2017 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale First Drive

Posted on Apr 20 2016 - 5:59am by Jeff Dunham

There was a time when snow, rain, and even thick traffic were higher up the list of Ferrari’s enemies thanPorsche. These were mostly weekend cars, but even wet roads would see them snugly tucked up in their heated garages, and not just because to avoid scrubbing muddy shoe prints out of the carpets. Some of them were difficult enough to handle in the dry, and slick pavement sure didn’t make them any more tolerant.

2017 Ferrari

The hottest modern Ferraris still don’t enjoy being stuck in heavy traffic. Not for any mechanical reasons, mind you. They just don’t bother hiding their utter disregard for the mundane, or their disregard for a driver forcing them to endure it, because they feel it’s beneath them. And it is.

That’s where the California came in. Launched in 2008, the retractable-hardtop convertible is the most approachable in the company’s range. It was aimed at newly moneyed buyers who weren’t saturated insupercar folklore and wanted the badge, but not necessarily all of that attitude. Some, but not all.

There are those California buyers who want the convenience with a little more attitude and the trademark crankiness. So, as it did with the original California, Ferrari has added a Handling Speciale Package to the new turbocharged California T’s repertoire. This $8,120 option turns the least expensive Ferrari into something that’s stiffer and faster and more fun, and the trade-off is a slightly firmer ride, all the time.There are few things that generate mechanical wonder like coming into a tight corner in the California T Handling Speciale. Mash the Brembos down onto their carbon-ceramic brake discs on approach, tug gently on the left paddle, and the Ferrari snaps down another gear. It’s done, cracking home with an audibly savagebraaap, almost before your nerves have finished telling your finger muscles to contract.

It’s also fabulously fast, blistering to 62 mph in 3.6 seconds, punching on to 124 mph just 7.6 seconds later. And this is the “everyday” Ferrari.

It’s imperfect, though. Cruising in an aggressive setting will assail you with a constant-throttle drone so annoyingly monotonous that you’ll have to reach for the manettino to change modes and back the noise off sooner or later. So do it sooner. The only major difference between the noise levels top up or down is that with the roof in place the hardtop circulates some of it around the cabin a little better. The sad news is that the car still has to be stationary before Ferrari will let you put the top up or down.

The noise is one thing, but Ferrari is really pushing the added handling prowess, and it’s right to, but the engineers are not telling the whole story. Up in the mountains, the car’s handling was sure-footed, sharp, crisp, and aggressive, and its grip levels and balance were nice and clean. But it never quite reached the levels we were expecting. There was nothing scary about it, but we’d hoped for better pull out of corners and wanted its understeer limits pushed further north. Don’t read that to be a negative, because both of those things occurred at ferociously high speeds in real terms. We just expected it to give a little more.

We found that missing something by pushing the car’s Bumpy Road button. That transformed it into the car we always hoped it might be. First suggested by Michael Schumacher for the 430 Scuderia, the Bumpy Road button keeps the damper rebound settings soft even in the car’s sportiest powertrain and skid-control modes. Push it and the Handling Speciale shines; it should be thought of as the default setting for anybody who ever drives or owns one. The car might not feel as pointy or sharp, but it does everything better this way. The balance seems to shift further rearward, making the car handle more neutrally mid-corner and, especially, from the point where the driver picks up the throttle again. It lets the tires keep hugging the tarmac, where they just marginally, but frequently, bounce out of contact if the dampers are left to full manettino control.