A darkening sky descended. Clouds rolled back into themselves like a canopy of black velvet, the sun melted into the horizon and sulked back to the depths. A hellhound was coming.
The 2016 Ferrari California T is like that. It makes other objects—celestial, human, organic, inanimate—cower in fright until the thunder relents. I drove one for a few days recently, and every minute in the car was an ethereal experience—a bit like discovering a new form of electricity. Forget everything you’ve read about the engine, which just won a major award, or the 0-60 ratings, or even tech features like the Apple CarPlay sync, a first for a supercar. The California T wants to prowl, hunt prey, and perform reconstructive surgery on your thought processes. It’s designed to make you rethink reality, not just tear up the road.
It’s all about the experience. The grass withers a bit around the car, flowers bend in reverence. It’s not like riding on a magic carpet. It’s like you invented carpet. Because of the instantly responsive throttle, the gliding-on-air-sense you get from the suspension, and the throat-clearing grumble of the exhaust (think two wolves ready to pounce on fresh meat), you sit back and let the California T split the atmosphere for you.
I understand why it’s named after the golden state, and the sunny-bright red paint job would work fine in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, but this is a fully functional hellhound with a faux pa disposition. “I’m going to smile right before I flattened the road like a pancake” seems to be its modus operandi.
I’ve driven the Jaguar F-Type, which is at least similar in size and growl, but the California T is in a completely different category. I’ve also driven a Bugatti Veyron, and this car compares favorably in one important way—it’s amazingly transportive. Both cars give you an out-of-body experience because no car quite drives the same. The Veyron feels like you are strapped on to a jet engine and that air in front of you is a minor annoyance. The T drives more like a baited wolf, poised to pounce with growling desperation.
Can you drive it slow? Not really. I had to constantly resist the urge to redline, but that sense that the car is going to surge is also pleasant. I remember driving a Chevy Camaro for a few days and it has a somewhat similar surge-like feel, although the T is in a different tribe. The car costs $202,723 which is roughly the same as a Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS, the one with the gull-wing doors. I’ve also driven the SLS a few times, and that car is on a zipwire. It’s fun because it’s a bullet and turns on a spindle, and also has a growl, but if we take the animal analogies a step further, the SLS is a cheetah and the California T is a wolf.
The T can be a bullet though. I tested it going 0-60 several times, just to be sure the time on my phone wasn’t broken, and it was easily in that 4-second range. On the one highway in my area that has a 75MPH speed limit, I blinked twice when it raced up to 75 so fast I thought something was wrong with the engine. I’m totally serious about that. You’re constantly saying “wait what?” as you drive especially if you are used to a Toyota or anything made in America. The 553-horsepower engine is big and beefy, but only part of the story. When I first opened the hood, I laughed a bit. It’s ridiculously cool. The turbos look like time machines.
I tested everything. CarPlay worked flawlessly, showing my text messages and music. Some Ferrari’s don’t even have a radio, and I never bothered listening to music. With the top down, listening to the dual exhaust expelling demons, I had enough to entertain my ears.
That said, one of the big reasons I’m describing the experience so much is that there’s some extra magic at work here. It’s the entire experience—the engine, the styling, the tech that stays safely in the background as you drive, the exhaust—that combine into a transport device that is nothing like anything else on the road, even that Veyron. It’s a pinnacle of perfection.