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In all my years, I ve never spent any meaningful time with either a Ferrari or Halle Berry. Both are desirable to be sure but I really don t need either one. I own a car that I enjoy and my lovely wife owns my heart. That said, I ve been invited to drive the new Ferrari California. Have to admit I m excited. And it s better than a date with a Hollywood star since I can step out on my car and there will be no physical harm done to me.

California features a number of Ferrari firsts, among them are a retractable hard top and a front mounted V8. It s also affordable... for a Ferrari. Check the couch for change, base price is just under 200 grand. With a usable trunk, rear seat, and an easy going city demeanor, this is a family friendly Ferrari (if dear old Dad is Warren Buffet that is).

Let me be clear, if you want a full-on road test of this car look elsewhere. I spent a few hours at Ferrari and Maserati of Seattle pouring over the car and a total of 65 minutes behind the wheel (yes, I kept track). There is no way I can assess the limits of this high performance car on civilian roads. This much I can say, it attracts a lot of attention. People react strongly to a Ferrari. To the guy in the Mustang on I-90 I have to ask- Did you really think I was going to race you? Did you really think you d win? And to the attractive woman on Capitol Hill, well, I appreciate the, uh... attention.

Let s do the numbers

The California is motivated by a 4.3-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 with direct injection. It sits behind the front axle line making this a mid-engined car. 460 horsepower is on tap along with 358 lbs-ft of torque. 0-60 times? Under 4 seconds using Launch Control. As an everyday car with a top speed of 193 miles an hour, it ll get the kids off to play dates as quickly as it ll land you in jail. Spectacular ceramic disc brakes seem to break another law- physics.

The transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch unit with shifts so quick, finger snaps seem glacial in comparison. Gear changes are done on the steering wheel, natch. As for gas mileage I can tell you 10 gallons of required premium easily got the California from downtown Seattle to its North Bend photo shoot and back without running out of fuel. Really? Do you care? This is not a Prius.

The Ferrari that s many things. Subtle is not one of them.

I drove the California in a very easy manner but unlike other reviews that explain what it s like at 10/10th mode, I can assure you that it s a pussycat in city traffic. A nicely managed throttle tip-in means this Ferrari won t fly off the line with a tap of the pedal. It s more relaxed in a rush hour slog. Magneto-rheological dampened shocks that soften and firm up in the blink of an eye are on the option list. Visibility is decent if not a little challenging rearward.

The sonic quality of the flat-plane V8 is worth 10 grand alone. Maybe 20. Its crisp staccato snarl slices through the air like crazy music. Even at legal speeds the California sounds like a felon. With pedal to carpet an otherworldly wail emanates from the quad tailpipe fascia. So what if the faux exhaust isn t real?

The evil cackle attracts a lot of ears during the North Bend photography session. Not everyone welcomes it. We leave before finding out what the guy heading towards us on his small tractor wants. His furrowed brow doesn t look like an invitation to head back to the house for cupcakes. Driving a red Ferrari apparently means others will judge you. Who knew?

It will not melt

While the streaming video is all about not taking the California out into the rain, it s not like it s made of sugar or anything. This is a GT car so while it s very high performance, California won t beat you up on a long drive. Remember, the folks from Maranello are pitching this as the everyday Ferrari, much like your trusty Honda Accord only much much more Italian. Believe me, you ll attract much more attention heading off to the office in one of these.

The retractable top, supposedly lighter than a fabric job, completes its task in a brisk 14 seconds. I find it hard to do anything in that amount of time. It tucks into a back end that brings JLo to mind. Personally I like the lines best with the hardtop up. You ll be able to make up your own mind about the design because this is the volume Ferrari and you may actually see one the road. The exhaust note will give you plenty of warning that the California approaches.

What counts is inner beauty

Leather is draped over everything in the California s exquisite cabin. Few of us can afford a wallet or purse that s stitched up this nicely and to be sure the cabin looks like a giant Prada purse. A sure sign of the apocalypse? This Ferrari has a cupholder. A nav system is available that appears similar to the one in a Chrysler Town & Country (apparently it s not). Seats hug and the wheel feels positively sensuous. Who needs Halle Berry, huh?

Choose between a parcel shelf or seating in the rear. Order the chairs and they sport ISOFIX mounts for a car seat. The only thing you won t find is legroom. Even for kids this is not a welcoming space. Still it s a great place to throw a Louis Vuitton briefcase if not a diaper bag. The trunk is good for a couple small suitcases. If you re golfing or need to pick up a few 2x4s at Home Depot, the rear seatbacks fold down to swallow long items whole. Until Ferrari produces a minivan or pickup, this will have to do.

Want one for the summer of 2011? Order now

There s an 18-month wait for a California. Normally that would be longer, that s the upside to our current economic woes. The timeframe allows a buyer to personalize their Ferrari. While it seems all of them are red, there are in fact a rainbow of colors to choose from. Roberto Perrina and his staff at Ferrari and Maserati of Seattle would be happy to explain the process. It may be the everyday Ferrari but it still requires an exceptional income to own one. For the common man, California dreaming will remain just that.

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