Fast, Friendly & Fun
The Ferrari Portofino (RM948,000 before taxes and customisation) must be one of the least intimidating supercars around. Some might take that as a negative, but not everyone needs a lean, mean and hair-raising mid-engined machine that never stops complaining that it would rather be on the track. Nor a great big grand tourer, which may be cultured and comfortable but a tad overwrought for swinging by the coffee shop. Sometimes less is more.
The Portofino is the latest in a line that is relatively new for Ferrari, one that began with 2008’s California: a two-door 2+2 convertible, with rear-wheel drive and a front-mounted V8 engine, with a focus on accessibility rather than pushing the envelope. On paper, the Portofino a grand tourer; in practice, it is a noticeable departure from the long-bodied flagship V12-powered berlinettas exemplified by the current-gen 812 Superfast.
The Portofino is, in typical Ferrari style, a curvaceous, wide-hipped beauty, but one sculpted with less in deliberate, aggressive lines and more in playful exuberance. Its stance is a bit higher and less bullet-like than some of its more competitive stablemates, which translates into a slightly more forgiving ride height. The nose is charmingly pert; it is shorter than the 812 Superfast by over seven centimetres, and narrower by more than three. There is an aerodynamic athleticism to it, of course, but it is toned rather than muscular. The shoulder line is clearly designed with the retractable hardtop in mind, and the silhouette is shapely and complete with or without the roof up.
The powerplant is a modest offering by today’s Ferrari standards, but 591bhp is nothing to sniff at, especially when it stems from Ferrari’s award-winning line of turbocharged V8 engines. It beats out its predecessor, the California T, by 39bhp and is some 65kg lighter as well. The 0-100km/h sprint clocks in at 3.5 seconds and 0-200km/h at 10.8—it is not ground-breaking, but it is plenty quick and quite capable of keeping up with the rest of the pack, up to its more than 320km/h top speed. More importantly, turbo lag is unnoticeable, and the response is perfectly organic under the foot—and, perhaps even more importantly, delivers true on the Ferrari promise of musicality. It sounds not quite as shrieking and thunderous as some of its V12 cousins, but is always in tune, exuberant and joyful.
A journey in the Portofino begins as a very civilised experience. The cabin is a bit tight—this is not a large car – but the seating position is natural and comfortable. Power hits the rear wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and gear changes are quick and smooth. The setup is curiously quiet at first, even on Sport mode – sure, the V8 lets out a light-hearted burble every now and then, but while setting off and during relaxed highway cruising at higher gears, it can be very refined. The engine only really comes alive at around 3,000 to 4,000rpm, and is perfectly happy to stay there as long as you want it to. The automatic shifting is quite clever, waking up quickly when the throttle is down and adroit in its gear selection. However, leaving it to the computer means missing out on using the paddle shifters – these are unnecessarily and delightfully clacky, and are an absolute joy to use. These, combined with the F1-inspired steering wheel (with, of course, the prominent red start/stop button and drive programme selector) and judicious use of carbon fibre trim are firm reminders of the Portofino’s racing touch. It also sees some high-tech features: the magnetic suspension system is back from the California, the electronic power steering is borrowed from the 812 Superfast and at the rear axle is the latest generation of Ferrari’s electronic differential. These ensure the Portofino’s beautiful handling: responsive, involving, and precise. Crucial also is that all this cleverness never feels like it gets in the way – the response is direct and feels utterly natural. The ride character is aimed squarely at the sweet spot: it is just about comfortable enough on bumpy roads and long journeys, but stiff enough to remain composed in all but the most demanding cornering.
‘Sweet spot’ is really what the Portofino is all about. It feels like a Ferrari, agile in all the right ways, while remaining inviting and even practical. The ‘bumpy road’ setting really works, the infotainment system boasts of a 10.2-inch touchscreen, and the boot is sizable and has hatch that allows a golf bag to fit. It is a top performer for sure, but does not need to be driven to the limit in order to fully reap enjoyment from its thoughtful design.