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Yes, the Ferrari California T Is Absolutely a Real Ferrari

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2017

I recently had the chance to drive the Ferrari California T, which is a brand-new Ferrari model that some annoying purists believe isn't a real Ferrari. They say this because it's a front-engine, V8-powered "entry-level" model -- and therefore, in their minds, it's not worthy of inclusion in the storied Ferrari stable of exotic sports cars.

And when you look at the California T on paper, you can sort of see what they mean. It is indeed an entry-level model (as much as $200,000-plus can be "entry-level") -- and its front-engine V8 configuration breaks the Ferrari tradition of only offering V8 engines in the back and V12s up front. It's also a 4-seater, which means passenger room and practicality were surely factored into its creation. Indeed, one could look at it as the "Mercedes SL" or "BMW 6 Series" of the Ferrari world -- a rather cynical attempt at increasing sales from a brand that can't really make an SUV due to tradition.

But who cares what it looks like on paper? The whole point of Ferrari is what happens when you're behind the wheel. After all, would anyone ever express enthusiasm for a $300,000 all-wheel-drive hatchback with a hood so long you could use it as a helicopter landing pad? Of course not. But then you drive the FF, and it's kind of cool. Probably. I've never driven one.

Anyway, to find out if the California T drives like a real Ferrari, I borrowed one about a month ago from a viewer named Barry Habib. Barry also lent me his Ferrari 488 Spider for a review I did a few weeks ago. Barry is very generous.

So I took out the California T with Barry's son, Jake, and here's what I learned: The California T may not have the exotic midengine styling of the 488 or the all-out performance and horsepower of the F12 ... but it's still one of the most exciting, most impressive, most amazing vehicles in the entire car industry, period. Period.

We'll start with acceleration. Thanks to its new turbocharged 3.9-liter V8, the California T makes 553 horsepower and a whopping 557 lb-ft of torque -- hardly disappointing figures. Another thing that's not even slightly disappointing: Thanks to an amazingly quick (and smooth) dual-clutch automatic transmission, the California T does zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds. THREE POINT FIVE SECONDS! That's nearly as quick as the Enzo and roughly as quick as the Carrera GT. Are we truly going to say that this thing isn't a "real Ferrari" when it's doing zero to 60 in THREE AND A HALF SECONDS???

And then there's handling. No, of course the California T doesn't handle like a 488 or an F12 -- but it's also wildly cheaper than those cars ($75,000 to $100,000 cheaper than a 488, and entire small-country GDPs cheaper than an F12). But when you compare the California T to cars in general, it's truly tremendous. The car remains flat and totally planted to the ground when it's going around a corner, and steering -- while a little light -- is linear, predictable and impressively sharp.

There's no doubt the California T has been tuned with a little extra comfort in mind -- but come on, people: It's not like you're driving around in a Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph with leather seats so overstuffed your kids could lose not just one single crayon in them, but an entire 94-color box set. This thing still feels like a true, exciting, thrilling sports car, and not some unfortunate compromise, which is how annoying Ferrari purists make it seem.

The California T also boasts some cool technology. A lot of it is roughly the same as what you'll find in the 488, but I couldn't stop interacting with my favorite piece: a tiny little circular screen placed between the climate control vents that provides all sorts of different information when you merely tap it -- as if you're performing some magic trick. Want to see your "TURBO EFFICIENCY?" No? Well, too bad. TAP!

Does the California T have any drawbacks? Of course, there are a few. One is the rear seats, which are basically the smallest rear seats I've ever seen in any automobile, ever -- although, naturally, this did not stop me from attempting to sit in them. There's also the weird situation with the brake lights, which I've discussed before with regards to the old model and which persists on the California T. And then there's the sound: The California T sounds good, for sure, but it was never the most raucous Ferrari model -- and the turbocharged engine isn't helping things too much.

But, in all honesty, the California T would probably be the Ferrari I'd buy. Performance doesn't equal the 488's, but it's still amazing -- and the California T is also a lot more usable than the 488's midengine craziness. The California T's resale value isn't as strong as the 488's, but the California T is cheaper to buy -- and the California holds its value much better than the "other" Ferrari models, the F12 and the FF. Most importantly, you really could drive it every day, without all the questions you normally get when you're driving a Ferrari. You could even use it to comfortably transport four adults: two adult humans, and two adult capuchin monkeys.

 Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Yes, the Ferrari California T Is Absolutely a Real Ferrari - Autotrader