The highlight, of course, is the slick two-piece retractable metal roof. Top up, it provides the extra security and noise suppression that only a metal roof can provide. Lowering the top is a graceful affair that takes just 14 seconds, nearly half the time of most other cars with retractable hardtops. The California also boasts a front-mounted variant of Ferrari's familiar 4.3-liter V8, a seven-speed, automated dual-clutch manual transmission (another Ferrari first), ceramic-carbon brakes, optional adaptive dampers and an exquisitely crafted interior.
Many of the California's design attributes are meant to enhance the car's ability to be a grand touring car. The multilink rear suspension is new and is said to provide better ride comfort than the more traditional double-wishbone setup. The 460-horsepower V8 features direct injection -- another Ferrari first -- for enhanced fuel economy. Though that output is down about 30 hp compared to the F430's V8, the California is certainly not a tepid thing -- Ferrari projects a sub-4-second sprint to 60 mph. Much of the credit for the quick time goes to the new dual-clutch gearbox with launch control, a belated step forward from Ferrari's brutally effective but relatively uncivilized F1-style single-clutch automated manual.
Inside, the California continues Ferrari's recent tradition of top-notch cabin design and quality. Fine Italian leather and other upper-crust materials abound, and the tachometer even has a 3D display. One of the odder features of the California's interior is the "2+" layout: The backseat is so small that Ferrari didn't want to call it a full 2+2, and buyers can even specify a leather-lined cargo shelf instead if they don't want the short-trip flexibility of two extra seatbelts. Either way, the seatback folds down to accommodate larger items -- yet another California exclusive.
The 2009 Ferrari California is even fit for tech-savvy consumers, boasting a hard-drive-based navigation/infotainment system with DVD playback and an optional iPod connection. Indeed, perhaps the only consumers who won't like the California are hard-core sports-car purists. These folks want three pedals on the floor and a manual shifter on the console, so they'll probably end up with a 430 Spider instead, or perhaps a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder or an Aston Martin DB9 Volante, though all three make do with soft tops. But for the average hedge-fund manager with $200,000 to spend on an exotic convertible, the Ferrari California will be exceedingly hard to resist.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and OptionsThe 2009 Ferrari California retractable-hardtop convertible comes with a "2+" interior layout that offers a choice between a tiny two-passenger rear seat and a rear parcel shelf. Standard equipment on the sole trim level includes bi-xenon headlights with LEDs, 19-inch wheels, a "manettino" knob on the steering wheel (which groups stability and traction control thresholds, gearbox settings and -- when the optional adaptive dampers are specified -- suspension calibrations into distinct driving modes), a full leather interior, Bluetooth, a fold-down rear seatback, a trip computer and a CD/MP3 audio system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen display and hard-drive-based navigation.
Options include "diamond-finish" wheels in 19-inch and 20-inch sizes, adaptive headlights, iPod connectivity, carbon-fiber trim, a luggage kit and adaptive magnetorheological dampers. There is also a dizzying array of customization possibilities for everything from interior trim to seat upholstery to exterior styling cues.
Powertrains and PerformanceThe rear-wheel-drive 2009 Ferrari California is powered by a direct-injected 4.3-liter V8 that cranks out 460 hp and 357 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual is the only available transmission. According to Ferrari, the California is capable of sprinting from zero to 60 mph in under 4 seconds.
SafetyAntilock disc brakes, front side airbags and stability and traction control are standard on the California.
Interior Design and Special FeaturesLike every current Ferrari, the new California has an interior befitting its lofty price. There's leather everywhere, including on the dash, and the overall design is contemporary and sharp. The steering-wheel-mounted "manettino" knob gives the driver control over a wide range of dynamic vehicle functions, and the entertainment system offers a variety of virtues, from the crisp 6.5-inch screen to hard-drive music storage and video DVD playback. The rear seat is so cramped that it almost makes more sense to specify the rear parcel shelf instead -- it looks nicer, and the seatback folds down either way. Trunk space with the top up is an impressive 12 cubic feet, and there's still a usable 8.5 cubic feet left over with the top down.
Driving ImpressionsWeighing about 3,800 pounds, the 2009 Ferrari California is hardly an elemental sports car. Indeed, Ferrari prefers to call the California a grand tourer (GT) in its official literature. Nonetheless, the California's road manners are exemplary, with a relatively smooth ride for cruising and handling that's sharp enough to justify the prancing horse badge. The direct-injected V8 pulls hard and sounds amazing, while the new dual-clutch transmission is polished and efficient whether you're banging through the gears on back roads or puttering around town in automatic mode. And thanks to the retractable hardtop, coupelike refinement at speed is also on the California's résumé.