Friday, November 21, 2008

Ferrari California Impressions

Ferrari devotees, listen up. Ferrari has designed a model as homage to the 1960s Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider. Okay, let me stop you before you get carried away. It costs £143,000 and in my opinion, it isn’t worth the buy. Crawford mentioned that anyone who was inclined towards the Lamborghini would undoubtedly like this Ferrari California. You are incorrect mate. Sure, you might find it attractive while you first set sight on it. But, trust me readers, when you see it, it’s not the car’s looks that is driving your mind nuts. It is the badge and the sound (to a certain extent). So, after I was over that stage, I took her out for a short walk.

The nose looks good. It reminds me of the original 250 California and the 575. And, just as I squat down near its nostrils, I remembered the Maserati Gran Turismo. The folding hard top of the car leaves a big and obvious rump at the aft making its looks like a female figure. These slightly odd proportions might take time to get used to. As of me, I couldn’t digest it even after a couple of hours. The stacked exhausts bring a weird expression on your face. But, as you keep staring at it, you begin to think, “That’s all right, isn’t it?” aka you begin to compromise for the £143,000 you’ve just signed off. But, don’t stare too much, it’s a female, remember.

Now, when you are shelling out £143,000, you surely wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of the screw heads used to produce the car you are in. This Ferrari has its screw heads exposed. You also wouldn’t want to see a flimsy centre console. But, you do. You would definitely want a finished product. But, the heater controls are due completion. Now, there were finishing issues with the Scuderia as well. But, I said nothing. Why? It was because that was primarily a track car. But, this isn’t. Tight leatherwork, aluminium buttress on the centre console and the hardtop that will fold itself in 14 seconds are all fine. But, why didn’t they stop and think while adding a Ferrari badge to it? If this were a Daihatsu, it would still be acceptable. It would even be appreciated. But, certainly not in a Ferrari.

Since this isn’t a track car, not much is expected in its handling department. Nevertheless, it rides well and handles okay. Magneto-rheological aka magnetic dampers that are an optional with the car, marks the equilibrium between smooth ride and fine handling. The new 7-speed gearbox with two clutches allows rapid shifts like the 430’s F1 superfast g’box. This 4.3 litre, direct-injection V8 with F1 Trac traction control system producing 454hp and 358 lb-ft that is mid-front mounted (Ferrari’s first) will do 60mph in 3.9 seconds. It is claimed that this 1735 kg weighing Ferrari will go up to 192mph. In a way, the sound it produces makes you excuse the comparatively poor styling aka you begin to compromise for the £143,000 you’ve paid. Can I just add that F430 rooters will dislike the sound, as it is a slightly lowered bass and treble version of the 430 that you can hear in the California.

As you must have noticed, I am re-mentioning the price tag quite often here. That price is just for starters. If you want the clever dampers, you spend an extra £3100. But, then that wouldn’t be a problem for potential Ferrari buyers to add another £20K for all the options offered. And, I reckon this will be successful too as the car is already sold out till 2010. But, exactly, why will it be successful?

My argument is that Ferrari is a synonym for perfection. In their track cars, they were aggressive in style and aggressive in performance. In their road cars, they were flamboyant in style and flamboyant in performance. Most of the times, they would be a mixture of both these characteristics as a typical Ferrari should be. A Ferrari road-legal car must look disciplined but should perform like as if on steroids. Mostly, the blend would be perfect. But, in the California, it just doesn’t go well altogether. Excuse me for being a snob henceforth.

Even before I talk about the bland driving, I can not get past the exterior looks. I am sorry; it slightly bears similarities with the Hyundai Coupe. It seems like an accidently made car. Pininfarina design studios reveal taking a lot of time designing this car. Ferrari chief Amedeo Felisa said that the similarity with the old 250 and California is “purely coincidental”. It is also learnt that building it wasn’t in their agenda. But, since the similarities were spotted they made it anyway. Accidently made?!

