Ferrari’s new super-hot sports cruiser – the Portofino – goes mainstream with a model that’s stylish and super-fast senza the cost. Y’s Alvin Thomas finds out.
Ferrari is to Italy and the world of supercars what Android is to the smartphone industry.
A sense of pre-eminence always permeates the air when we catch a flash of that iconic emblem of the silhouetted prancing horse on a yellow backdrop.
But, as the saying goes, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, and thus begins one of the world’s largest game of cat-and-mouse.
Perhaps it’s with that intention – to reach out to the masses – that there exists a fresh convertible grand tourer – the Ferrari Portofino.
Essentially, a replacement to the long-running, if a bit worn, California and California T, the Portofino tinkers with Ferrari’s style-and drive-guides – and golly, it shows.
And, even if the car was intended to sit atop the (sales) volume pyramid, there exists no finer drop-top car with the heart and soul of a true sports car than this one.
It’s time, then, to leave California and inhale a fresh breath of Portofino – the picturesque Italian Riviera town.
Perhaps this is why the Portofino strikes the right aesthetical chords with us. It’s just more ‘Italian’ than its predecessor.
In comes Ferrari’s signature boomerang-shaped LED headlamps and grinning grille, and out go the drooping, hippie eyes from its hillbilly ancestor. Every chamfer on the aluminium bodywork is tasteful without being gaudy.
It’s an aggressive take on car design – even though we agree that not all angry faces are pretty – we’d like to think of the Portofino as a furious Matt Le Blanc or Scarlett Johansson. You’ll still find them appealing, irrespective of everything else.
Even the sharp winglet that sucks out the high-pressure air from between the wheel well during runabouts is disguised ever so well – beginning at the front arch and fusing into the long door – to keep its understated look going. That is of course, until you get up close to the sports car.
Photos don’t quite do it justice. The Portofino draws wide tracks with its bulging hips to encompass the wide, staggered Pirelli P Zero 285/35 tyres in the rear.
Meanwhile, the front-end benefits from leaner 245/35 rubber. Both sets are wrapped around 20-inch alloys.
No intake is too delusive and no curve deceptive. There’s a sense of purpose to each air vent and a depth to the curves that will inevitably aid aerodynamics in its fight against a slew of sophisticated British GTs – the Bentley Continental GTC and the Aston Martin DB11.
This time around, they mean business.
But, building a GT doesn’t end with reconciling with Ferrari’s on-track competence and marring the predecessor’s athletic shortcomings as the perfect grand tourer is also expected to blend dynamism with versatility, refinement and the convenience of an everyday car.
To add to this, you get a folding metal roof – one that’s nearly as quick as the car itself, pulling itself up from the latches and down into the safe and padded housing in the 292-litre boot, in a mere 14 seconds.
As is the case with most cars of today, you can engage or retract the roof while driving at speeds of up to 40kph. It’s a far cry from the 50kph that the Bentley can pull, but hey, with an operation time of 19 seconds, you’ll be zooming past the car even before you know it.
Boot space is comparable with segment-topping convertibles, and should be perfect for two sets of golf bags (assuming that’s what the average Portofino buyer will be into) or a large suitcase if there’s no space-saving spare stuffed into the boot.
Despite all this, the car is light. It’s perhaps not as light as the nimble (and frankly) plebian Lotus Evora sports car, but at 1.6 tonnes, it’s nearly a tonne lighter than most of its competitors.
From a lambasted car in the early 2000s to one that’s earned its place at the Ferrari museum in Maranello, Italy; the humble Ferrari grand tourer has come a long way. Whether it’s sheer engineering or passion that has gone into the production of this car, we don’t know quite yet.
But, getting your hands dirty with 600 horses and 760Nms of brunt force is no joke. The Portofino is the perfect GT car – and while that’s tall praise for a baby Fezza (slang for Ferrari), it’s a car that warrants no less.
The all-new sports GT cranks things up a notch on all fronts.
But, whether it can take on its decade-old rivals – the Bentleys, Maseratis and Porsches – is the question that will make or break what could be one of the finest Ferraris ever made.
However, what we do learn upon first glance is that it takes its German and British rivals to the cleaners with its clean, yet sharp-as-razor looks.
Getting used to the car requires you skip everything and hop into the cabin where we assume you’ll be spending hours on end.
‘Low-slung’ (but not as much as its tauter siblings) and ‘focused’ are two words to describe the car’s seating layout. Both keep the steering and the dashboard as the focal points in the otherwise minimalist cabin.
Buttons are plentiful but many of the stalks – in true Ferrari fashion –have been shifted to the steering wheel for ease of use. We’ve become accustomed to the same so much we’d rather have it on every car we test.
Aside from the steering and the habitually-red Manettino (drive-mode selector), there’s plenty to admire around you: the stitched and embossed leather seats that you sink into and relish than resort to; the 10.2-inch high-definition touchscreen that’s quick-witted and easy to navigate through than the devil’s work, which was the head unit on the Cali-T; and the general placement of buttons and vents, the designs of which were the work of a focused team than an Italian man turning up to bluff his way through the car’s engineering team (as was the case a few decades ago).
