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
    27 March 2015
    Lavishly-equipped, rugged-looking Peugeot 508 estate is a pleasant drive, but there are many more recommendable alternatives
  • 308 GT 1.6-litre petrol is priced from £24,095
    First Drive
    27 March 2015
    Peugeot's given the 308 the engine from the 208 GTi 30th and some chassis upgrades; we find out if the changes bring a bit of old-school Peugeot hot-hatch magic to this likeable family hatch.
  • Car review
    26 March 2015
    Does Suzuki's new city runabout have what it takes to succeed?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    Collins Performance has given the Fiesta ST 270bhp and 265lb ft, but has our favourite fast Ford been ruined in the process?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    The Seat Leon X-Perience is the closest thing to an SUV that you can buy with a Seat badge for now, blending estate practicality with off-road ability