Ferrari says the package eventually found its way onto 20 percent of Californias and was good for luring performance-minded buyers out of less-expensive but harder-core cars such as the Porsche 911 and various Mercedes-AMG Black Series models. The California is a pathway into the Ferrari brand, with half of them sold to customers who are new to the marque.
Since the massaging is so mild and the underlying car is so good, there are virtually no faults to be found in the HS. It behaves like a California T that got nine instead of seven hours of sleep last night. It’s just a bit more alert, a bit more eager to corner, and a bit lustier in its engine cry. The sublime balance in even this cheapest model (base price: $202,723 before Speciale package) will floor those who’ve never driven a Ferrari. Few cars are as fluid in motion, from the perfectly weighted steering to the precisely calibrated brakes to the seamlessly shifted transmission. Ferraris weren’t always this refined, so the factory deserves credit for making great strides.
In back, the standard mufflers are replaced with straight-through pipes attached to a Helmholtz resonator, an acoustical box that diminishes undesirable noise while helping to shape the outgoing harmonic frequencies. The effect is a sharper roar, an average of three decibels louder across the rev range. Inside, there’s a dash plaque, while on the outside the grille and rear lower valence are rendered in accent-color gray to give the car a more purposeful appearance.
Special kudos go to the engineers who sorted the turbocharging. The Cal T has no dead spots or lumpiness in its torque delivery. The driver never gets one more nor one less pound-foot than what was requested via the pedal, which makes for incredible confidence when rocketing into a twisty section. This is not a car that will run away on an avalanche of boost or fall down dead when the driver lifts. Its responses are as near to those of a naturally aspirated engine as a turbo gets.
The first-gen California (2009–2014) added the package in 2012 to sharpen up both the performance and image of Ferrari’s entry-level roadster. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, suffered from a bit of a teddy-bear reputation.
Adding the word “special” in Italian to the name of a car conjures up all kinds of motoring lore and often adds a bunch of zeros to its eventual auction value as a collectible. As if every Ferrari weren’t speciale, the company has pasted the label on a long and glorious line of cars, from the 1962 250GT SWB Berlinetta Speciale (the only one sold last year for $16.5 million) to the recent 458 Speciale. Each Speciale is, er, special in its own way, although Ferrari is not above using the term on somewhat less-ambitious projects. The new California T Handling Speciale, for instance, is basically a Cal T with a sports suspension. BMW guys may think of it as the equivalent of an M Sport version while those with a bent toward American iron may draw parallels to a Chevy Impala SS.
2017 FERRARI CALIFORNIA T HANDLING SPECIALE
Yeah, it’s hackneyed to say that a Ferrari is great, but this one really is, whether it’s in HS or regular grade. The one thing the Speciale package doesn’t do is fix the car’s proportions, which are a few too many cannoli this side of gorgeous. It has just a little too much front overhang and a bit too much bodywork above the wheel arches, especially in back. You have to walk past a number of prettier and less-expensive convertibles to choose this one, the Aston Martin Vantage among them, but the California T grabs and holds you with its dynamic perfection. The HS package is just a nice little cherry on top.
This is standard performance-package stuff, done by every car company to broaden appeal without breaking the bank, either from a cost or price standpoint. The spring rates rise a mere 16 percent in front and 19 percent in back, with a revised tune to the MagneRide variable dampers to leverage the tautened hardware. In addition, an altered gearbox map cuts the upshift time by 30 percent and the downshift time by 40 percent, while the F1-Trac traction control’s Sport mode also is massaged for more digging when exiting a corner and better power delivery over rough pavement.
The Handling Speciale now returns to the California T, which was restyled for 2015 and re-armed with a new 552-hp 3.9-liter twin-turbo V-8, good for smashing zero to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds. The new California T is a wonderful improvement—better looking, more luxurious, quicker, and usable as a daily driver. The HS package is just a mild toning. For $8120, chump change in Ferrari-land, it turns up the suspension stiffness a click or two, hastens the shifts slightly, adds a few styling tweaks, and opens up the exhaust to deliver more sound if not more power.
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