The seats are well-bolstered, offer excellent lumbar support and cushion much of the pulsations from the road that are overlooked by the ‘mangeride’ suspension.
This time around, the two seats in the back – at a stretch – are functional, too. And even if the pitch is only good enough for a child to exploit, you could squeeze in an adult (one you don’t like!) at 170cm into the two back seats.
But, hey! They won’t be complaining when they get to experience the thumping V8 up front and appreciate the baritone exhaust note – complete with the pops, bangs, and burps – in their ears.
Despite being able to haul around three other passengers around town and 292-litres (about two medium-sized bags) worth of their luggage, the Portofino, by a long stretch, is still intended to be a driver’s car – a true Ferrari.
Life comes from Ferrari’s staple engine seen in the GTC4 Lusso T – the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 up front that yields 600hp and 760Nms of torque. But, it only tells us one side of the story: this time around, it’s meaner than the California T but is tuned in way to serve up torque and power only when you most require it.
This motor is mated to Ferrari’s legendary seven-speed dual-clutch from its predecessor but benefits from newly-tweaked software that helps maintain a different approach on the road depending on the drive mode (Comfort, Sport, or ESC Off) the Manettino is switched towards.
They aren’t mucking about either. The ‘Rarri will power its way towards the 100kph mark in a mere 3.5 seconds in ‘Sport’ mode with the aid of launch control but will effectively maintain a smoother, softer, and fuel-efficient drive – shifting gears sooner than later – when kept in ‘Comfort’ mode. Meanwhile, the 200kph milestone is achieved in 10.8 seconds before the engine runs out of steam at 320kph.
Power from the high-revving engine is served up linearly than in dollops (like the Bentley Continental GT), offering up peak power at an astonishing 7,500rpm while twist is maintained in a healthy band between 3,000 and 5,500rpm. The former is achieved by an increased pressure combustion chamber, revised connecting rods, pistons and a single-case exhaust manifold.
Turbo-lag is unnoticeable to the point at which we’d like to claim it’s non-existent, and there’s a general sense of urgency to the eager crank once the torque kicks in. The staggered wheel set-up – completed by Pirelli PZeros – helps cope well with the latter, only kicking up rubber and smoke when you really slam the pedal to the metal. Else, in ‘Comfort’ mode, there’s a restraint to the gas pedal – keeping the gears as high as it possibly can and the revs to a minimum.
The changes are noticeable – this is the best sports-GT to have come from the Ferrari stables.
Driving feel, again, depends on the driving mode you’re in. The all-electric quick-ratio steering wheel is a breeze around town but firms up and offers a balanced feel; trading harshness for smoothness but without sacrificing driving feel and responsiveness.
This is also the case with the handling dynamics. As we only had the car for a short period (six hours, tops), we couldn’t push the Portofino to its limits. But, on-road dynamics is superior – the drive is smooth on tarmac and loose gravel – owing to its new suspension set-up that’s completed by the latest evolution of the magnetorheological damping system (SCM-E). In ‘Sport’ mode, however, the Portofino doles out stiffer springs for better handling.
Body roll is kept to a minimum and the low center of gravity helps in taking sharp turns with no real drama. Pushing the car harder into corners will reveal oversteer that can be easily repressed by the opposite-locking of the steering that works in tandem with the F1-Trac traction control and the electronic rear differentia (E-Diff3). However, we’d love to have had the oversteer-taming Side Slip Control system fitted to the car.
Stopping power is achieved by carbon-ceramics – all four of which are easily the most useable we’ve tested on roads. They heat up quickly to offer smooth braking and keep the squealing to a minimum when compared with some of this car’s rivals. The brake feel is splendid and the variations on temperature in the brakes hardly affect the brake force.
Throughout all this, you’ll also be treated to the Portofino’s exhaust. We didn’t find it to be as raw as that of the 488GTB but the system is more intuitive this time around, opening valves in the quad tips depending on the rev range and the mode you’re in. Not only does this dial down the NVH (noise, vibrations, and harshness) levels inside the car, it also harks back to the true GT nature that customers hope to experience.
The Portofino is Ferrari’s answer to the Germans and British engineers. Real talk that’s backed up by performance, speed, and comfort – the three marks expected from a thoroughbred grand tourer.
Italy doesn’t do humble but Ferrari’s take on the segment completely redefines the way we see GT cars. In fact, pegging the Portofino as simple sports-GT is an insult. This may well be the first car to don the super-GT moniker. The Portofino, then, can proudly wear the prancing horse on its chest… and boast about it.
• Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
• Transmission: Seven-speed ‘dual-clutch’ automatic
• Power: 600hp
• Torque: 760Nms
• Top Speed: 320kph
• Rear-wheel drive
• Cruise control
• 10.2-inch infotainment screen
• 18-way adjustable seats
• F1-trac traction control
• E-Diff3 electronic differential
• Exclusive leather upholstery
• Manettino dial w/ selective driving modes
• 20-inch alloy wheels
• Folding metal roof
• 292-litre boot
• Navigation system
• Quad exhausts