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Twintest: Ferrari F430 Scuderia Vs Ferrari California

I suppose it's a reflection of the state of the car industry worldwide that not even a company like Ferrari can afford to sit on its laurels. It has the world's strongest car brand, the most coveted cars, the most loyal devotees and the longest history at the pinnacle of motorsport and yet it, too, has to find ways to seek out new customers. Fans, world championships and brand identity are all well and good, but it's all about cold hard cash these days, which is why Ferrari has gone the way of every other company on the planet and decided to shake things up.


Thankfully, sanity has prevailed. There is no Aston Martin Cygnet-style Ferrari city car in the offing, for example, nor is there a big saloon being planned along the lines of the Porsche Panamera, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, Lamborghini Estoque or Aston Martin Rapide. Sister company Maserati led the way with the magnificent Quattroporte, remember, so there's no need for Ferrari to go competing with itself for business. Instead, Ferrari is sticking to what it knows best – ultra-exotic sports cars – because anything else could hurt its brand and that wouldn't be clever. Damage the Ferrari brand and the company's biggest profit-generator, merchandise, also takes a hit. Sure, a small Dino-style Ferrari would sell well and bring in lots of extra cash, but isn't the fact that so few of us can actually afford a Ferrari, and that consequently the cars themselves are such a rare sight, that makes them so special to begin with? Those are integral parts of the brand mystique and Ferrari knows it.

So what Ferrari needed was a car that was unmistakably a Ferrari but somehow different enough to make its well-heeled customers want one despite themselves. And to Ferrari's credit what it came up with is exactly that. The California is like no other Ferrari before it in terms of layout, technology and design, a tempting mix of newness but with the old-school V8 heart of the sporty Ferraris we've come to love so much. It's radical by Ferrari standards, but the changes are just only dragging Ferrari into the 21st century really. Things like direct injection and twin-clutch gearboxes are old news by now. What makes the California so exciting is that we expect Ferrari to take these new technologies and turn them up to 11.

We're getting ahead of ourselves here, though. Firstly, we need to examine what makes the California different from all its predecessors and the most obvious departure is the location of the engine. This is the first ever Ferrari to have a V8 in the front and while it's technically between the axles, effectively making it mid-engined, this is nonetheless a fundamental shift in thinking. Because Ferrari wanted to give the California a folding hardtop it was sort of forced into making the switch but the result is so accomplished the marque must be wondering why it never did it before. The 4.3-litre V8 is compact enough, thanks to its dry sump lubrication, to fit under the nose without spoiling the lines or encroaching on interior space, leaving designers and engineers free to do whatever they want aft of the occupants. Take away the folding hardtop and nail a proper coupé roof on there and you might just have a proper 2+2 Ferrari on your hands.

More significantly, the relocation of the engine has done wonders for the chassis. The mid-engined cars are phenomenal to drive, don't get me wrong, but tricky on the limit and that's where one of life's great ironies comes into play. Those wealthy enough to afford a Ferrari are rarely able to exploit them to their full potential (they're too busy making money to be practising apex clipping) so when they try to open their cars up the results make for YouTube gold. The California is a lot more predictable and forgiving, rarely troubling the traction control system even when the roads are soaking wet. It's also softer and more comfortable on real roads although, surprisingly, it is quite easy to bottom out over unexpected dips and yumps. It's a Grand Tourer, explained Ferrari's press officer when I collected the car outside of London, almost as if to excuse the California's more relaxed gait.

However, because the California feels less manic than the mid-engine machines, you feel comfortable playing with it in a way you'd be quite nervous about in the F430. All the feel and feedback is there, as is the responsiveness and the delicacy. And the pace! It's just as fast as the F430, hitting 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and topping 310km/h, but with more mid-range torque and less top-end the California's V8 doesn't need to be worked as hard to offer blistering pace. Funnily enough, the gearbox is so slick you almost wish it was a little more peaky so you'd have an excuse to snick up and down through all seven gears more often. It's all been taken down a notch and made a smidge more accessible while at the same time not denying the committed pilot any of the fun of an old-school Ferrari. It's a car that will bring you to Monte Carlo in swift comfort and put a huge grin on your face as you head to your chalet in the hills.



Throw open the F430 Scuderia's door and it's like stepping back in time. Ignore the fact that the carpet has been ditched in pursuit of weight saving and look, instead, at the basic, uninspiring design of the dashboard. It looks like someone got a bunch of boxes, covered them in suede and screwed them together. I never really noticed how disjointed the cabin was before because I didn't have the California to compare it to. The new convertbile feels like a luxury car, well made, expensive and plush (even if the dash electronics and display all seem to come from different places), whereas the F430 suddenly looks old-fashioned and basic. The leap forward in quality and execution is absolutely huge although again the California is really just catching up with the rest of the world and not setting any interior benchmarks here. That is where the 458 Italia's new control pods comes in.

Even getting in and out of the Scuderia is a struggle – maybe not the first or second time because you're chock full of adrenaline but after a weekend with the car I'm starting to get six-pack abs from the strain of getting out of a seat that's no more than a few inches off the ground while still trying to maintain some semblance of coolness. There are a lot of eyes on you when you step out of a Scuderia, you know. The California, on the other hand, is a doddle to pop in and out of. The doors open wide, the roofline is high, the seats aren't quite so close to the ground and even though there's no shortage of support you don't feel clamped into position like you do in the Scuderia's deep, carbon-fibre buckets.

I haven't driven the 458 Italia yet but I'd be very surprised if it, too, didn't go down the California route of comfort and ease-of-use. After all, more usage means more servicing, more wear-and-tear parts and possibly more shunts, too. Not the ugly, front-page news shunts that Ferraris are currently subjected to – if well-heeled customers use their cars more they'll get more used to the power and the traction and feel less compelled to show off in them – I'm talking about the everyday bent wheel, dented door, cracked bumper kind of thing. And when cars get used more, they need replacing more frequently. It could be a smart strategy on Ferrari's part, although I have a feeling I might be reading more into this than is actually the case.

