2017 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

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.

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. 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.

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.

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. Read more...

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17 Jan 2017