Driving The "Entry-Level" Ferrari: The 2011 California

By: Anthony Fongaro | September 2015

Full disclaimer: Midwest Motors in Lake Zurich, IL was gracious enough to let me get behind the wheel of this 2011 Ferrari California. Their contact information is below.

“Entry-level” usually isn’t want you want to tell people regarding a vehicle purchase, since it can sound like you had to settle for something sub-par. This doesn’t apply to a brand like Ferrari. Up until 2009, Ferrari’s version of an entry-level car was a mid-engine V8 supercar that was more at home on the track than Whole Foods. That’s where the California comes in.

With the introduction of the California, Ferrari tried to create a more docile vehicle while sticking to their heritage of creating the best supercars in the world. Were they able to do it and is the California worthy of the prancing horse? Thanks to Midwest Motors in Lake Zurich, IL, I was able to test drive my first ever Ferrari, the 2011 Ferrari California.

Ferrari firsts.

Like I said earlier, the California isn’t your normal fire-breathing, hardcore Ferrari that people feel the need to talk to you about every time you go to a gas station. Unlike every other V8 powered Ferrari, the California’s engine is at the front rather than in the middle of the car. Attached to this V8 is another Ferrari first, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and its roof is a fully retractable hard-top. So for the first time, Ferrari has built a V8 supercar that is more at home cruising with the top down than attempting to embarrass modified Honda Civics at stoplights (and racetracks).

A subtle supercar.

Take a walk around a Ferrari California and you will notice two things. First, the amount of Ferrari badges (which is due to the second thing). Second, it is actually quite subtle. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s pretty. But it isn’t hideous either. Yes, the rear-end of the California isn’t its best angle and yes the stacked tailpipes look a bit awkward but other than that, it’s a handsome car. This test car is even more subtle thanks to the Grigio Silverstone (Italian for “What!? You buy a Ferrari and it isn’t red or yellow!?”) Metallic paint. The California also isn’t stupidly low to the ground, so it is easy to enter and take a look at how Ferrari makes interiors.

As soon as you enter the California, like any Ferrari, you will see the giant tachometer in front of you. Next, you have the steering wheel with the Engine Start button and the Manettino lever that controls the suspension, traction control, gearbox, and throttle. Sitting in the California feels very special. You get the sense that not only are you in an incredibly well-made machine but doing mundane tasks such as driving to work will be an adventure.

Ferrari wisely chose not to call the California a four-seater, because the back seats are so small the only thing that will fit is a Gucci handbag. The dials for the climate control are classic Italian: difficult to understand and look like they were thrown in between coffee breaks.

So for the most part, the California is a subtle convertible with many Ferrari badges. In fact, some people may not even know you’re in a Ferrari. That is, until you press that big red Engine Start button…

This is still a prancing horse.

Some people claim that this is not a proper Ferrari. I’m not one of those people. Even though this is the entry-level Ferrari, the 2011 California still makes 453 HP from its 4.3L V8 and can go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. When you finally have to slow down, standard carbon-ceramic brakes will stop you the moment your big toe taps on the brake pedal. Your run to the Starbucks drive-thru window will be less of a hassle since the California has the Magnaride Dual Mode Shock Absorber System a.k.a a selectable responsive suspension system so you can take corners with ease.

With the roof down, you can fully hear that beautifully naturally aspirated V8 sing the Ferrari melody. The 2011 California’s transmission is one of the best you could ever use. Keep the gearbox in Auto and it will shift smooth and with no fuss. To fully enjoy this car, pull back on the paddle-shifters and take control of the transmission.

Carbon Fiber ____________.

Whatever the supercar, you will want it tailored to your exact specifications. For this specific California, the option boxes with the words “carbon fiber” were ticked quite a few times. The exterior has: a carbon fiber rear diffuser, carbon fiber rear license plate holder, and carbon fiber front wings. Inside, you have carbon fiber trim for the doors, dashboard, and steering wheel. There’s also the carbon fiber center console, carbon fiber exterior sills, carbon fiber on the upper and lower areas of the cabin, but sadly the foot rests are only made out of aluminum.

As for other options shared with commoner’s cars, you have a rear parking camera, parking sensors, automatic climate control, and a tilt and telescopic steering wheel. 

Any complaints?

Nothing major. The interface for the navigation systems seems dated and the climate controls are a bit fussy. Once again, unless you have a friend, relative, or child named Prada or Gucci, the rear seats are essentially useless.

The (almost) everyday supercar.

The 2011 Ferrari California is unlike most supercars. Instead of trying to be brash, the California takes the sensible approach to being a supercar. It is a usable supercar you can take to the grocery store and drive it to work; usually parking at the very back so no one messes with it. If the California had all-wheel drive, it would truly be a car you could use every day. So for those clear days, the California is the practical entry-level supercar to choose.


Thanks again to Midwest Motors. They are located at 540 Cortland Drive, Lake Zurich, IL 60047.

Visit their website at http://www.midwestmotors.com/.

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