The California could be called civilised, but when it comes to driving, it is boring. It should have been made beefier in weight as it does get twitchy at medium-high speeds. And, the steering ratio should have been made faster. Also, I disagree to classify it as a GT car because uncharacteristically, it dances over bumps and jerks even at medium speeds. In my opinion, this is the first Ferrari you could leave outdoors without caring much about it. That is, the first Ferrari that will make you less insecure or not insecure at all. You will not be worried about any jealous vandalism because unlike any other Ferrari none will bother about the car. Well, yes, since it is new, people may drive by to have a look. But, that’s about it. And, that is not good. I would imagine that guvs would buy it as they would love to answer to this question – “So, what are you driving these days?” by replying, “A Ferrari, the new one”. The brand name will undoubtedly add a feather to the hat. But,it will never make you feel special and smug like when in a 430. The 430 looked civilised, made you feel insecure and whenever you were in a mood of being naughty, it played along. But, this just doesn’t.

This is probably a perfect weekender’s car then. Why not? It has a gas mileage of around 20mpg and the ride is comfortable, thanks to the comfort mode offered by the clever dampers. Huh, I am not entirely sure. I believe when you go for a weekend, you go along with your family and friends. To simply throw it; the rear-leg room is inadequate. I mean, if you are going to the supermarket, and if your kids are still “kids” and if your friends aren’t tall, only then they could stretch their legs and feel comfortable in the back. But, what if these checklists aren’t ticked off?

Many experts said so and I agree that this isn’t a car that demands attention. But, then I was under the impression that Ferraris are supposed to do just that. Ferraris are cars with a high posing potential. And, then they must move on to prove that they aren’t all show and no go. But, this one doesn’t even look good nor does it perform great.

Therefore, this is ideally a Ferrari for females. Nope, not because it doesn’t look good and perform great. Women who are authoritative and have a high-post in the society will have their demands fulfilled by this car. Despite the mistakes spotted earlier, it has a fine degree of craftsmanship. Pardon me; they may be the new style conventions that I am unaware of. And, the manufacturers’ badge makes its presence quite obvious. Since, females do not demand precise handling unless it is Sabina Schmitz, this car is all right for them. It is less track-oriented and more on the comfortable side of driving. The chromed embossed California on the glove box is undoubtedly girly. The limited rear-leg room could suit as a baby seat. The 360 litre boot space (240litre with the roof folded) is still good for the shopping bags and the ridiculously expensive Ferrari tailored luggage. And, the stroller, of course. Perhaps, the golf clubs too? As Baker said, with the roof down, you can cruise around in 7th gear and get yourself tanned before you hit the beach. So, this might be successful because it is targeting the women of today’s world.

How much ever I try to like this car, I fail to do so. I am sorry but its disproportionate looks are a stylistic mess to me. It is probably because we have always visualised a Ferrari to be fast, impractical (a few models) and a beautiful and stylish – a handsome/sexy car. We never thought of it like an easy to drive stylish car. The California is more stylish than performance oriented. Do you notice? Instead of staying on the same level, style precedes performance. That inexcusable factor makes me dislike it. But, then I reckon it is the expectation, the over expectation that affects or hampers the experience with cars overall. Hmm, still, I don’t like it. For a cheaper price, I would rather purchase a Gallardo Spider instead of a Californicated Ferrari. To me, this car seems like a travesty after being a Ferrari and being priced so high.

To me, this is then rightly a female’s Ferrari. This is the car Trixie will drive and not her boy friend, if you know what I mean. In that case, it is genuinely impressive. Like a Porsche Boxster. It has generally been believed that whoever could not afford a manly, a more expensive, a better Porsche, and the ones who did not know that the Boxster was often teased as a female’s Porsche, ultimately bought a Boxster. There is only one defence with your Ferrari California. You can snub all those who spot mistakes in it by saying, “It is still a Ferrari”.

(Images at Ferrari Galleria, Hills Borough, Sydney and Paris International show and Italy)

Copyright © Ajey Padival 2008 (Brisbane, Australia; +61-434360675;

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