Ferrari aficionados were a trifle worried about the 2009 California. Developed with the intent of expanding Ferrari’s market beyond the highly-focused V8 mid-engined F430 and the classic V12 front-engined 612 Scagliatti and 599 GTB, would this “user-friendly” 2+2 featuring the marque’s first front-mounted V8, first twin-clutch transmission and first folding hardtop be less of a Prancing Horse and more of Mincing Pony? A trophy car for trophy wives? Would it be a real Ferrari?
Allow me to answer those questions. No. Most likely. Hell, yeah.
Prodding the California’s throttle delivers eye-widening forward thrust accompanied by a wail from the flat-plane-crank 4.3L V8 that could wake the dead — and have them cheering. Added to this is a symphony of snaps, crackles and pops while flicking through the gears of the fast-shifting seven-speed box.
Nothing sounds like a Ferrari, and with the hardtop accordioned after its 14-second ballet, you’ll feel you’re getting every penny’s worth of that $262,000 investment.
The all-aluminum California is a striking car, and here in been-there-done-that So-Cal, the red specimen I drove with optional 20-inch wheels was mobbed at every stop.
The side vents and functional hood scoop recall the 1954-1964 California 250 GTs from which this car gets its name.
The back end is a tad, er… voluptuous, but its girth is pretty well disguised by the sweeping fenders carved into the rear flanks.
Swathed in finely stitched leather, the interior is unmistakably Ferrari, especially if you go for the classic tan hide.
The back seats are pretty much unusable, so if you don’t need to carry small children the no-cost parcel shelf option seems a good idea.
The jewel of the California lies under the hood — a revised version of the F430’s 4.3L DOHC 90-degree V8 featuring Ferrari’s first application of direct injection. It delivers 453 hp and 358 lb.-ft. of torque, with 75 per cent of that twist available from 2,250 r.p.m.
It’s not all sunshine in the California, however. The standard carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes squeal, the transmission gets jerky in stop-and-go traffic, and the seats don’t offer a lot of lateral support.
The steering could be better too. It’s overly assisted and doesn’t deliver the expected feedback.
But those gripes seem to fade away when the California is in its natural environment — blasting top down along a winding inland road in (where else?) sunny California.
2009 Ferrari California
Type: Sports convertible
Price: from $262,000
Engine: 4.3L DOHC V8
Power/Torque: 453 hp; 358 lb.-ft.
• Voluptuous looks
• Ferrari-style interior