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Ferrari California Buyers Guide and Review

Elegance and power. Two words that perfectly describe the Ferrari California. The California was a car needed in the ever diverse Ferrari collection. Ferrari is known for it’s tremendous line of powerful race cars that can also cruise the streets. But the California would pave the way with being the first of it’s kind in many ways. The first Ferrari to have an optional hard top-aluminum convertible roof. It was Ferrari’s first mid-engine V8, all others having the engine sit behind the cabin. Given the first suspension of it’s kind, a double wishbone shape in the front with a multi-link suspension in the rear. Also the first to house a double-clutch semi-automatic gearbox. With all these innovative firsts, it’s only fitting the California is now one of the most affordable and most popular Ferrari’s ever to see the road.

Debuted first in 2008 at the Paris Motor Show, the light-weight and high performance Ferrari California held up to the hype that Ferrari always seems to create. A brand with over 80 years of creating dominating machines both on and off the race track, the experience and passion Ferrari is carries.

Ferrari wanted to stress that another vehicle wouldn’t de-value the brand. The California was built to be an easily driven car that had the ability to be used every day. The California became the competitor with the other exotic stablemates of power and refinement such as the Aston Martin DB9 or the Bentley Continental GTC V8. While both the Aston and Bentley are titans in their own right, they are no match for the passion and power that comes with the Ferrari label.

Under the hood, the Ferrari California features a 4.3 liter V8 engine, taken from the powerhouse F430, but given an upgrade with a direct fuel injection that puts out 453 horsepower and 357 pounds of torque. That’s a lot of power for a rear wheel drive, 3,850 pound grocery-getter.

 

The transmission is the first of it’s kind for Ferrari, a seven speed gearbox with a dual clutch automated manual. The dual clutch allows one clutch to be used for odd-numbered gears and the other to be used for even-numbered gears, and also allows for the selection of the next gear needed, making the gear-shifting times to be close to zero. This adds up to a thrilling yet comfortable drive. All this classic Ferrari power allows the California to get from 0-60 in 4 seconds with a competitive top speed of 193mph. With all that power comes a decent fuel economy of 13 mpg (city)/ 19 mpg (highway), something Ferrari wanted to give to this “every-day driver”.Lookin the California in the face, you see the resemblance to the ancestor of which it was named after: the Ferrari 250 GT California (1960-1963)

The long and sloped front is needed to hold the first ever mid-body engine Ferrari has ever built. A small air intake hood scoop along the center gives definition to the otherwise soft style of the front end while efficiently cooling the engine. Vertical LED headlights angle perfectly with the curved frame that seems to flow through the body. A horizontally slated grill sits below giving the face of the California a little smile, because who wouldn’t smile while driving this car? And of course, the traditional Ferrari prancing stallion sits right in the middle of the grill, just to serve as a reminder to everyone that you are driving one of the most prestigious cars ever built.

Along the sides the curves of the California go on for miles. The 19 inch 5 spoke alloy wheels hold the all aluminum body of the California up. With a low ride height, the car isn’t a tower and sits above the ground comfortably, allowing for easier turns. The gill shaped side vents allow for more air to pass in and out of the engine bay, keeping it cool and performing at it’s peak. The sultry lines continue down into the door and side panels and come up sharply onto the shapely behind of the California. The tremendous aerodynamic feel of the car due to its sleek curves and stretched-back cabin are thanks to the long standing partnership with the Italian design and engineering company, Pininfarina.

The tail end of the California is probably the most out of place design to be commented on. Instead of continuing the theme with a slow and shapely back, the California comes up rather abruptly with a rectangle shaped trunk. The single LED taillights sit on the edges of the trunk compartment with the long LED brake band sitting underneath the slight swoop of the tail. Another prancing signature Ferrari stallion sits above the curved bumper to watch over the stacked dual exhaust pipes on either side.

Perhaps the shapeliness of the rear end of the California comes from the stowage system for Ferrari’s first ever retractable hard top. The hard top is made from all aluminum panels and has the same cast-aluminum movement structure which reduces over all weight allowing for the entire opening/closing time of the top to take place in just 14 seconds. Top up or top down, you can’t deny the sporty feel that the California radiates wether on the track or in the parking lot of your local department store.

Driving Experience 

Settling into the drivers seat, there is no denying that this is indeed a beast of Italian design. The LED dash displays the small information square that tells fuel level, battery level, oil gauge, direction, temperature, current time, driving mode, and other adjustable settings. In the center is the tachometer and to the right is the speedometer, both ready to fly through RPM’s and gears at your complete control through the F1 paddle shifters and controllable ‘manettino’ (little switch in Italian). The modes are as follows:

  • CST-OFF: Driver will be in complete control of the car. No electronic assistance aside from the ABS.
  • Sport: Maximum performance and stability in ideal grip situation. Recommended for track or high performance driving.
  • Comfort: Best everyday driving setting, ideal for low grip situations (rainy or ice roads)

The  manettino is positioned on the right side of the wheel across from the traditional red “ENGINE START” button that brings the horses to life with a simple push.

