The Ferrari California might just be the firm's most radical model. It’s the first Ferrari road car to have a front-mounted V8 engine, the first to have a dual-clutch gearbox and, although not the first to have a removable hard-top, is the first to follow the current trend of having a fully retractable one that electrically folds into its boot.

Because it has so many Ferrari firsts, the Ferrari California has no direct antecedent, but this is not the first time Ferrari has used the California name. It first appeared on the 250GT California in 1957, a Scaglietti-designed take on the V12 250GT for the American market.

That model was replaced by a short-wheelbase version in 1960. Another departure for Ferrari here is that all California variants to date have been top-end models made to a very limited production run.

As such, the California opens up a new market to the brand. It’s a softer, more approachable Ferrari for those who like the idea but perhaps not the sharply honed execution of a normal Modenese car (and for those that do,there's always the option of the Handling Speciale pack, which brings stiffer springs, a more direct steering rack and more aggressive damper settings).

Thanks to the introduction of the HELE (High Efficiency Low Emissions) technology, which includes stop start, the California is also a more efficient Ferrari, emitting CO2 emissions of 270g/km.

However, there is a fear that the California may be a little too soft, with not enough focus; a Ferrari that cannot perform as a sports car is like a Land Rover that cannot clamber over a muddy hill.

So is the fear justified? Or is the California every inch worthy of the badges that adorn its flanks?

Top 5 Supercars

  • Ferrari 458
    The radical-looking, mid-engined V8 Ferrari 458 oozes supercar charm

    Ferrari 458

    1
  • McLaren 650S
    The McLaren 650S is much faster and more exciting to drive than the regular 12C

    McLaren 650S

    2
  • Is it a cut-price SLR or overpriced Merc special with fancy doors?

    Mercedes-Benz SLS

    3
  • Mid-life revisions keep the Audi R8 at the top of its game

    Audi R8

    4
  • Until the £1m One-77, the Aston Martin DBS was the British marque's halo model

    Aston Martin DBS

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    29 May 2015
    New compact Vauxhall shows lots of promise, but sluggish performance and intrusive road noise leave it trailing its rivals
  • First Drive
    28 May 2015
    BMW's luxurious coupé has been given a style refresh and more equipment. This is our first chance to drive the popular 640d Coupe on UK roads
  • First Drive
    28 May 2015
    We drive Ssangyong's new small SUV, which isn't up with the best in class but is certainly worth consideration as a budget option
  • Car review
    26 May 2015
    Hardcore 493bhp GT3 RS represents a new level for the Porsche 911 - faint hearts need not apply
  • First Drive
    25 May 2015
    Track drive of Lamborghini's astonishing limited-run special, the Aventador LP750-4 Superveloce