The 2016 Ferrari California T Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Ferraris

The tamest of the prancing horses can't get the respect it deserves.

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WHAT THE HELL IS IT? Ferrari’s relaxed convertible gran turismo. Of course, this is still a Ferrari we’re talking about, so “relaxed” doesn’t mean the same as it does most places.

WHO IS IT FOR? The stigma and styling scream "Kris Kardashian," but one blast on a fun, challenging road proves it’s a better fit for Caitlyn Jenner.

WHERE DID WE TEST IT? From the New Jersey Turnpike to the backstreets of Brooklyn.

THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE IS: "OMG IT’S A FERRARI!"

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THING THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO NOTICE, BUT YOU DO ANYWAY: It’s not the prettiest Ferrari. The trunk lid is awkwardly tall, and the front fascia looks like an F12 clay model left out in the sun.

CAR IS GOOD AT: Covering massive amounts of ground rapidly and delightfully; making you feel anxious every time you come close to anything that could hurt it.

CAR IS BAD AT: Holding anyone larger than an Ewok in the rear seats.

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RATE 1 (VERY POOR) to 5 (EXCELLENT)

  • PERFORMANCE: 5
  • COMFORT: 4
  • LUXURY: 4
  • HAULING PEOPLE: 2
  • HAULING STUFF: 2
  • CURB APPEAL: 4
  • “WOW” FACTOR: 4
  • VALUE: 2
  • OVERALL: 4

WOULD YOU BUY IT? Yes, yes, yes. It may not be as sharp-edged as a 488 or as comfortable as a Bentley Continental GTC, but it’s 90 percent of both of those cars. It’s a daily driver, a curvy road killer, and a continent-crushing grand tourer all wrapped up in one.

DEEP THOUGHTS: The Ferrari California gets a bad rap. Journalists tend to dismiss it in a way that suggests, in a less politically-correct era, they would have called it “the ladies’ Ferrari.” Maranello’s own version of Virginia Slims: You’ve come a long way, baby! So see if you can handle this … starter Ferrari. Maybe someday we’ll let you try this 458 Speciale.

The language may be more coded, but the thought still smacks of condescension. For most people, even most car enthusiasts, a Ferrari is a Ferrari, full stop. And if you climb into the California T with an open mind, it reveals itself to be every bit the sports car you’d expect from a car wearing the Prancing Horse.

For starters, the steering alone vaults the Cali out of the ranks of cushy cruisers. It’s fast, direct, full of feeling and life. I was lucky enough to go straight from the Mercedes-AMG SL63 to the California T; the AMG’s steering felt like a Ryder truck’s next to the F-car.

Likewise, it was like night and day when it came to handling. The Cali was every bit as planted and comfortable as the Merc in the day-to-day grind, smoothing over the bumps and flaws in the pavement with ease. But where the SL bobbed and rolled through turns, the Ferrari carved flat and true. Part of that certainly goes to the Ferrari’s quarter-ton weight advantage, but some clearly goes to the magnetic ride adaptive suspension found at all four corners of the F-car.

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The California may have lost a little displacement during the mid-life refresh that landed the twin-turbocharged V-8 mounted beneath its phallic hood, but forced induction has done nothing but wonders for the car. As in the 488 Spider, the Cali T pulls without lag but with plenty of fury anywhere in the rev range. If anything, the turbo motor is it a better fit for the California than for its faster, mid-engined brother; the fat belt of midrange torque is far more helpful for a commuter car than for a weekend screamer, and I’m betting drivers signing up for the Cali’s more relaxed mission would be less likely to miss the old N/A V-8’s sonic advantage.

If anything, the California T is a victim of its parent company’s success. Ferrari’s road cars have moved the needle so high in terms of performance and driving fun that the Cali looks like the dull knife in the drawer. But hold it up against any other car designed for a grand tour, and this GT seems sharp as a shiny new katana.

With all that said … I know it’s become kind of a joke to complain about the prices of options on new Ferraris, but seriously—$4,129 to add Apple CarPlay? Chevy throws that in for free on a $13,595 Spark.

SPECS:

  • Price (as tested): $202,723 ($273,430)
  • Powertrain: 3.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, 552 horsepower, 557 lb-ft of torque; seven-speed dual clutch automatic; rear-wheel-drive
  • Fuel Economy: 16 city, 23 highway
  • 0-60 mph: 3.3 seconds (Car and Driver test figure)
  • Top speed: 196 miles per hour
  • Amount of time driven before switching the manettino dial out of Comfort mode: A full seven minutes 
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