The center console is topped with a Harman Becker navigation/radio LCD screen that allows for auxiliary and telephone hook ups. Underneath sits the climate controls for the vehicle, split between driver and passenger preferences. Underneath are the three small buttons that control the California’s Launch, Reverse, and Automatic Transmission modes (not to be found in the 6 speed manual model). Further down the center console are the controls for the windows as well as the hardtop open/close switches.

Once in drive, you get a sense for what this car was really designed to be, a cruiser. While it still has the speed and aerodynamic shape of a Ferrari, the California was built to be an everyday driving car that could be used at any time.  The double wishbone suspension mixed with the multi-link gives the California great flexibility, able to handle turns and curves just like a Ferrari race car should. The suspension set-up, however, allows for an exceptionally smooth ride with easy and nimble handling. The frame of the California eliminates any rigidness in the road below and eliminates a large part of any exterior noise from wind or exhaust.

Braking happens almost instantly, giving more control to the driver wether on the track going well over 100mph, or taking it down local highways at a nice speed of 45mph. Equipped with Brembo brakes that are made up of carbon ceramic disks, there will be no worries of skidding to a halt with the California.

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As far as interior comfort goes, the California comes with the label of “2+” Allowing for the possibility of more than 2 passengers. Although this happens to be a great option to have available, the seats aren’t much too comfortable if you are taller than three feet. Especially if the roof is closed, there is little to no room for a fully grown adult, a small piece of luggage would be more comfortable back there.

The front seats however are designed with the Ferrari comfort and elegance in mind. With full range of motion with just simple toggles and pulls of the switches, comfort is endless. Coming in a variety of different options for leather and stitching, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the throne upon which you wish to sit in your California.

 

Ferrari California Common Problems

Although Ferrari prides itself on putting only the best cars out there with it’s prestigious name, that doesn’t mean that issues can be completely avoided.

  • Air Bag: Passenger Side Frontal (Recall ID: 16V341000)

Effecting certain 2009-2011 models of the California, these vehicles are equipped with air bag inflators, assembled improperly. In the event of a crash with air bag deployment, these inflators may rupture due to activation occurring after long-term exposure to humidity and variations in temperature.

  • Air Bags: Frontal (Recall ID: 15V433000)

Effecting certain 2015 models of the California T, the airbags may have been improperly assembled and as a result will deploy at a rotated orientation.

  • Engine and Engine Cooling (Recall ID: 12V211000) 

Effecting certain models of the 2012 California, a faulty crankshaft may fail due to incorrect machining, resulting in engine seizure and a sudden shut down of the vehicle.

  • Getrag Gearboxes

Some owners have reported that their earlier Californias seem to have gearbox issues. Missing gears and the gearbox failure light are indicators that the gearbox may need replacement.

  • Spark Plug Wear 

Coming with the territory of owning a direct injection vehicle, the spark plugs wear down more easily and build up with oil and grease coming from the multiple fires during combustion.

  • Convertible Leakage

Once again, coming with the territory of owning a convertible car, there are leaks that happen due to worn lining in the roof. Always be sure to double check the seals to avoid interior damage.

  • Convertible Stowage Mechanism

Some California owners have reported that their mechanism for retracting and deploying the hard top have shorted out, causing it to fail to open/close or the top falling back into the stowage compartment in abruptly that could result in further damage.

Ferrari California Maintenance and Cost of Ownership

The California was built to be an entry level Ferrari, allowing for an easier hit to the wallet, but they are still top of the line Italian supercars none the less, so their maintenance isn’t always cheap.

Be sure to know the warranty on your California as it made a shift once the model changed in 2013.

  • 2009-2012 Californias: 2yr/Unlimited miles
  • 2013-2015 Californias (T): 3yr/Unlimited miles

Ferrari has done something newly innovative to go along with the warranty on some of it’s models 2012 and onward (FF, 458, 488, F12, California). A 7 year annual maintenance package comes to you with no cost. It is not subjugated to miles and is one hundred percent transferable, following the car and not the owner. The package covers routine services such as: oil change, filters, fluids, and other simple services.

There are some stipulations though, all the work has to be done at a Ferrari dealership within 30 days of the new car limited warranty year to date or 12,500 mile mark. Otherwise the owner may subjected to financial obligations. If the service date is missed completely, the entire maintenance plan will be cancelled and the owner will be left to pay out of pocket for the remainder of ownership.

If you happen to own a 2009-2011 California, you need not worry. While there is no 7 year service plan, these cars are far from flimsy. They are built to last, the dual clutch transmission allows for long lasting clutch life, models have been reported with 25,000+ miles and still having their original clutch.

The carbon ceramic brakes are built to last on the California, not giving in easily to wear and tear.

The maintenance costs can be kept low by driving the car responsibly and always being wary of the conditions of the road.

Tracking the California can result in the outrageous maintenance costs you’ve heard about:  frequent oil changes, new brakes, new tires, and much more.

It is all about your style of driving and what you are gonna use this beautiful machine for.

The following is the list of routine maintenance services performed annually or every 12,500 miles.

