Just like Supermodels, Supercars are there to be exalted. They grace the pages of glossy magazines, posters of them adorn walls of pubescent youths (and sometimes older folk) and are leered at lustfully whenever possible. We covet them, desire them and crave knowledge about them, often seeking out and rating their performance against others in their class (I am talking supercars here).
A perfect case in point is the Enzo Ferrari recently taking pride of place in the Continental Cars Ferrari showroom. First of all it’s glorious looking, from head to toe, from its pointed nose and gaping air ducts to its fabulously wide rear end, it’s every bit the hypercar and that’s even before you look under the bonnet or check out the performance specs. But (and possibly quite rightly) it’s essentially roped off. You are not allowed to touch it, sit in it or heaven forbid – drive it!
This sentiment quickly brings me onto the Ferrari California T Handling Speciale. It wears the Prancing Horse badge with pride and all the history and heritage that comes with it, however it is a Ferrari that wants you to get behind the wheel and drive as much and as often as you do.
The common (mis) conception in my household (from the wife) is that a Ferrari airs towards the selfish. It’s only got two seats, it’s loud, a hard ride, has blisteringly unnecessary off the mark speeds and hugs the road in a way that the passengers inside the cabin don’t. (None of the preceding information is agreed upon by my son or myself by the way). Anyway, imagine my surprise when said family member got excited with the Ferrari I pulled up in on the driveway – The California T Handling Speciale.
I had the pleasure of driving the California T last year and was more than impressed with both its looks and performance. Top up or top down its styling makes for an amazing silhouette plus it has all the creature comforts of a modern urban car (Infotainment screen, Sat Nav, hands free kit, etc). It has the delicious ‘predictability’ of a front engined rear wheel drive grand tourer and of course the instant appeal of any vehicle that comes from Maranello. The 2+2 seat configuration allows a young family of three or possibly four to get out and about and it has enough boot space for…okay the boot space is rather limited but that just means you have to go to the store daily rather than weekly, which in turn means more trips in the car – so consider it a win/win. The ride height and in particular the lower front valance is more city friendly and although still cause to be aware, speed bumps don’t strike terror in your heart or require attacking at carefully mapped out (aka mathematical calculated) angles.
So all the above may have your thoughts leaning towards it being watered down Ferrari, less the feral prancing horse, no more the ‘up on its hind legs ready to fight image’ and more the domestic domicile animal that would prefer to be led around fetes and shows with a child on its back – Well, let me tell you, you’d be wrong when it came to the California T and really really wrong when it came to the Handling Speciale.
The Handling Speciale still has the same Turbo 3.9L V8 as the Cali T at its heart, so the power remains at 412kW and the torque stays at a whopping 755Nm. 0-100 still arrives at a heart racing 3.6 seconds and top speed comes in at a reported 316 kph (Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to prove this). However; what I did get to use and indeed prove; was the increased speed in gear changing. It still has the 7-Speed DCT transmission but Ferrari have rewritten the software, so when moving up and down the gear selection the rate it does this has been increased vs the regular Cali T by 30% and 40% respectively. The result is so fulfilling that I spent the majority of the time in ‘manual and sport’ paddling through the gears wherever and whenever I could. This blissful sensation is topped off sweetly by the increased and addictive volume that emanates out the tail end of the exhaust pipes and the Helmholtz resonators inside.
As the moniker would suggest, the ‘star’ feature of the HS upgrade is the suspension. Ferrari have played with both the springs and the dampers and produced a ride that is only slightly harder (not kidney rattling by any means) than the Cali T but ultimately more responsive in terms of reduced body roll and better corner exit speed. The men in expensive Ferrari lab coats quote a variety of well supported percentage point improvements and although I never drove anywhere near the car’s limits, the HS just ‘feels’ better, more confident. It has huge brakes too. The ceramic rotors are the size of dinner plates (and I don’t mean a supermodel’s dinner plate, I mean a giant, man sized, chow down til you burst, plate) combined with the Brembo’s they are designed to pull her up to a stop from 100kph in an impressive 34 metres.
The interior is largely the same as in the standard Cali T, which is actually very pleasing (not broke/don’t fix). The 2+2 seating is seeped in fine leather, there is plenty of luxury and refinement to underline the expense and it still has the carbon fibre ‘arch’ that houses the likes of gear selection and launch control buttons. It feels familiar and everything is within arms reach. A look in the rear view mirror and you see the prancing horse logo high up in the centre of the rear seats, it is quite the attention stealer (plus who really cares what is behind you?). The Sat Nav works fine and I understand that it has a decent stereo. In fact, all the driver information is clear and succinct and there are enough sensors to ensure you keep the HS paintwork unblemished.
I had the keys for around thirty six hours and we literally took every excuse to drive everywhere and opted for the long and scenic route as much as possible too. I wouldn’t say that it’s spacious for three but there was absolutely zero complaints from anyone, least of all me. At popular venues such as beaches or malls the ‘Ferrari’ was instantly recognised and admired while the jaunts through the countryside gave me the chance to stretch the HS’s legs a little (but I also left some of that fun for when my friends knocked the door – and they did, a lot).
On start up, the HS makes enough of a growl for people to know that it’s there but not enough to annoy and it quickly settles to a deep V8 purr. On the road and in Sport the soundtrack is essentially exactly what you’d hope for (especially when holding gears or dropping down one or two) but I found myself half expecting an extra gear when on more ‘mundane’ long straights. This ‘first world’ problem can be easily solved by turning the manettino down to comfort and a push on the Auto button at the same time ensures a relaxing cruise should you require – it didn’t last long.
The roof mechanism is a pleasure to watch, how it all ‘unwinds’ is akin to a scene from a transformer movie forming a hard top when up and it tucks away into the boot like a contortionist – as it’s quick, the process deserves several run throughs. Alas you must be parked up to do this, I would prefer to show this off while in heavy traffic.
The California T Handling Speciale is a Grand Tourer that simply races towards sportscar/supercar territory and yet it’s an everyday driver that wants; nay yearns to spend time with you (and in my case my family). It’s not reserved or unapproachable, in fact much to the contrary, it’s friendly and communicative and will gladly escort you to functions both in and out of the city. It’s more than simply fun to drive, it elevates the pulse when out in the wild but has the elegance and class to merge into ‘normal’ life. Eleanor Roosevelt has famously been quoted saying ‘do one thing everyday that scares you’, I say why not turn this around and ‘do one thing every day that excites and delights you’ to which end – get a Ferrari California T Handling Speciale!
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