Ferrari". Say it unhurriedly. Roll the “R"s on your tongue as you would fine Italian grappa. Now delve into the aural section of your mind and fill your head with the rampant roar of a thoroughbred V8. If you’ve just felt your heartbeat accelerate to a higher bpm (beats per minute) then yes, you do want to drive a Ferrari.

And you can, on twisty alpine roads, through charming country lanes and on speed-limitless autobahns. With an Elite Driving Experience, you can enjoy a Ferrari or a Maserati or a Porsche or an Aston Martin or another marque on a holiday behind the wheel where the drives are the destination and the car is the star.

Last week, I did the same in a screaming red Ferrari California.

The real experience

When Ferrari started selling the California last year, many purists turned their nose up at the car. First of all, its engine sits in front of the driver rather than behind. And this engine makes 30 bhp less than the Ferrari F430’s engine. Second, the rear is more chubby-bum, than lean bikini-bottom and it has soft curves rather than the sharp angles of its stable mates.

But yet, in the hour that it was parked outside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Munich, where it was delivered, one in three passers-by pulled out their phones to take a quick picture. The nose of the car that starts from the gaping grille and flows upwards in a graceful curve to meet the sharply raked-back windshield makes the California quite attractive. And in true Ferrari tradition, it exudes the sensation of speed even when it is parked.

The cabin appears small but the seats and the steering wheel are generously adjustable and the footwells extend a fair bit beyond the dashboard. You can find a comfortable driving position. When you hit the “engine start" button on the steering wheel, the car roars to life with an automatic blip of the throttle. But for all its fanfare at ignition, the engine, while negotiating the crowded Munich roads, had just a gentle hum. In fact, you can drown out the exhaust note by turning up the radio volume.

Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

‘It corners like it’s on rails’

Purists needn’t worry; the California delivers what you expect from a Ferrari and is mighty feisty while doing so. The exhaust would respond with a gunshot-like retort every time I pulled the right-hand paddle to grab the next gear at the red line and the car would surge ahead—thanks to 483 Nm of torque—squashing the driver into the seat’s backrest. There is also no lag between gears, the double clutch, seven speed transmission goes from one gear to another quicker than the blink of an eye. This car will do 0 to 100 in 3.2 seconds and go to a top whack of over 300 kmph.

Around the corners there’s a double dollop of thrill, as the California goes around at neck-wrenching pace feeling well-balanced thanks to its 47/53 (front/rear) weight distribution. On a wet road, though, it does bite back, and it did once with a spectacular rear wheel slide, but the ESP tidied things up. What reduces the fun a little bit is the thick “A" pillar, so you need to cock your head a wee bit to the side to have a look.

The boot will take two cabin-sized bags at the most because half of it is filled by the metal roof when it retracts, and it does so in just 14 seconds.

Ferrari calls the California a four-seater but the rear seats are cubby holes, no grown person can fit there. But then, this is not a family car; in fact, it’s a convertible, a GT and a sports car rolled into one and it plays each role quite superbly.

Your Ferrari holiday planned

Elite Rent-A-Car (head office Geneva) specializes in renting out exceptional cars and customized driving itineraries. You have a choice of Ferraris, Mercedes-Benz, Porsches, Maseratis and other fancy cars. You can either opt for a solo trip where they give you a route loaded on the navigation system or if there’s a group of people, then a guided self-drive trip. They have itineraries throughout Europe and can tweak a particular one to suit your taste. Plus, they have a 24x7 helpline for anything at all. The accommodation arranged is very luxurious and has stunning settings. If you’re on a guided trip, luggage is transported for you. On a solo trip, Elite will store extra luggage for you.

The three-day trip in the California costs around 3 lakh but it can go up depending on the itinerary and the car you choose.

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