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First Drive: Ferrari California T Handling Speciale

Ferrari_California_T_Handling_Speciale_01This article originally appeared in Elite Traveler July/August 2016.

The car industry is currently in love with the luxury SUV.

Monstrously big offerings include Lamborghini’s Urus, Bentley’s Bentayga and Maserati’s Levante (opposite), joining the ranks of Audi’s Q7 and Porsche’s Cayenne. How utilitarian these vehicles are is moot. Most are luxury “soft-roaders,” likely to face no more than muddy fields. Flying in the face of convention, Ferrari claims to have no plans for such a vehicle. But I have news for the folks at Marenello, because after a stunning drive in Italy, I can exclusively announce they have made the world’s best sports utility vehicle – the Ferrari California T HS.

Ferrari1The California is a master of many trades. A retractable hardtop roof makes it both coupé and roadster (switching between the two takes 14 seconds); it has a pair of small back seats; enough space for some luggage; and it performs like a proper sports car, without drinking fuel or polluting the atmosphere too much. Best of all, despite these good manners and thanks to some clever engine technology, it burbles, snorts and pops like a proper Ferrari.

The very first California (the 1957 GT California Spyder) was built for export to North America to appeal to drivers new to Ferrari. Its reintroduction in 2010 succeeded in pulling in more first-time buyers than any previous model. This latest revamp – especially the Handling Speciale set-up driven here – will attract even more Ferrari novices and more buyers under 50. An afternoon spent cruising Portofino’s coast road showed off its tight control and handling around corners, as well as its impressive ability to open up on a clear stretch of road. But it also showed how it’s as polite in built-up traffic as a family car. If that’s not a genuine sports utility vehicle, what is?