Stepping out into the parking lot, Ferrari’s future, represented by a new Ferrari California T ($236,890), sits in front of me, baking in the Silicon Valley sun. Behind me, inside the crisp, air-conditioned showroom is Ferrari’s past: a Ferrari FF, 458 and Fernando Alonso’s 2013 Formula 1 challenger. All three are the last of their kind. Normally aspirated is out, turbos and hybrids are in. I stand, quite literally, between the end of an era and the beginning of a new age. The question is, will Ferrari’s turbo-charged emissions-conscious future be any good?

In the excess of the ’80s, car companies slapped turbos on their cars purely for a power bump. With a gas crisis and financial recession firmly in the past, icons of the era like the Ferrari F40 and its turbo V8 were made to be loud and fast, leaving efficiency not even an afterthought. Now, 30 years later, the industry is in another state of flux as it ushers in the turbo’s second coming. The California T is Ferrari’s first step back to turbos since the famed F40. But, like a favorite ’80s metal band making a comeback, they’re not quite turned up to 11. Ferrari’s reputation for guzzling high-octane fluids has been responsibly cut back, and their electrifying rebel yell is no longer quite as loud.

It’s not until I get to the 101 on-ramp and swing the revs north of 5,500 that I hear the 3.9-liter V8 trying to sing.

After sliding down into the creamy, caramel-brown leather seats of my Tour de France Blue California T, I do what’s natural: I lower the top. Nothing should get in the way of hearing that invariable Italian V8 bark. I hit the ignition, the tach springs to life with the inevitable contralto belt from behind. Everything is as it should be. Then, as I roll out of the lot and set off down El Camino Real the Ferrari goes almost mute. No snarling, no burble, just the wind noise overpowering the exhaust note. It’s not until I get to the 101 on-ramp and swing the revs north of 5,500 that I hear the 3.9-liter V8 trying to sing. The damn turbos are choking the California T’s vocals. Half the experience of driving a Ferrari is, or at least was, the operatic soundtrack that constantly followed you around. And now, it’s gone.

In terms of cars, sound, no matter how beautiful, is wasted energy, and wasted energy is the enemy of efficiency. And, with Europe’s tightening CAFE laws, even boutique manufacturers like Ferrari are forced to change with the times, or else take a massive financial hit. Downsizing the California’s V8 to 3.9 liters and adding hyper-efficient turbos was a move to avoid certain countries’ taxes on cars above 4.0 liters while gaining back power in the process. The 458’s replacement, the 488 GTB, is much the same story. For the foreseeable future, the normally aspirated Ferrari V8, as we know it, is dead.

Under the Hood

Ferrari-California-T-Gear-Patrol-Sidebar

Engine: 3.9-liter Twin Turbo V8
Transmission: Seven-speed Dual Clutch
Horsepower: 552
Torque: 557 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
Top Speed: 196 mph
MPG: 26.9
MSRP: $236,890

But what turbos steal in audio, they give back tenfold in power and torque. Turning off Route 68, powering up Laureles Grade, the California T quickly reminds you of that. By keeping the revs high, the turbos spooled up, the 552 horsepower and 557 lb-ft of torque become easily deployable. The car presses me into the seat as I punch out of the tight hairpins. Retuned suspension has killed the body roll that spoiled the old model, an update I’m grateful for as I sweep through a long bend, skirting the ridge a few hundred feet above a vineyard. The performance and handling, the other half of the Ferrari experience, make a solid case for the car. The new Cali T may have lost its predecessor’s vocal range, but it’s made vast improvements to its dancing skills.

Ferrari, flirting on a very real edge itself, is entering a new era. They’re losing the auditory drama that’s become synonymous with their cars in order to keep up with the times. Ferrari engineers have admitted that turbos are complicated to work with and force the engine to have a lower redline. Environmental concerns have forced Ferrari to build engines that are born from compromise, something the brand is not accustomed to. Sure there’s greater power and performance, but that’s only a fraction of what makes a Ferrari, well, a Ferrari. Losing the audio feels a bit like being shortchanged, like being forced to wear earplugs at an opera. So to answer the question: does Ferrari’s future look any good? Like the rest of the world, inevitably, it looks a few shades more green. Sadly, though, that’s a color Ferraris don’t wear particularly well.