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Driving the 2017 Ferrari California T HS

Driving the 2017 Ferrari California T HS
Ferrari has packaged its California T grand touring sports car with a new HS option that sharpens the suspension and handling for a uniquely exciting drive experience. (Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times)

One of the many delights of the just-concluded annual Monterey Car Week is Casa Ferrari.

Every year, the luxury Italian car maker takes over a vintage filling station north of Big Sur, now home to the Carmel Highlands General Store, and dresses it up like a Tuscan villa.

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Ferrari owners and prospects are invited to sip prosecco, nibble on bits of Parmesan cheese and Parma ham and ogle the new cars.

This year, Ferrari was promoting the California T HS. I got the keys and a chance to take it for a spin.

The 2017 Ferrari California T HS is powered by a 3.9-liter, twin-turbo V8 that makes 560 horsepower. The HS model starts at about $210,000.

For the next hour, I rolled north and south on Highway 1, jetted up and down Carmel Valley Road and reveled in one of the finest touring vehicles I've ever driven.

The California T isn't new. Ferrari introduced the 2+2 sports car in 2008 and refreshed it in 2014 with a new engine, new interior and new body elements.

The version on hand at Casa Ferrari was the 2017 California T HS — the last two letters being an Anglo-Italian mash-up of "handling" and "speciale" — designed to maximize the performance of this already high-performing car.

Did it need improving? The California T is one of the most delectable touring cars on the planet. It combines massive power, comfort and refinement to an unusual degree.

Powered by a 3.9-liter, twin-turbo V-8 that makes 560 horsepower and 557 pound-feet of torque, the 3,300-pound Cal T accelerates from zero to 62 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds up to a top speed of almost 200 mph.

It does so with great elegance. The hand-stitched leather interior leaves nothing to be desired, and unlike the F12 Berlinetta that we reviewed recently, this Cal T was not fitted with racing seats.

So I was able to drive very fast, very confidently. Ferrari is pitching the car as a daily driver with supercar specs, and, in fact, the Cal T is comfortable enough to warrant that.

The sense of pleasure increased slightly when I pulled the trigger on the convertible top, and converted the Cal T into a cabriolet. In 14 quiet seconds, the car lifts its lid, lowers the windows and stows the top in the trunk.

The HS package, an $8,100 option available on all Cal Ts but not retrofittable to earlier models, sharpens handling and performance. According to Ferrari folks, it stiffens the suspension, tightens up the steering, adds an additionally thrilling note to the exhaust sound and cuts shift times on the automatic transmission by one-third.

I'm not sure I needed the Cal T to go any faster than it already went, or handle any better, but switching into Sport mode on the HS model fired me up. Perhaps I did not exceed the speed limit, but I was pleased the CHP wasn't around to render an opinion on the matter.

Technically, the California T is a 2+2, with two doors and two rows of seats. But the people in the back seat wouldn't enjoy the ride much. Leg room is reduced to about, say, zero, and the seat space would probably best be used for carrying a picnic basket of prosciutto and a beaker of Aperol Spritz.

Ferrari says the trunk, before the top gets stowed, is big enough to hold a golf bag — important for people hitting the links at nearby Pebble Beach — and even with the top down has room for a suitcase or two, or a case of wine from one of the nearby wineries. This is a touring car that could actually tour.

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There's no such thing as a cheap Ferrari, and the California will set you back a couple of coins.

A base model can be had for as little as $203,000 or so. The California T HS would run closer to $210,000.

The model I drove, which featured a special Rosso California paint color, leather interior, custom wheels, Apple Carplay and lots of carbon fiber, cost a cool $272,761 including destination charges.

But funnily enough, that could actually be a good price.

Having spent much of last week on the Monterey Peninsula gazing at vintage Ferraris at the Quail, Concorso Italiano and Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, and having watched Italian cars break sales records at automobile auctions held by RM Sotheby's, Bonhams, Gooding & Co. and Mecum, I understand that a well-maintained Ferrari isn't just a car. It's an investment.

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