats as simply extra luggage space, because they're too small for adults and too small for kids in child seats.

The boot is a reasonable size, but obviously shrinks considerably once you put down the roof.

Should I buy one?

Plenty have already, and anecdotal evidence suggests quite a few of them are sticking with the brand when replacement time comes around, so you won't go far wrong.

The California is backed up by a four-year warranty, so Ferrari clearly has faith in its product, and it also comes with a seven-year servicing programme that's included in the price. There's no mileage limit on this, either.

For the record, the California will do an average of 24.6mpg and will cost a medium-sized fortune in company car tax, should you be so lucky.

If you're thinking about trading up from your Merc SL or simply looking at an alternative to the DB9 Volante, the Ferrari California should be near the top of your list.

However, we reckon that the HS package is a step too far for UK roads. The standard car is a far better overall proposition to live with every day, which is exactly what Ferrari expects many California buyers to do. It's the one we'd choose.

What car?