Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

First Drive: The 2017 Ferrari California T HS Feels Like Lightning

The handling on this souped-up convertible is second to none, and the acceleration should provide a lesson to all other top-tier automakers.

Seven thousand dollars is nothing when you’re dealing with a six-figure car. If you were considering a sound-system upgrade that cost that much, you'd probably not even blink before buying it.

But the $7,277 required to buy the HS edition of the 2017 California T returns something exponentially more than the fractional cash sum.


The special handling version of the Ferrari California T costs $7,277. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

I copped one of these new whips last week in Big Sur—I was covering the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and Ferrari gave me a sneak peak—and I didn’t expect to feel anything much more exhilarating than what the California T had given me last year: a “charismatic grill, Pininfarina detailing, seductive carbon ceramic brakes, and flanks like a 250 Testa Rossa,” I wrote at the time. But the $210,000 California T “Handling Speciale” more than lived up to its moniker.


The hardtop California T HS costs $210,000, which includes the HS package and the delivery fees. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Improved Handling

Let’s start with the handling, because if you buy a package labeled Special Handling, that car had better be s-p-e-c-i-a-l. It was. Although there isn’t much visual difference (aside from some fascia detailing) between the standard-issue T and the HS, there are significant changes under the hood and along the power train. That’s why the handling is noticeably stiffer, more precise, and more exhilarating to feel than in the lower version.


Except for some slight fascia changes toward the front of the car, it's difficult to tell the difference between the California T and the T HS until you drive them. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

The California T HS comes with 16 percent tighter springs in the front and 19 percent tighter springs in the back. The seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission has been refined as well, with 30 percent quicker upshifts and 40 percent-quicker downshifts, according to factory numbers. That means the thing feels like lightning.

Driving south down Highway 1 from Carmel last week felt like riding a slipstream of memory into the future.


The trunk in the Ferrari California T HS is very small, especially when the top is down. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

I know, I know. That’s gobbledygook. But that is how it feels. The steering on this car feels ethereal. Winding around a bend is like that moment during déjà vu when the projector in your brain throws in an extra frame: You’ve been here before, it feels natural and happy, but it happens so fast and is over so quickly that afterward, you’re not sure what you remembered, or when, or why.

Elsewhere, those brakes worked like a vice, instilling the kind of confidence you have on your very best day at work. The 3.9 liter V8 engine is turbo-charged to 553 horsepower and gives literally no hang time between pressing the steel gas pedal and hitting 60 mph in 3.6 seconds (top speed is 196 mph). I repeat: There is no turbo lag. Believe it. The Ferrari California T HS removes any excuses others have for that wait-time associated with turbo-charging. It simply doesn’t have to exist enough to be detectable to the driver.


The California T HS has seats for four people but is comfortable for only two. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

The rear-wheel driven sprint time, it should be noted, beats the Aston Martin DB9 GT ($202,775 4.4 seconds), the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible ($263,400, 3.9 seconds), and the Mercedes-Benz AMG SL65 Roadster ($219,850, 3.9 seconds).

But I digress.


The V8 engine in the California T HS gets to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Improved Sound

The roar from the V8 will jolt you back to reality. The California T HS is louder than its sibling, with big square resonators on each side that produce an exhaust note three decibels more formidable than the standard California T. I like this effect a lot. The sound is massive and more powerful than most luxury engines (from Bentley or Mercedes, say) on the road right now, but it’s not rough.


The round dials and controls on the dashboard in the car are signatures of Ferrari.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Once inside the car, though, and with the top up, the sound is muted almost beyond notice. In fact, the danger with the California T HS is that you’ll forget that its retractable hardtop even exists, which would be a shame considering how beautiful the car looks with the top down. But driven with the top up, thanks to handling far superior to what we expect in many convertibles and the thick quiet of the interior broken only by the muffled rumble of the V8 engine outside, the California T HS feels like a coupe.

The California T HS comes with the same 2+2 seating arrangement as the regular model, which is basically room enough for a dog in the back or a limber friend who sits sideways, legs draped over one seat with hips and shoulders twisted in the other. The trunk is likewise limiting, especially with the top down. Fuel economy is 22 mpg combined—it won’t save the world, but it’s much better than what you get in higher-tuned offerings from Ferrari and Lamborghini.


A road like Highway 1 through Big Sur is perfect for testing the refined handling of the Ferrari California T HS.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Are we surprised about any of these asides I mention? No. Do we care? You won’t once you get behind the wheel. Driving the California T HS is distractingly fun.

It goes on sale in the U.S. in September.


The car comes with contrast stitching and high-quality leather inside. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

The technology package remains unchanged from the "regular" California T.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Are you considering spending the extra $7,277 on the handling upgrade? It's worth it.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
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