Full 2011 Ferrari California Review
What's New for 2011
A new system dubbed HELE, for High Emotion Low Emissions, has been added to the California in an attempt to reduce its emissions without sacrificing performance. The system consists of a start/stop feature, a variable fuel pump, intelligent engine fan control and an adaptive transmission that will optimize shifts during city driving to improve mileage.
California is a different sort of state and it's a different sort of Ferrari, too. The storied Italian automaker has produced numerous front-engine GT cars, but none have been powered by a V8 and a scarce few have been convertibles. Enter the 2011 Ferrari California, which not only has a front-mounted V8, but it has a fancy retractable hardtop that yields a level of refinement and all-weather assuredness that makes its recent predecessors seem preposterously primitive by comparison.
If it seems odd to focus on the California's roof, that's because this is a different sort of Ferrari with a different sort of intended buyer. While Ferrari reckons many buyers will be female, the bigger shift is that comfort, practicality and luxury are of greater importance than high-speed thrills. That folding metal hardtop is perhaps the most telling indicator of this, as it adds a lot of weight in exchange for reduced top-up noise, greater refinement and general panache that goes along with this increasingly ubiquitous convertible design. Regrettably, the space needed for the mechanical roof has resulted in rather awkward rear-end styling, something that even Ferrari's stylists can't escape from).
At first it sounds as if the California is destined to be placed on the Wall of Prancing Horse Shame alongside the 400 and 412. But despite its concessions to comfort and refinement, we're happy to report the California proves the naysayers wrong. The 4.3-liter V8 makes all the proper Ferrari sounds, and with 453 horsepower, it pulls wickedly like one, too. The California is the first Ferrari to get a dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Not only does it rip off rapid, F1-style shifts, it does so without the low-speed herky-jerky motions of the single-clutch automated manuals found in previous Ferraris.
Even if the California is better suited for inspired drives up the coast or a flashy cruise into town, it's important to note that Ferrari didn't forget that its cars need to go around corners, too. The California may not be a lightweight, but the pounds it carries are at least well distributed 47:53 front-rear. It's surprisingly agile and an easy car to drive hard -- perfect for the first-timers Ferrari anticipates the California will attract.
Of course, there are a handful of truly special grand touring convertibles to attract such buyers. In the 2011 Ferrari California's price range is the 2011 Aston Martin DB9 Volante, while the 2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster, the 2011 Audi R8 Spyder and the 2011 Maserati GranTurismo are notably cheaper. None have the Ferrari's hardtop convertible, but all are arguably much prettier because of it. Of course, none of these is a Ferrari. Just like the state, the California has an appeal all its own.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Ferrari California retractable-hardtop convertible comes standard with 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, the "manettino" steering wheel knob for adjustable vehicle settings, full leather interior, fold-down rear seatback, a trip computer, hard-drive navigation system and a CD player sound system with touchscreen interface.
Options are extensive, as Ferraris are highly customizable -- there are myriad exterior paint and interior leather color choices available. More typical optional items include diamond-finish wheels in 19- and 20-inch sizes, run-flat tires, adaptive headlights, adjustable suspension, front parking sensors, rearview camera, cruise control, auto-dimming mirrors, carbon-fiber aerodynamic enhancements, faux-suede upholstery, full power seats, different seat designs ("Daytona" style, diamond-quilted and carbon-fiber racing in three available sizes), an upgraded sound system and an iPod interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive Ferrari California is powered by a 4.3-liter V8 that cranks out 460 hp and 357 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual is the only available transmission. According to Ferrari, the California is capable of sprinting from zero to 60 mph in fewer than 4 seconds. Should you in any way care, the California gets an estimated 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, an automatically deploying rollbar, and stability and traction control are standard on the 2011 Ferrari California.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like every current Ferrari, the new California has an interior befitting its lofty price. There's leather everywhere (available in multi-tone combinations), and the overall design is contemporary and sharp. The steering-wheel-mounted "manettino" knob gives the driver control over a wide range of dynamic vehicle functions. The touchscreen entertainment system offers a variety of virtues, from hard-drive music storage and available iPod connectivity, but it is essentially a silver-painted version of the head unit available in most Chrysler group products. That association in a $200,000 Ferrari is bad enough, but its below-average functionality is worse.
The California's rear seat is so cramped that it would be silly not to get the rear parcel shelf instead -- it looks nicer, and the seatback folds down either way. Trunk space with the top up is an impressive 12 cubic feet, and there's still a usable 8.5 cubic feet left over with the top down.
Weighing about 3,800 pounds, the 2011 Ferrari California is hardly an elemental sports car. Nonetheless, the California's road manners are exemplary, with a relatively smooth ride for cruising and handling that's sharp enough to justify the prancing horse badge. When it was introduced, many wanted to dismiss the California as a flaccid poseur's car, but driving it quickly proved any such assumptions wrong. The direct-injected V8 pulls hard and sounds amazing, while the new dual-clutch transmission is polished and efficient whether you're banging through the gears on back roads or puttering around town in automatic mode. And thanks to the retractable hardtop, coupelike refinement at speed is also on the California's résumé.