From £156,0608
A harder, faster California T option is launched, but is it actually any better? We drive it for the first time on Italian roads to find out

What is it?

Ferrari's attempt to prove the California T can be a proper sports car, as well as a Mercedes SL-style, GT-into-roadster, folding hardtop, high-speed cruiser. We've been here before, Ferrari offering a Handling Speciale package for the original normally-aspirated California back in a 2012 facelift that upped power 29bhp to 483bhp and stripped 30kg out of the aluminium structure.

To make good on this improved power to weight ratio the Handling Speciale option offered the choice of stiffened up springs, quicker reactions for the adaptive magnetorheological dampers and a 10% faster steering ratio for those looking to explore the full remit of the California's 194mph top speed and sub-four seconds to 62mph performance.

Since then the California has gained a new twin-turbo engine with 552bhp and a massive jump to 557lb ft of torque from the normally-aspirated car's 372lb ft; mid-range punch has been transformed and the changes broadly welcomed.

Now the California T is established in the range Ferrari is again offering a Handling Speciale option, upping spring rates by 16% front and 19% rear, adjusting damping to match, tweaking the F1-Trac stability control software and modifying the exhaust to unleash more sporting character. A new matt silver grille - Grigio Ferro Met if you prefer - and rear diffuser with black 'fences' and exhaust tips mark the HS out from standard Californias and there's a little plaque on the centre tunnel too.

What's it like?

Fast, for starters. Entry-level Ferrari or not this is, fundamentally, an extremely rapid car that deploys that huge turbocharged mid-range with devastating effectiveness. Like all Ferraris the steering is fast and light and the gearshifts from the transaxle-mounted dual-clutch gearbox anything from automatic smooth to whip-crack fast according to whether you choose auto or manual shifts.

The standard ceramic brakes are mighty too and easily modulated, meaning you can use what feels like a huge range of the available performance at any time you please. It's all very easy, though; if you're looking for a demanding, traditional 'driver's' Ferrari, this isn't it.

The Handling Speciale modifications certainly make the California more gregarious company, the new exhaust system underscoring your every move whether you want it or not. Fun on a blast, it's borderline intrusive when you're not in the mood though the whistles and whooshes of the forced induction add a level of sophistication and involvement.

Much the same can be said of the ride - around town you trade some composure over sharp-edged bumps and potholes for better body control and higher limits at speed. The range between Comfort and Sport modes is now much wider than in the standard California T, effectively giving you two cars in one. But with the Handling Speciale package, the California T takes a decisive step away from its GT roots and into a more overtly sporting arena. 

Should I buy one?

'Entry-level' or not, the emotive pull of the Ferrari badge will be enough to seal the deal for many considering a California T over rivals like the Mercedes SL63 AMG or Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. The Germans are more technically advanced, have more luxurious cabins and have much slicker infotainment systems but the Ferrari lives up to the brand image of being a more exciting steer and plucking the heartstrings more convincingly.

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More pragmatically the Handling Speciale pack's £5,568 premium could look good value, especially if you consider the Magneride dampers included in the package are a £3,168 option in their own right on the regular California T. Many would consider these an essential option anyway, making the real cost of the package effectively more like £2,400 for the exhaust, recalibrated suspension, exterior trim and other upgrades.

There are sacrifices in refinement, though, meaning you need to ask yourself how you'd use your California T. If it's a day-to-day car for city-based posing you might be better off sticking with the standard package and enjoying the less intrusive exhaust noise and generally plusher feel. If, however, you crave basking in the attention or want a car for high days and holidays that'll get pushed hard as its makers intend, the HS package would seem a no-brainer.   

Dan Trent

Ferrari California Handling Speciale

Location Camogli, Italy; On Sale August; Price £160,798 (inc. California T plus Handling Speciale package); Engine V8, 3855cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 552bhp (with 98 octane fuel) at 7500rpm; Torque 557lb ft at 4750rpm; Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 1625kg (dry, with lightweight options); Top speed 197mph; 0-62mph 3.6sec; Economy 26.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 250g/km, 37%

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eseaton 16 March 2016

The change to turbos is not

The change to turbos is not broadly welcomed by me.

Don't like this car at all, but are the SL63 and 911 turbo really more technically advanced with more luxurious cabins.

Saucerer 16 March 2016

Why not have a sports car in the first place?

The California might be cheaper but if you want a Ferrari that goes and drives like a sports car, then why not go for the 488? And if you need a convertible, plump for the spyder version. I never quite understand why some manufacturers feel the need to try and turn their GTs in to sports cars, but unsurprisingly never end up creating what they set out to achieve. XK-RS, SL63 AMG, GranTurismo MC, Aston Martin DBS etc are all examples, while some of these companies offer proper sports cars in their line up. Interestingly McLaren have gone the other way and is offering a GT version of their sports car in the 570GT!