Last month, Ferrari gave us a glimpse at its new mid-front-engine, retractable hard top berlinetta California T. Now at the 2014 Geneva International Motor Show, the legendary Italian car maker has taken the cover off the new grand tourer, which the Ferrari Styling Center, in collaboration with Pininfarina, has completely redesigned to both reflect Ferrari’s heritage and to get the most out of its new turbocharged engine by Maranello.
Drawing on its experience designing and building the Scuderia F1 single-seaters, Ferrari has retained the original dimensions of the California T while giving it a major design overhaul and introducing Ferrari’s first turbocharged production car since 1987’s F40 hypercar. The design riffs off Ferrari classics like the 250 Testa Rossa and has touches like a lower and slightly more aggressive grille, but the general philosophy behind the not overly ambitious styling focuses on aerodynamics and feeding air to the souped up engine and brakes.
The California T’s transaxle architecture mounts the mid-front engine and all the other major components inside the wheelbase with a 47-53 front-to-rear weight distribution and the engine sitting 40 mm lower than in the previous California for an improved center of gravity. The chassis and body are made out of aluminum using 12 different alloys developed by Ferrari for light weight and high torsional rigidity.
Ferrari points out that the latter is important because since the California T is a convertible, it needs to make up for the structural strength lost along with the fixed hardtop without adding unwanted weight. It also needs to make up for the weight of the mechanism that allows the aluminum retractable hard top to open in 14 seconds.
The Ferrari engineers aimed at a body and chassis design that allowed for less steering wheel activity and less body roll for better control and handling. The emphasis on aerodynamics helps with this, and the underbody is equipped with a semi-cone diffuser in the front for better downforce and feeding cooling air to the brakes. This is aided by a curved dam in front of the front tires. Meanwhile vents in the underbody and in the bonnet feed air to the radiator, and others in the front wings help to reduce internal air pressure.
But the heart of the new California T is the new turbocharged, 3.8-liter, direct-injection V8 engine. Turbos may do a lot for performance, but they’re also a bit frustrating, since hitting the accelerator produces the infamous turbo lag while the car takes time out for a little think before taking off. It also cuts down on the maximum revs and makes the exhaust sound a trifle anemic. Ferrari says that it has virtually eliminated turbo lag from the California T by reducing inertia and using an an F1-derived flat-plane crankshaft and twin-scroll turbines.
According to Ferrari, this system causes the exhaust gases from the cylinder to optimally pulse into the turbine, which equally spaces the pressure peaks for each turbine scroll. This helps to reduce turbo lag, as does the use of compact turbines and the flat-plane crankshaft to decrease inertia. This makes for fast throttle response, which Ferrari says is the fastest in the California T’s market segment.
Another feature of the California T’s engine is Variable Boost Management, which adjusts torque delivery to suit both the revs and gear selection, so the torque increases smoothly as the engine speeds up, allowing the use of longer gear ratios in the higher gears, reducing fuel consumption and emissions.
The California T punches an eye-watering 560 bhp (412 kW) and 755 Nm (557 ft-lb) of torque. It also means that it needs a 20 percent larger radiator to keep it cool. It required Ferrari to redesign the fan housing to keep the engine cool at both low and high speeds, and to play around with the vents and air flows over and through the body to aim it at the intercoolers.
Finally, just to show that the engine isn't just about torques and rpms and that this is Ferrari here, the flat-plane crankshaft and the three-piece cast exhaust manifold and turbo housing were designed to make a proper growl as the California T tears down the track.
Behind the engine and catching all that power is an F1 dual-clutch, seven-gear flappy paddle gearbox. Top speed when the horses reach the tires is 196 mph (316 km/h) and it does 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.6 seconds thanks in part to a weight-to-power ratio of 2.9 kg/bhp.
In the front of the California T is a double wishbone suspension and in the rear is a multilink suspension. There are also new 11 percent stiffer springs, the latest-generation Magnaride dampers, and body motion accelerometers to reduce roll and pitch while providing more precise speeding and a more comfortable ride.
On the new 19-in alloy wheels are Brembo CCM3 carbon-ceramic brakes with new composite discs and pads that Ferrari claims wear so lightly that they may last through the California T’s entire life, yet have enough friction to bring the car to a dead stop from 100 km/h (62 mph) in 34 meters (111 ft).
As far as the interior of the California T is concerned, Ferrari has gone for an ergonomic design as well as trimming the cabin in semi-aniline leather. There’s also a lot of boot space, which is surprising in a retractable hardtop, though Ferrari did have to make an entry hatch through the back seats for stowing the golf clubs when the top’s down.
Speaking of seats, the new California T has new, lighter seats with "extremely high containment" and new foam shaping for comfort during long journeys. However, Ferrari confesses that though the California T does seat four, the two in the back should be children if you’re going on a long trip because legroom is not exactly generous back there.
A highlight of the California T’s cockpit is the Human-Machine Interface, which is how Ferrari describes how it’s taken off all the steering column stalks and moved their controls to the steering wheel spokes. Even the flappy paddles are set more flush with the wheel. Backlit for night driving, the new controls are designed for faster, more intuitive operation.
Between the air vents, where other cars have little clocks, is the Turbo Performance Engineer (TPE) , which is a touch-controlled display that gives the driver pointers on how to get the most out of the California T’s engine.
For those who want something a bit less petrolhead-minded, there’s the infotainment system with a WVGA screen, a satnav with 3D mapping, USB ports under the armrests, and a new audio system that pumps 1,280-watts for when tune-cranking is imperative.