2017 Ferrari California with HS “Handling Speciale” option – By Danny Baker
Arriving in the US in 2010, the Ferrari California has been widely panned by critics, but now, in its current “T” for “Turbo” form, it has evolved into a relevant exotic that is a blast to drive and easy to live with. The Cali T that I drove was optioned with the newly offered “Handling Speciale” or “HS” package, which is basically a Cali T with a sports suspension. BMW guys may think of it as the equivalent of an M Sport package and American car enthusiasts can draw parallels to an RS package on a Camaro.
First the details: Ferrari says that the 2017 Ferrari California T has 560 hp which comes from a 3.9L V8 with Dual Overhead Cams and Twin Turbo Charging. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 7 speed dual clutch gearbox that is controlled via steering column mounted paddle shifts. The car features an Auto mode, which is great for around town and in traffic. It goes 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds and tops out at 197 mph.
But do any of these stats really matter?
Having been fortunate enough to have driven pretty much every late model sports and exotic car, I can safely say, NO! The statistics about the California T don’t matter much, nor do they epitomize the California T as a “Ferrari”. What matters most about the Ferrari California T is how the car looks and how it makes you feel! Just look at the pictures of this beautiful car. It hits all major design elements of a beautiful sports car: long nose, high belt line, aggressive rake on the windshield frame, proportionately large and aggressive wheels, menacing headlights, tons of functional aerodynamics and so much more. The model I drove for this feature had Yellow Brake Calipers that nicely complemented the “Scuderia Shields” that adorn the front fenders – a symbol of Ferrari’s stable – paying homage to racing cars of Ferrari’s past. For athletics, the HS package gives the California T a somewhat dark and menacing look with a dark egg crate style front grill insert, matte black exhaust tips, rear diffuser and lower rear apron.
On the inside, the Ferrari California T feels sporty and purposeful, but also features a nice element of luxury. The interior of the Ferrari California T greets you with powdery smooth Connolly leather, a staple of the brands interiors. Having actually visited the Factory in Maranello several times and toured Ferrari’s production facilities, I can confidently say that it takes two people nearly two full days to hand stitch the interiors of the California Ts. The abundance of leather is complemented by billet aluminum which feels strong and durable to the touch. It reminds you that function over form is often a state of mind in Ferrari car design and that there is a simply beauty and elegance of such technical and functional materials in the cockpit of a sports car. The black seats are trimmed in a contrasting light silver and stitching in the same colored thread is used throughout the interior. The dash is neatly organized with bulls-eye style air vents and a straight forward instrument cluster with the central element being a yellow Tachometer, almost reminding the driver to “shift with your eyes and not your ears” as the car gets fairly loud even at low rpms. There is a cup holder and a nice backseat, though not reasonably large enough for a full -size human, it makes a decent shelf to store bags and other peripherals. There is even a pass through from the trunk for longer items like golf clubs confirming that Ferrari actually did design this car for daily ease.
Like many of today’s great sports and GT cars, the California T is a hardtop convertible. The top is made mostly out of aluminum and folds into the trunk in less than 30 seconds. It’s simple to use, just a push of the button retracts the top and the same button brings it back up. The windows rise nicely into the top when it is in the “up” position and they can also be raised with the top folded down to create a wind buffer from the side. I think the car looks great with the top up or down. Something that I cannot say about most convertibles, especially those that feature a soft top.
Out on the open road is where the California T really shines. It has plenty of power to pass just about anything out there. The gear changes are lightning quick at high speed and even smooth around town and in traffic, which was something that the older Californias suffered from – clunky gear changes at slow speeds. You can hardly feel turbo lag – it’s virtually non-existent – but you can hear them whistle as they spool angrily with every hard acceleration. The handling is superb, thanks mostly to the new “HS” packages which gives the car a sports suspension that lowers the ride height slightly and eliminates most of the body roll, pitch and dive that comes with hard cornering and braking. The California T pilots around curvy roads with a very flat road presence and gives the driver strong confidence to accelerate hard without the back end coming loose. The HS package also adds a minor increase to the exhaust note, which is tuned to give the car a nice wail athigh rpm and a growl while launching from a stop.
The California T is the pathway into the Ferrari brand with half of them being sold to customers new to the marque. I think Ferrari did a great job with the California T. It looks the part of a true Italian exotic, but is also technologically advanced, smooth to drive around town and has enough room in the cockpit to make it useable. In a way, it’s dynamic perfection in a sports car and the HS package is simply icing on the cake.