From £156,0608
Ferrari’s California T Handling Speciale hits the UK, complete with what Maranello calls 'extra edge'. It's our new pick of the range

Our Verdict

Ferrari California T

Improved version of Ferrari's drop-top GT gets a 552bhp twin-turbocharged V8 but light steering curtails its outright driver appeal

Steve Cropley Autocar
12 July 2016

What is it?

What it’s not, Ferrari is keen to point out, is a mere entry model to the Italian supercar maker’s range. That distinction belongs to the California T without HS in its initials, which is the somewhat quieter and smoother-riding version of the retractable roof roadster-cum-GT. It's also £5568 cheaper than this £160,812, somewhat sportier new arrival.

The Handling Speciale has been selling in Europe since the beginning of the year and about 20% of their buyers have already shown a preference for its extra equipment.

Those are: springs that are 16% stiffer up front and 19% behind, improved magnetorheological dampers (whose internal oil supply can be made less viscous if you pass an electric current through it), tweaks to the F1-Trac stability control that allow you to drive with more verve, a louder exhaust, plus minor changes to the grille, rear diffuser and exhaust tips to advertise its sportier character.

What's it like?

It feels exactly what it is, a sharpened version of the basic California T, undoubtedly the easiest driving and most versatile Ferrari you can buy given its light but high-geared steering, its front mid-engined layout, its retractable steel roof, its good visibility, its big doors and its reasonably compact dimensions.

Not that 'easiest-driving' makes it slow. The standard Cali T and the HS are both extremely quick, sharing the new twin-turbo V8 engine the model was given in 2012. The current outputs are 552bhp at 7500rpm, and 557lb ft at 4750rpm and they push the car to a top speed of 196mph, more than enough for a roadster-GT.

The HS gets no extra poke, and neither does it need any, but its acceleration times in the upper reaches are a tenth or two quicker than the standard car's because its gearchange logic, especially with the wheel-mounted driver mode manettino set in Sport (which Ferrari people say best suits the character of the car), has been modified to give faster gear engagement both in manual and automatic transmission modes.

Likewise, the F1-Trac stability control in Sport has been tweaked to give better traction, especially when the car is exiting quick or bumpy corners. A new, louder exhaust advertises the gains.  

The benefits are obvious. The car resists body roll much better than early versions, and is more or less impervious to understeer. Oversteer is just about possible on the open road with all traction aids off — there’s definitely enough power to provoke it — but Sport allows only a discreet wag of the tail, and the power is now deployed very well when you’re exiting tight bends under full noise.

Penalties? The ride comfort is definitely harmed a little by the stiffer suspension, though never to the extent that the car crashes into typical UK bumps. It can be somewhat uncomfortable, though, for a car that spends quite a lot of its time cruising at low speeds on the UK’s crowded roads. We found the best compromise was to set the manettino in Sport and select the 'bumpy road' setting also available on a separate steering wheel button. Just selecting Comfort dulls the throttle less than most of us would like.

The other issue is the exhaust. It sounds terrific when you’re going for it, what with the race-style ignition cuts and a very nice growl on the overrun. However, when cruising on motorways it drones noisily, top up or down.

Should I buy one?

If you’re looking for a big-name high performance car you can use day-to-day, in traffic, and leave in the street when you have to, this is probably it. For most people the Ferrari name still trumps all others.

True, it rides a bit harder and makes a bit more noise that the standard California T, but the exhaust bark does serve to remind you that you have the best available traction and handling set-up available in a California.

We'd certainly opt for the HS over the standard car, especially since the extra cost looks like peanuts alongside some of Ferrari’s other option prices.

Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £160,812; Engine V8, 3855cc, twin turbo petrol; Power 552bhp at 7500rpm; Torque 557lb ft at 4750rpm; Gearbox 7-spd twin-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1730kg; Top speed 196mph; 0-62mph 3.6sec; Economy 26.9mpg (combined); CO2/BIK tax band 250g/km/37%

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