Market rules, but legislators rule the market. If the last five years has taught us anything, it’s that a change in the law – even if it’s just taxation – will have a profound effect on buyers. And if the buyers decide they want something different, any car manufacturer choosing not to oblige won’t be around long enough to explain why.
The perfect example is the change to Vehicle Excise Duty rates. Suddenly all the mainstream car manufacturers have low C02 cars which are miraculously capable of diving under the magic 100g/km barrier. Happy buyers, not so happy tax man.
Surely this doesn’t apply to sellers of dreams like Ferrari? According to the rule makers it does. Just like everyone else, Ferrari has targets to meet, and even if its typical buyers aren’t quite so concerned about scraping under the 100g/km barrier, a small saving would be welcomed.
Which is why this looks just like any Ferrari California. Very low and rakish from the nose, the bodywork flowing over the elegant wheels and up over the cabin. The bustle-back rear ends with a neat tail, and hides the extra space required to stow the folding roof without much in the way of compromise. Modern and yet with carefully contrived nods to the past, the California has presence and beauty just like a good Ferrari should.
It also lacks nothing in terms of motive power. Underneath the shark-like nose lies a revised 4.3-litre V8, which in best Ferrari tradition revs to the stars – maximum power is produced at 7,750rpm – and with 460bhp on offer this is nothing less than a full-on Ferrari. Better yet, the California gets the latest in Ferrari transmissions with a seven-speed dual clutch offering with F1 style paddles of course.
But the big difference is that this is the first Ferrari to get stop/start technology – the same kind of thing that eco-hatches have, but inevitably with Ferrari sophistication. It’s also worth bearing in mind that keeping a high-revving, monster output V8 engine happy when stopping and starting like this is a little more challenging than in your average city car, but the California can do it seamlessly – starting up within 230 milliseconds, just a fraction slower than its quick-fire gearchanges. The result is spectacular, with the California now capable of emitting just 270g/km, the same as some diesel SUVs.
This is a 2+2 with a folding roof too, so although the rear seats are for the committed, dropping the roof takes a mater of seconds yet provides proper security and comfort when in place. The cabin also contributes greatly to the lack of unwanted drama: this is a simple cabin that is easy to operate and understand, requiring little effort from the driver and there’s no need for the passenger to keep their ears shut on the move.
It seems absurd to say so, but the California is the most comfortable and relaxing car to drive to come from Ferrari in some time. Long motorway journeys are simply despatched, and the sensitive steering settles down when on the move, requiring nothing more than a steady hand. Noise levels also fade away at a cruise, and the ride quality is impressive given the obvious tautness of the suspension.
Surely Ferrari hasn’t gone all soft then? Not a bit of it. Start flicking the paddles and using all the revs, and the California displays all of the breeding that the prancing horse is famous for. The engine climbs beautifully through the rev range, with serious shove even from low revs combined with a devastating blare from the exhaust. The rapid-fire transmission makes it a cinch to keep the engine in the best part of the rev range, and the paddle shifters mean you can keep both hands on the wheel.
Despite the brutality of the performance the handling and steering are delicately balanced, responding best to metered inputs and a smooth, considered approach. As with other Ferraris the manettino switch allows the driver to tune the stability control and gearbox settings to suit the conditions – and their skills, which means the California can be enjoyed more of the time.
This is a car to be enjoyed after all, and it certainly comes with all the right ingredients for a pleasurable drive. But a scything cut in emission levels allows the driver to enjoy it even more, knowing that even this six-figure supercar is cleaner and greener than before. Few rivals can claim such an impressive range of talents.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Ferrari California, £143,870
Engine: 4.3-litre petrol unit producing 460bhp and 357 lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch gearbox driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 193mph, 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds
Economy: 21.6mpg combined
By Matt Joy