With Storm Desmond dropping enough rain on northern England to make arks the most sensible mode of transport, this would not seem like the best weekend to be driving a borrowed convertible Ferrari. But this Ferrari is different; the California T is the Ferrari you can use almost every day of the year.
It's now Friday morning and I plan to get as close to my 1,000-mile limit as possible before handing the keys back on Monday afternoon. A bit of rain isn't going to stop me.
The California T, replacing the original California with a new turbocharged engine which improves efficiency, emissions and economy, is the everyday Ferrari; 70% of buyers are new to the brand, having outgrown fast convertible sports cars like the Mercedes SL. On collecting the car I'm greeted by Jason, Ferrari's PR man for northern Europe who talks me through the seven years of free servicing, the 12-year warranty, and even threatens to explain the finance options.
I drop into the conversation that my own car is a humble Mini and my rented house doesn't even have its own driveway. He checks that the Ferrari will be kept somewhere more secure at night and surrenders the key to this £207,500 car. For the record, the California T starts at £155,000, but this being the press demonstrator, it has almost every option ticked. There's the £4,000 black roof, the £3,000 suspension, the £10,000 of carbon fibre trim in the cabin, the £2,000 seats, the £4,000 parking cameras, the £3,500 wheels, £2,400 for Apple CarPlay, and - my personal favourite - the carbon fibre cup holder trim, which costs £1,440.
But let's not get bogged down with stating the obvious here. It's a Ferrari, it's expensive, the cost of some optional extras are more than my Mini and you don't really need any of them. For the next four days I'm going to ignore the cost, ignore the terrifying insurance excess, and just drive this car as if I owned it.
It will go to the pub, it'll go to the shops. It will give rides to friends, it will visit family and it will headbutt its way through Storm Desmond on its way from London to Surrey, Huddersfield, Manchester and back. It's a car and I will do car stuff with it. I'll even put a suitcase in the boot and an adult in those tiny back seats.
As much as I wanted to drive the California like I'd stolen it, the car would have to convince me that it can do mundane just as well as it does extraordinary. To quickly find an answer I drove from Slough to Dorking. No one remembers driving from Slough to Dorking, but doing so with a prancing horse on the steering wheel in front, and the V8's exhaust barking behind is proof that even the most mundane trip - at no more than 60mph - can be made exciting by the most famous car brand of them all.
I should pause the gushing here for a moment, because not only does that steering wheel have a prancing horse on it, it also has buttons for the indicators, wipers, headlights, horn, suspension, traction control and starter motor.
There's an awful lot going on here and while most I can forgive, placing indicator buttons on a steering wheel is madness. Yes, the steering is so quick you rarely need to adjust your hands from one position, and yes the buttons fall neatly below your thumbs when changing motorway lanes - but try indicating to exit a tight roundabout when the left button is up at two o'clock somewhere. It's really not easy. After 850 miles I began to get used to it, but even then I longed for a stalk like every other car I've ever driven.
No matter, let me fast-forward 400 miles and 48 hours. In this time the California T gave out a dozen passenger rides, had its folding metal roof up and down twice, terrified me as it snuck through a width-restricted road with bollards an inch from each wing mirror, and swallowed the luggage of a weekend away for two. Leaving the dry south behind, navigating the blustery M1 and arriving in a sodden West Yorkshire, the Ferrari still had plenty to show me. By now, the car had sliced its way through London traffic, posed in Surrey with the roof down, acted as a taxi service to a black tie party and taken my girlfriend and I 200 miles north, all without skipping a beat.
So far, so everyday, versatile sports car. But by now the Manettino switch on the steering wheel was begging to be flicked into Sport mode; the gearbox was asking to be changed from automatic to manual, and the 3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 was daring me to find out what 553 horsepower and 557lb ft of torque feels like.
Turn the Manettino, press the Auto button to switch to manual, pull the left paddle behind the steering wheel five times to change from seventh gear to second, then give the accelerator a firm prod. Now the sensible grand tourer with a decent boot, folding roof and comfy leather seats turns into something very different. Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde, the exhaust barks and crackles, the gear changes are almost instantaneous and the shove forward is as brutal as it is addictive. On the sweeping moorland roads over the Pennines - roads far from ideal, slick with rain and fallen leaves - the California T covers ground with a calm and contained aggression unlike anything I've experienced before.
The acceleration and noise are truly dramatic, but the ride is never anything short of sublime. The steering is - cliche alert - bordering on telepathic, feeling like you are thinking your way around each corner.
This is by far the most communicative steering wheel I have ever held; it provides boundless reassurance when pressing on over the moors, giving quick, clear and regular messages about what the front and rear tyres are doing.
Safe understeer is likely in the dry, while the rear will break free if you ask it to, especially when the tyres are cold and damp. The communication can become tiresome after three hours on the motorway, however, especially when the wide tyres tramline through the lorry grooves of the inside lane.
The carbon-ceramic brakes (now standard and not the £10k option they used to be) are surprisingly sharp at first, but give plenty of feel and provide superhuman strength when called upon; get used to them and they work wonderfully both at speed and in town traffic. A stream of Sunday afternoon caravans brought my fun to an end as we neared Manchester; I switch the car back to automatic and Comfort, and it returns to being the composed, quiet and comfortable Dr Jekyll.
I don't want to do the California T a disservice by calling it the everyday supercar, because that is a much larger compliment than it first seems. Here is a Ferrari with looks, performance and a soundtrack to die for, but one which can tackle everyday life, come rain or shine, like anything else on the road.
While driving down the M1 back to London on Sunday evening I wondered about the Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotica parked across the capital; I could picture them tucked away for the winter in heated garages.
The California T doesn't need this treatment. It doesn't ask to be wrapped up in cotton wool. It just wants to be driven, to be taken to the shops, to go on holiday, to take the kids out. And no matter what you do, it will put the biggest smile on your face.
To hell with the depreciation. If I could use this car every single day, I would.
- All the performance you could ever need
- Confidence-inspiring; it isn't at all intimidating
- Practicality; kids' seats, folding roof and a decent boot
- Indicators as buttons on the steering wheel
- Sat-nav (Apple Maps via CarPlay) does not know car width or ride height, so will take you down very narrow/bumpy roads. A common fault not exclusive to Ferrari/Apple
- Options list gets expensive very quickly