The concept of an 'edgier' version of any Ferrari model probably strikes most people as a bit superfluous. However, sales of the stiffer-suspended 2016 Ferrari California T, called the Handling Speciale, have been so impressive since the was introduced in Europe early this year that it’s clear the car has strong appeal which is likely to be replicated in the UK.
For an extra £5658 over the standard California T, the buyer gets stiffer suspension settings front and rear, including quicker-acting 'MagneRide' shock absorbers, plus modified internal electronics which speed up the gear changes in the seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox and improve traction when the car is accelerating out of bumpy bends.
Outsiders can tell from a special grille, small changes to the rear under-body aerodynamic diffuser and special exhaust tailpipes that your car is an HS model, and there’s also a somewhat louder exhaust note to advertise the fact as you drive down the road. A special plaque in the cockpit reminds you of the extra money you’ve spent on crisper handling.
Prior to buying, make sure you thoroughly research the Mercedes SL 65 and Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.
What is the 2016 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale like to drive?
Firstly, it’s very fast. The engine is the same twin-turbocharged 552bhp V8 used in the standard car since 2012, and it gives the HS 0-62mph acceleration of only 3.6sec, plus a 196mph top speed, which puts it in the top echelon of performance cars. It's certainly faster than an SL 65, but still someway behind the ballistic 911 Turbo S.
The HS California's quicker gearchanges are just about detectable — either in manual paddle-shift or automatic mode — to anyone who’s driven a standard California. They’re still very smooth, though, even with the steering wheel-mounted driving mode switch (which the Italians call a manettino) set to the more urgent Sport mode.
However, it’s in corners that you notice a difference between the HS and its sibling. The stiffer suspension and re-rated dampers give the car a flatter cornering stance and a very accurate corner entry. It'll certainly out-corner an SL. The standard California T is good, too, mind you.
Since it first appeared in 2009, the California has become well known for light but quick-geared steering which is notably easy to use around town.
The ride comfort may not please everyone. It’s less composed than the standard car in any of the three driving modes, though not so bad as to allow the car to crash into ruts. It’s definitely more sports car than grand tourer. The louder exhaust note sounds great when you’re in the mood, but on motorways it can set up a drone that won’t please every owner.
What is the 2016 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale like inside?
The California T HS had an identical cabin to the ordinary T model, apart from the HS badge. It’s a very comfortable cabin that’s spacious (at least for the front two passengers) and lined with top quality leather, without seeming quite as luxurious as a Bentley or a top-end Mercedes-Benz. The rear seats are next to useless really, but are handy for bags and jackets.
The HS's strengths are low-set seats with a high-sided cockpit that encourages you to drive roof-down a lot of the time. The driving position is especially good, with the wheel (on which most frequently used switches are mounted) positioned unusually high in front of the driver.
That layout makes the car feel very good over longer distances, and the cabin is quite well protected from wind buffeting, even at higher speeds. The doors are big, too, so access is easy.
Thankfully, the California's infotainment system now features Apple CarPlay functionality, improving it no end. There's still a fairly unresponsive, low-resolution screen to put up with, but at least Apple's interface is far easier to read and use on the move.
Should I buy one? The cost of the HS model is hardly a factor, given the price of other Ferrari options (such as £4000-plus for parking cameras). In fact, it’s surprisingly good value.
Indeed, buying sharper responses for a Ferrari in exchange for only £5568 will appeal to the many people who want to use their car for fairly frenetic weekend driving. They’re probably in the majority.
However, those who really plan day-to-day use — and there are more of those than for any other Ferrari model — would be better off with the standard version, which lacks the HS's jittery ride and motorway drone.
What Car? says...
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Ferrari California T Handling Speciale
Engine size 3.9 V8 petrol
Price from £160,812
Torque 557lb ft
Top speed 196mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 26.9mpg
CO2/BIK band 250g/km/37%