  • Annual Maintenance- $799 (Average Dealer Pricing)
    • Replace Oil
    • Replace Oil Filter
    • Replace Pollen Filter
    • Visual Inspection
  • Two years or next 12,500 miles- $1,299 (Average Dealer Pricing)
    • Replace Oil
    • Replace Oil Filter
    • Replace Pollen Filter
    • Brake Fluid Replace
    • Auxiliary Belt Replacement
    • Visual Inspection
  • Four year or 37,500 miles- $1,799 (Average Dealer Pricing)
    • Replace Oil
    • Replace Oil Filter
    • Replace Pollen Filter
    • Brake Fluid Replace
    • Auxiliary Belt Replacement
    • Replace Spark Plugs
    • Visual Inspection

(All prices subject to variation due to extent of wear on vehicle, miles past annual service, etc.)

Ferrari California Model Year Changes

  • 2009-2012 California 

The Grand Tourer makes its debut and offers an affordable and enjoyable Ferrari experience, with sleek design and easy to handle driving feel, the California succeeded in being made for everyone.

  • 2013-2014 California

The California got a major update, all in the engine and handling. The weight was reduced almost 70lbs. A power boost was given to the California’s engine, adding 30hp, making the output 483hp and 372 pounds of torque, directly effecting the 0-60 time, now 3.8 seconds.

The California is also no longer available with a manual six speed transmission, only the 7 speed dual clutch automated manual remains.

Along with these updates, a new package was introduced: Handling Speciale Package.

It was introduced to give the driver a more dynamic driving experience. It is optional on these models, adding $7,227 to the MSRP it is marked by the silver plated front grill and side air vents behind the front wheel wells. Not so noticeable unless you are behind the wheel: the steering is much quicker and tighter when headed around curves. Springs are stiffer in the HS package and they are paired with Delphi MagneRide magnetorheological dampers. The package puts a damper on the cruise feel that the California was originally designed to give, but it is no where near as harsh or uncontrollable that a race mode 458 would feel.

  • 2015 introduction of the California T

The best of both worlds is born into the 2015 arrival of the California T. The T stands for Turbocharged, a word we all like to hear when mentioned after Ferrari. The engine is still a V8 that holds 3.9 liters, but now the output has increased. Jumping from 483hp to 552hp with a torque increase from 372lbs to 557lbs. 0-60mph time only falls another .02 seconds, now putting out at 3.6 seconds.

Ferrari has recognized their creation to be more than just a cruiser, giving it slight updates to cater to it’s undeniable track car DNA. The springs come stiffer automatically and steering is more controlled than ever before.

Physically, the California T is slightly different than it’s previous brethren. A more aggressive grille sits at the front, defining the front more than before. Longer and more angular headlights only add to the sleek hood design. The single center hood scoop was doubled into two hood vents along the sides, adding to the dominating look. Along with standard technological advances to the LED dash and LCD navigation screen to simply keep up with the times.

Ferrari California Options

Ferrari is famous for their extensive options list for  both interior and exterior customization of their creations. While the cars are made in their image, they want the owner to really have the car of their dreams, so through an extensive list of options from custom colored brake pads to carbon fiber everything interior, there is no limit to the options that you can give to your Ferrari, California or not.

However, these options do come with a price tag, some single options ranging up to $5,000 so it’s best to know what you really want and what you really can afford.

Below is an option list with pricing for a 2010 Ferrari California:

 

Best Year Ferrari California to Buy

Such a multipurpose supercar is a stablemate for the Ferrari brand, leading other manufactures such as Aston Martin, Bentley, and Maserati to up there game, but pale in comparison. However, changes have been minimal in numbers, but massive in overall quality of the Ferrari California itself.

The most bang for the buck changes were made for the 2013-2014 models. Not only was the weight reduced and the performance enhanced, but the brand of Ferrari itself changed to accommodate the owner in a better way.

A 2 year warranty changed to a 3 year warranty (both with unlimited miles). The 7 year maintenance plan was now implemented and in use.

The California had also been in production for over a few years a this time, allowing the factory to work out any issues or kinks that may have been hiding in the earlier models. Resulting in no recalls for these model years. Ferrari also saw the desire for these cars to be both a cruiser and a racer and introduced the Handling Speciale package.

Just like any used car, the buyer should always pay attention to the number of  miles, detailed on-time service records, and any and all recall reports. The more you know, the better.

Conclusion

Ferrari certainly broke the mold when they envisioned the California. It’s body and engine are unlike anything the brand had ever made before, but that’s what they needed. With a tremendous driving experience and the history of passion behind it’s Ferrari badge, it’s easy to see why The California has become Maranello single best-selling model, selling 10,000 units in just 5 years.

The Ferrari California only continues to evolve into a powerhouse Italian stallion, but it’s past success can not be denied. The prestige surrounding the California that brings together the best of both worlds is sure to carry on the great legacy of the Ferrari name.

Pejman Ghadimi
 

For the past 10 years Pejman Ghadimi has used this system to buy and sell over 85 personal luxury and exotic cars. His strategies has helped thousands of people buy the exotic cars of their dreams for as high as 80% off its retail price.

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