So the California heralds a new era for Ferrari. It mixes everyday usability with exotic noises, incredible reflexes, dramatic looks and unsettling levels of feedback and driver interaction. This is a good thing, I realise that, but the real test of where Ferrari's heart is will be the 458 Challange Stradale/Scuderia or whatever it is they call the next stripped-out model. That's because for all its faults the 430 Scuderia is the best individual car I have ever driven, the top of a pile that's taken 10 years and thousands of test drives to accumulate. What makes it so good, you ask? It's simple, really. Everything you touch while the car is moving is simply electric. The seat, for example, is rock hard with a very limited range of movement but I drove the Scuderia from London and back again in the course of a weekend without an ache or a pain anywhere. The car's two pedals are perfectly set up for driving in a kart-like fashion and because Ferrari has deliberately given the carbon-ceramic brakes long pedal travel you don't need an ultra-sensitive left leg. The brakes are forgiving of lumpy inputs early on but once your brain re-wires itself you quickly become used to the black Scandanavian art. And once you're used to it, the car loves it too. Mid-engined cars aren't fond of abrupt throttle-lifts (as the internet can testify) but a left-footed dab on the brakes can shed that mid-corner speed without any drama at all.

And then there's the throttle. It's sharp, as you'd expect, but not overly so, even when the Scuderia's Manettino is flicked to its more aggressive setting. And because the Scuderia's glorious V8 is normally aspirated you don't get that big surge of mid-range turbo torque arriving just as you clip the apex, threatening to break the back end loose. It's all so progressive and balanced that you sometimes forget just how much performance you have on tap; a heady 510hp and 400Nm, no less, enough to catapult the Scuderia to 100km/h in a mind-warping 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 325km/h. That's 200mph in old money, in case you were wondering.



And then we come to the steering and, to be honest, I'm reluctant to dust off the usual hackneyed superlatives because they really don't do justice to the precision, the weight and the feedback that the most focused of roadgoing Ferraris provides. Driving the Scuderia soon becomes an act of instinct – you think it, it happens. But if, like me, you expected all this to be accompanied by a cacophony of unbearable noise, crashing suspension and exhausting twitchiness, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Sure, the Scuderia is loud, but it's not a noise you'd ever tire of, even on long motorway treks. The suspension, despite being ultra-focused, is also compliant and comfortable in "Comfort" mode but even in "Sport" or "Race" modes it never becomes overly stiff or unyielding. You simply get slightly sharper responses and lots more feedback. It's quite remarkable. And as for it being twitchy, the only time the Scuderia ever feels unpredictable is when the traction control is off and you're deliberately trying to break the car into a slide. Getting it sideways and holding it there takes serious skill and commitment because it's not really what the Scuderia is designed to do. The California, on the otherhand, is quite partial to a little drifting.

In the end, I'm torn. I'm glad to see the quality improve because there was always a sense that if anyone who wasn't a car nut sat in your car they'd think you were mad to have spend so much on a vehicle with such a poor cabin. But I also loved the fact that the Ferrari wasn't a car you sat in to fiddle with knobs or admire the designer clock. You drove it. It's great that Ferrari has another model to boost profits and expand its customer base but it's also disappointing that Ferraris maybe won't be as exclusive as they should, and might now be driven by people who aren't petrol-heads first and foremost. The new technology is wonderful but the new features are also drifting away from those derived from F1 cars, away from what Ferraris are all about. Twin-clutch transmissions, for example, are unnecessary in motorsport. And yet California’s twin-clutch ‘box is part of what makes it so great. Sigh.

So is the California a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know, to be honest. The California is an amazing machine that somehow manages to be a proper supercar and an everyday grand tourer and absolutely excells at both. While I enjoyed playing with it on the track and was thrilled to drive it all over Ireland and Wales, I didn't fall for it like I fell for the F430. I guess I just don't want Ferraris to be accessable or easy to drive or the everyman supercar. I want them to be scary and raw, to punish people who don't deserve them and reward those who take the time to stop posing and start driving. The Scuderia is what Ferrari is all about to me. It is, to my mind, the closest thing I’ve come across to Nirvana on wheels. Small wonder, then, that I’m concerned that its successor, for all its improvements, just won’t be as good.

 

Info

Ferrari California

 

Engine

4,297cc V8, FM-mounted

 

Power @ rpm

[email protected],750, [email protected],000

 

Transmission

7-sp twin-clutch RWD

 

Acceleration

0-100km/h 3.9 seconds

 

Top speed

310km/h

 

Economy

13.1l/100km

 

CO2 emissions

305/km

 

CO2 Tax Band

G (€2,100 p.a.)

 

Weight

1,735kg

 

Boot capacity

240 litres

 

Price:

€260,000 (Est)

 

For:

Engine, chassis, cabin

 

Against:

Looks, a touch soft

 

Rating:

9/10

Info

Ferrari F430 Scuderia

 

Engine

4,308cc V8, RM-mounted

 

Power @ rpm

[email protected],500, [email protected],250

 

Transmission

6-sp F1 clutchless manual, RWD

 

Acceleration

0-100km/h 3.6 seconds

 

Top speed

320km/h

 

Economy

15.7l/100km

 

CO2 emissions

360/km

 

CO2 Tax Band

G (€2,100 p.a.)

 

Weight

1,350kg

 

Boot capacity

250 litres

 

Price:

€400,000 (Est)

 

For:

Just about everything

 

Against:

It’s gone

 

Rating:

11/10

 


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