2013 Ferrari California Handling Speciale
Teamspeed First Drive: 2013 Ferrari California Handling Speciale
This Italian hard top drop top gets hardcore.
Text by Peter Burgess- Teamspeed European Editor
What is it? All 2013 Californias get more power and less weight. The Handling Speciale option adds the chassis dynamics you may have always been looking for. Why do I care? If you’re of the opinion that the California is a soft, West Coast Ferrari for bleached blonds, you’ve probably never driven it. Now you can. It’s toughened up.
How fast is it?4,297 V8, 490hp@7,750rpm, 372lb ft@5,000rpm, 0-62mph 3.8sec, 194mph vmax
I’ll be upfront right away. I respect you Teamspeed guys (and gals) too much to pull the wool over your eyes. I got to drive this Handling Speciale version of the 2013 Ferrari California in the wet. In the hills above Maranello I had three hours in the car. The roads were awash with water streaming down the grass banks. Roberto, Ferrari’s brilliant photographer, huddled with his assistant holding the umbrella and did his usual impeccable job. Moody? Yes. Good conditions for subtle car evaluation? No.
I’d already had a fraught 24 hours. Previously I’d been in the depths of English countryside, the Cotswolds, driving the new Mini Roadster, then a two-hour drive to the airport turned into double that due to traffic. Thankfully there’s the reassurance of the Ferrari chauffeur service waiting at Bologna airport at midnight, a Lancia Phedra minivan tricked out inside to look like it had gone through the leather shop in Maranello. And so to an early call for the short trip from the Maranello Palace Hotel (not even half as grand as it sounds) to the new Ferrari factory entrance across the way. I and a few others are here to get the lowdown on the revised California before our drive. We are primed that there has already been a different reaction to the car from those on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Three years down the line, the California gets a facelift. It’s not the sort you readily notice, for there are virtually no tell tale signs. Instead there’s extra power and less weight and the new Handling Speciale chassis option.
Let’s start with the power. The 4.3-liter V8 now has a reed valve in the crankcase to reduce blow-by pressure from the pistons on the downward stroke. That and a revised exhaust manifold result in an additional 30hp, now 490hp. The changes to the chassis are far more radical. Ferraris has reconsidered everything, so although it looks the same in bare form (we later visited the Carrozzeria Scaglietti factory to look see) there are twelve aluminum alloys instead of eight previously with 60% of the parts all new. This is all to save a mere 30kg, which seems a hell of an expense and effort on a car for which just 8,000 have been built until now, and probably a similar number will be until the next California comes along. Yet Ferrari insists this is all groundwork for the next generation. The final part of the equation is the Handling Speciale chassis. For a few thousand dollars the front and rear springs are stiffened by 15% and 11% respectively, the steering is 9% faster and the new computer logic to the SCM suspension control cuts down on body roll in the corners.
2013 California on the road
There are those who reckon the California is, well, a bit soft. It’s an understandable point of view, but one I’ve never subscribed to. Sure, the cheapest Ferrari can be driven around in automatic mode with as little fuss as an Audi TT. But when you dig into the lexicon of hidden attributes, it’s as stimulating as a Ferrari should be, a thrilling machine that offers increasingly greater rewards the more you ask of it. You could drive around in the California all day, every day, without tapping into more than a third of its potential, or even realizing it exists. The seven-speed double-clutch transition has a user-friendly Auto mode, and with the Manettino switch on the steering wheel set to Comfort, all is sweetness and light.
Dig deeper, though, and there’s explosive performance for the asking. Switching the Manettino to Sport sharpens up the responses and then it’s a matter of pressing the throttle as hard as you dare.
The California gets illegally fast in blink of an eyelid. 62mph is reached in 3.8 seconds, the top speed is 194mph. Obviously it’s no pussycat, but then there’s never any doubt from the cacophonous roar of the V8. This is a simply thrilling car to drive. It’s hard to conclude much about the extra horsepower, lower weight and resultant improvements in power-to-weight ratio. With the numbers of the original car already impressive, the small extra dose is hard to detect on the wet roads in the hills around the Ferrari factory. More apparent is the boost in torque in the mid-range, giving the California more thrust from 3,000 rpm, and thus a punchy, easier manner when driving fast but not flat out. It’s fun leaving the drive in Sport Auto and then playing with the paddle shifts at the corners or when overtaking. After a bit it defaults back to automatic mode, but even then if you are driving hard the downshifts come quickly one after another when you are braking for a bend. It’s very satisfying.
A GT3 to the 911? Not really, for the difference between the two Porsches is much more marked, but you get the idea. If you want to take your California on a track day, then you’ll want this chassis. The faster steering is fabulous. Once you hit winding roads, the occasions when you need to cross your arms or move your hands on the wheel are halved. I love it just for this. The stiffer chassis is more contentious. Oddly, though it is firmer around town, it’s sort of what you expect and never becomes uncomfortable. Stick the Manettino in Sport and hit 100mph plus, and it’s surprising how hard road imperfections can bang through the chassis. This rather sums up the handling option. If the roads you drive are usually as smooth a racetrack, then it’s probably a good choice. In Europe these roads are rare. In your part of the US the tale may be different.
There are no changes here, so the luscious leather interior, with multi-way adjustable leather seats, electric steering column adjust and red button on the steering wheel to start the engine, remain. There are a couple of ‘seats’ behind, though coats are more likely than people here. Boot space is reasonable and access not too bad with the roof down, though the framework does cause an obstruction. It’s not quiet. There’s a new, free-flowing exhaust manifold to help gain that extra 30hp, and my feeling is that the California is noisier because of this. Certainly there’s a low frequency drone unbecoming of a grand touring car. But Ferrari says, no, it’s no different to the previous model. The folding aluminum roof does a cycle in 14 seconds, though it has neither the ability to open or close on the move nor a power close button for the boot lid – quite an omission at this high end of the market.
As you will have gathered, I am a great admirer of the California. About the owner it can say I appreciate Italian engineering and the Ferrari heritage, but I don’t want impractical mid-engined car like the 458 Italia, or the bragging rights of the vastly more expensive V12 models. I suspect that in a blind tasting, most people won’t notice the difference between the 2012 and 2013 models. Like the Emperor’s new clothes though, the improvements will encourage some owners to trade up, and others, with the offer of the macho Handling Speciale option, to get into California ownership for the first time.