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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

The Ferrari Portofino makes you sit up and take notice

Ferrari’s new model could challenge its 488 and Pista as the best on the market

The Ferrari Portofino is a gentleman's tourer that you could drive as your everyday car. Courtesy Ferrari
The Ferrari Portofino is a gentleman's tourer that you could drive as your everyday car. Courtesy Ferrari

While I once considered the 488 and Pista to be among the best Ferraris money can buy, I’m now not so sure after spending time driving the new Portofino. I may sound like my dad right now, but cars like the Portofino and the Porsche 911 have practical, upright driving positions and even a back seat for luggage or little ones. They cross the divide by offering genuine supercar performance wrapped up in an everyday, usable package.

Not only does the Portofino have a sensible seating position that allows you to see easily in all directions but it also has a small boot. And, to make it really the Ferrari for all seasons, its alloy roof folds away at the touch of a button to transform the car into a full-sized convertible. (But, while it drops in 14 seconds, the roof folds into the boot, which means you can forget about luggage space.)

'Extra mile'

With the roof up, the Portofino is a gentleman’s sports tourer, but drop the electrically folding top and it turns into the most powerful 2+2 on the market with a twin-turbocharged, almost 600bhp V8. Not only does that get you to 100 kilometres per hour in 3.5 seconds but does it with the flair of a traditional sounding Ferrari V8 that’s as distinctive in sound as its famous Cavallino Rampante badge on the front guards.

While the Portofino may resemble the California it replaces, it’s a completely different car. Ferrari has gone the extra mile to give it a new aluminium chassis, which alone saves 80 kilograms from the bottom line. Yet it’s also 35 per cent stiffer.

The Ferrari Portofino lies at the GT end of the market. Courtesy Ferrari
The Ferrari Portofino lies at the GT end of the market. Courtesy Ferrari

While most people associate Ferrari with models like its mid-engined 488 sports cars that play off the marketing benefits of the company’s 50-year involvement with Formula One, the Portofino taps into another, lesser-known but equally important, part of Ferrari’s history. Before F1, Enzo Ferrari was captivated by GT racing, such as the LeMans 24-Hour and the Mille Miglia, and he preferred driving these front-engined cars over his more focused sports vehicles right up to his death in 1988.

Portofino’s mandates is to attract new buyers who may not want the raw performance feel of Ferrari’s better-known two-seaters

So, instead of looking at other supercars like Lamborghini as competitors, the Portofino sits in the competitive GT end of the market against cars such as the Mercedes AMG SL and BMW’s new 8-Series coupe, as well as vehicles by Bentley, Aston Martin and even sister company, Maserati. It has admittedly over-assisted electric power steering that somehow also remains direct, while it offers great visibility and easy manoeuvrability, which would suit a top-line BMW or Audi customer, as well as a first-time Ferrari owner.

Attracting new buyers

It’s not as stiff or as focused as the 488 but it’s not supposed to be, as one of the Portofino’s mandates is to attract new buyers who may not want the raw performance feel of Ferrari’s better-known two-seaters.

For those familiar with the brand, it’s a strange feeling at first to be seated in an upright car while staring at the same gauges and steering wheel. There’s virtually no turbo lag when you stab the throttle and instead you are rewarded with more urge without having to shift down or work the engine hard. It’s not as brutal or as fast in its gear changes as other Ferraris, but it’s definitely more sporting than its German or British GT competitors. Portofino has found a happy balance of tapping into this new sector without losing its “Ferrari-ness”.

From 80kph, the Portofino simply rockets away with that distinctive flat-plane crank growl you only get from a V8 Ferrari and when you find the open road it steps it up a notch to deliver an exquisite high-pitched scream that sends shivers down your spine as it attempts to nudge its 320kph top speed.

'A fun car to hustle'

Ride comfort is a fine balance between boulevard cushy at slow speeds and sure-footed when you’re on the gas, and it’s astonishingly good, especially for a convertible. Generally, it’s a fun car to hustle. The secret to its road compliance is a 54 per cent rear weight bias, achieved by tucking the engine tight up against the front firewall with ballast at the back from its seven-speed transaxle gearbox. So instead of ploughing out of turns like some other big, front-engined GTs, this one remains more neutral.

A 26-centimetre screen looks after the infotainment duties. Courtesy Ferrari
A 26-centimetre screen looks after the infotainment duties. Courtesy Ferrari

Inside, passengers get 18-way electrically adjustable seats wrapped, like nearly everything else, in Nappa leather, while a 26-centimetre screen looks after the infotainment duties. In addition, to stop the front-seat passenger from peering over to check on the speed, there’s a second instrument binnacle just for them, showing speed and revs, among other things.

Ferrari claims that 70 per cent of its California buyers were new to the marque, with 85 per cent using their cars nearly every day, and even one in three admitting to using the tiny back seats occasionally. It’s early days, but one would expect those figures to carry over with the new Portofino.

To paraphrase a well-worn expression, the Portofino is a Ferrari, but not as we know it. For me, it’s the first Ferrari I could genuinely live with, even if it was my only car.

Updated: March 7, 2019 05:14 PM

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