UK Drive: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

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Ferrari's hard-top convertible can be transformed from a comfortable cruiser to something altogether sportier thanks to a Handling Speciale pack. AOL Cars got behind the wheel of the souped-up California T to see if it's the ultimate drop-top.

What is it?

The California T HS is the tweaked version of Ferrari's folding hard-top sports car. There are two seats in the back for little ones and a turbo-charged V8 engine up front.

The Handling Speciale version costs £5,568 on top of the standard car, so what do you get for your money? Gear shifts are sharper, the front and rear springs are stiffer and the exhaust system is louder. On the outside there's a new front grille and tweaked rear diffuser and tail pipes.

What's under the bonnet?

Thanks to emissions regulations, even Ferrari has headed down the forced-induction route. Therefore, you'll find a turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 under the long front bonnet, which makes 552bhp and 755Nm of torque.

First Drive: Ferrari California T

First Drive: Ferrari California T


What's the spec like?

The California T Handling Speciale costs £155,244, but the base price soon balloons with a few option boxes ticked – 'our' car was a staggering £215,011, meaning we had £59,767 in extras.

These included the two tone exterior (£4,320), carbon fibre dash inserts (£3,744), Scuderia Ferrari side shields (£1,056) and front and rear parking cameras (£4,032). In fact, our test car had no less than 29 options added – including titanium wheel bolts at £1,810.

Apple CarPlay is an option worth adding, though. It's £2,400 but makes the infotainment system far more usable. Ferrari's standard setup isn't a match for the likes of Audi or Porsche so the addition of Apple's integrated software is well worth selecting.

Any rivals?

In this price range there are a number of rivals including the Audi R8 Spyder, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet and Lamborghini Huracan Spyder.

If practicality is what you're after, the California T's rear seats make it better suited to those with a family than the two-seater Audi and Lamborghini. However, putting the front seats back to a position that doesn't result in your knees being crushed means you lose all rear legroom, so even carrying a five-year-old requires the front seat passengers to perform some gymnastics for the journey.

What's it like to drive?

For long distance motorway journeys, the California T HS is a comfortable companion. The turbo-charged V8's power delivery is impressive across the rev range, and although the feeling of acceleration is somewhat numbed in the cabin, it can hit 60mph in just 3.6 seconds.

Sadly, while the turbo engine offers improvements in economy and performance, it loses some of the charm and aural pleasure of a normally aspirated unit. Despite its impressive credentials, we found the California lacked a lot of the excitement you'd expect to find in a Ferrari – though it never failed to draw a crowd whenever we parked it up.

The stiffer springs and louder exhaust can be brought into play by selecting the 'Sport' setting on the manettino switch on the steering wheel. Hit the bumpy road button and you'll be rewarded with a compliant ride that's just about perfect for our rutted roads.

AOL Cars Verdict

It's hard not to be a little disappointed by the California T HS's lack of driving thrills, and it's hard to pinpoint one thing that lets it down. The turbo-charged engine isn't as evocative or exciting as a Ferrari engine should be, and it's not as emotive to drive – more functional long-distance GT than out and out sports car.

However, for families that need flexible space, want the style of a convertible but with the added refinery of a folding hard top, and for whom anything less than a Ferrari badge simply won't do, the California will hit the spot.

Add the fact that the Handling Speciale pack is something of a bargain – at least in comparison to some of the other options available – and buyers would be simply foolish not to opt for the HS option when signing the order form.

Model: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale
Price: £155,244 (£215,011 as tested)
Engine: 3.8-litre turbo-charged V8
Power: 552bhp
Torque: 755Nm
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Top Speed: 196mph
Economy: 27mpg, 250g/km