June 06, 2017 By Vince Pornelos

2016 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

What puts “Special” in Speciale?

There really are few feelings in the world that can compare to what I did one morning. At the break of dawn, I got up, turned on the coffee maker, cleaned up, poured and mixed my coffee with a teaspoon of milk and sugar, and walked down to the garage where a Ferrari California T was waiting, its black paint shimmering as the morning light peeked through the trees.

That, it seems, is the perfect start to any petrolhead’s day, and when I step inside and press the red starter button on the wheel, I knew my day was about to get even better still.

This California is not exactly all-new, as it’s a later version of the model they offered from 2008 to 2014.  Last year, the California was given a refresh, updating it with new sheet metal, new bumpers, new headlights, and a new bonnet that had rearward vents. They’ve also removed the trio of vents on both fenders. This actually isn’t just a California T; it’s the HS, or Handling Speciale, meaning it gets the black wheels, the carbon ceramic Brembo brakes, and a matt-black exhaust system, among other things. But the best bit about the California is that if you get bored, the top can be easily dropped for an unparalleled open-top Italian motoring experience.

While traffic can really be a chore, it’s a good time to be able to appreciate the work that went into the California T. All the carbon fiber you can see and touch from the center panel to the paddles are real; no faux or imitation CF here. Really, the focus of your interest in a Ferrari -especially modern Ferraris- has to be the steering wheel. It’s surprisingly easy to miss the starter button, and the controls for the high beam, wipers, and the indicators are all there as well and not on a stalk like most cars. There is also a button for the suspension settings, the now-traditional Ferrari Mannetino switch, and the horn button is not in the middle; there are two of them on the grip at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.

The way the gearbox is operated does take a bit of getting used to as there’s no traditional gearstick for the 7-speed dual clutch transmission; you actually have to use the paddles. To drive forward, pull the paddle on the right. To put it in neutral, pull both. To reverse, press the R button on the center console, which also has the buttons for automatic mode and launch control. In the city, I just leave it in automatic mode, and it drives with a decent degree of smoothness; unusual for a dual clutch gearbox.

There are trade-offs with a Ferrari. If you don’t like unwanted attention, you won’t like this car. You also won’t like it if you have to park inside a mall; the wide doors require parking that’s wider than your average slot. It’s also quite loud and there’s also a fair bit of bumpiness to the ride, but that’s expected; this is an HS after all, meaning it has the stiffer suspension to make the cornering more speciale.

But all that fizzles into thin air once you lay down the law with the throttle of the all-aluminum twin turbo F154 V8, meaning this is the first production Ferrari with forced induction since the F40. With launch control activated, you can easily light up the tires and rocket up to a 100 km/h in just 3.6 seconds. The V8 that rumbles at low RPMs lets out a guttural scream when you nail that pedal to the firewall, and the rear will squirm as the tires try to find the grip, and that’s with traction control on.

The combination of the powerful V8 and the HS suspension make the California T a very lively car to drive on the limit. It’s easy to balance and easy to drive fast around the bends with the tail out just a little tad. I seriously get a kick everytime the shift lights on the steering wheel come on, and even more so if I drop the top while pushing the California T on a mountain road.

But this isn’t a car to take lightly; much like a powerful horse, the California T needs to be respected.  Despite that turbo V8’s surprisingly linear feel, it requires a lot of management and a right foot controlled by a level-headed driver, as 552 bhp and 557 lb ft of torque are very serious figures to consider.

As expected, the Ferrari California T is very pricey, as the SRP has eight figures and starts with 2. Add a bit more for the HS specification. But that doesn’t matter; this isn’t a car that is about delivering what most people consider to be good value. This car is a portal to a different dimension altogether… one that is all about unadulterated automotive pleasure. And passion.


ENGINE:                    V8, 3855cc, dohc 32-valve, twin turbo, 7-speed DCT F1

POWER:                     552 bhp @ 7500 rpm

TORQUE:                   557 lb ft @ 4750 rpm

0-100 KM/H:              3.6 sec.

TOP SPEED:              315 km/h

FUEL MILEAGE:      4.5 km/l City / 8.3 km/l Highway

+:                                 Classic Ferrari proportions, handling, drop top experience

-:                                  The naturally aspirated V8 still sounds better

C! Rating:                   9.0/10

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