What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Ferrari California is essentially unchanged.
As anyone who has traveled through it can attest, the state of California has (at least) a couple of distinct personalities. Fittingly enough, so does a Ferrari that goes by the same name. Thanks to its retractable hardtop and refined yet powerful performance, the 2012 Ferrari California can provide the comfort and security of a grand touring coupe or the sunny exposure and more thrilling experience of an exotic roadster. Although Ferrari has produced a number of front-engine GT cars, this California is the first Ferrari to sport a V8 (as opposed to the more typical V12) up front, and it's also the company's first convertible to offer the considerable advantages of a retractable hardtop.
That folding metal top gives a strong clue as to the Ferrari's intended buyer. The company figures that most buyers of the California will deem comfort and practicality more important than raw-edged, high-speed thrills. In exchange for its considerably heavier weight (as opposed to a soft cloth top), the retractable hardtop provides a quieter top-up interior as well as better isolation from severe weather and greater security. Unfortunately, the space needed to house the hideaway top results in rather bulky and awkward rear-end styling.
It may sound as if the 2012 Ferrari California is destined for a spot on Maranello's Wall of Shame, right alongside the 400/412 and Mondial. But no worries there, as the California's direct-injected V8 cranks out 453 horsepower and makes all the right Ferrari noises. Furthermore, the California was the first Ferrari to get a dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Not only does it click 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.
Although the California will likely see more drives up the coast or trips to fancy downtown restaurants than along mountain roads, that's not to say it can't dance. Weighing in at nearly 2 tons, the California is no lightweight, but those pounds are well distributed at 47/53 front/rear. It's surprisingly agile and an easy car to drive hard -- perfect for the first-time Ferrari owners the company anticipates the California will attract.
The 2012 Ferrari California isn't the only exotic grand touring convertible out there. The 2012 Aston Martin DB9 Volante and 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG are in the California's price range, while cars like the Audi R8 Spyder and Maserati's GranTurismo are notably less expensive. None have the Ferrari's retractable hardtop roof, 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 2012 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, adaptive suspension dampers, front parking sensors, a 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), an upgraded sound system and an iPod interface.
For those concerned about the environment and wasting fuel, Ferrari offers an optional package whose highlights include automatic stop/start (engine shuts off while the car is stopped, then restarts when it's time to go) and an adaptive transmission (that optimizes shifts during city driving to improve mileage).
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive Ferrari California is powered by a 4.3-liter V8 that cranks out 453 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 and hitting a top speed of 193 mph. Fuel economy estimates are 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 2012 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 to 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 2012 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 V8 pulls hard and sounds amazing, while the 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.