What is it?
Like the California it replaces, the Portofino is a 2+2 GT with a clever folding hard-top. And, like the California it replaces, the Portofino is also the entry point to the Ferrari range. As an introduction to the brand, the California did rather well; 70 percent of buyers were first-time Ferrari owners. The Portofino is here to take the story forward.
It’s a pity that pictures don’t quite do justice to the Portofino. Where the California had its odd angles – that enormous rear for one – the Portofino looks like a Ferrari should. It’s sexy, seductive, and in this exclusive shade of ‘Portofino Rosso’, just eye-catching. I don’t know if it was the car’s shape or the mere fact that it was a Ferrari, but the Portofino garnered its share of smiles and thumbs-ups on our route in southern Italy. To my eyes at least, the Portofino is more a thing of beauty than the Ferraris of late (La Ferrari aside) whose designs appear primarily dictated by how effectively they’ll cut through the air. The Portofino has its aero-aiding elements too, but the treatment is subtler. Look closely and you’ll spot an air curtain beside the L-shaped headlights and there’s the minutest of ridges at the rear end to aid downforce at the back. What you can’t miss is the prominent vent at the sides that are there to channel air from the wheel arches along the body sides. However, on damp roads, the opening also throws up muck, so perhaps its best you don’t save your Portofino for a rainy day.
As for the roof, it’s a metal unit like the California’s but now opens/closes in all of 14 seconds and at speeds up to 40kph. Ferrari has made it lighter, marginally more space efficient and what not but the real talking point is just how beautifully it’s been integrated with the rest of the body. With the roof up, the Portofino has that purposeful fastback look about it (Ferrari designers are proud of the ‘two-box’ appearance), and with the roof down, it looks every bit an open-top GT that it’s meant to be. No frumpy elements, no uneasy lines; just Ferrari sexy. Oh, and the boot is useable too, if only for a weekend’s worth of luggage.
The Portofino is built on a new chassis that Ferrari claims is 35 percent stiffer than the California’s, overall weight is down 80kg to its predecessor and there’s also the big switch to an electro-mechanical steering from a hydraulic unit. Far back under the long bonnet sits a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8. Sounds familiar? It’s the engine from the California T but it’s been completely reworked and punches out 600hp (up 40hp). An entry point to the Ferrari range this may be, but it’s still a red-blooded Ferrari.
What’s it like on the inside?
Roof up or down, you’ll be really comfortable in the Portofino so long as you are the one behind the wheel or on the co-driver’s chair. The cabin is easy to get into and see out of (not all 600hp cars are), the front seats (made of magnesium to save weight) are as supportive as you’d expect, and most of what you touch is really high quality (Ferrari designers say they’d never go the manmade leather way). Also integral to the experience is the fairly slick, new 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that comes bundled with Apple CarPlay. Drivers get all the information they need via screens that flank the yellow tacho (what a sight!) and like all modern Ferraris, the steering is home to all forms of controls, right from indicator switches to the manettino dial. There’s a huge catalogue of options too, with everything from a choice of hides to carbon-fibre steerings with shift lights. Don’t want your co-driver to feel left out? There’s an optional but rather cool 8.8-inch side touchscreen that shows speed, gear and navigation info.
Of the other things, Ferrari has added a manually retractable wind deflector and it must be said, with it in place, turbulence in the cabin is pretty well contained even at speed. It’s just that you can’t make use of it when the rear seats are occupied. Aah, the rear seats. Ferrari has enhanced legroom at the rear vis-à-vis the California but it’s still a really tight fit for adults. Small children should be fine in the back but if you intend to drive long distances with your friends in tow, the GTC4 Lussos may be the Ferrari models for you.
What’s it like to drive?
First things first, the Portofino can be ferociously fast if you want it to be. Ferrari claims a 0-100kph time of 3.5sec and 0-200kph time of 10.8sec! I repeat, this is no namby-pamby boulevard cruiser. The engine revs to a high (for a turbo) 7,500rpm; it has a huge swell of mid-range torque; it responds crisply at all times, and it feels unusually progressive in its power delivery for a highly stressed turbo. Being a turbo, the Portofino doesn’t shriek even in Sport mode (there’s an electronically controlled bypass valve at the exhaust that adjusts for each mode), but the deep bassy note and brash racket closer to the redline is properly fulfilling. There’s enough sound works on gearshifts too, though the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox is at its best when shifting gears manually using the column-mounted paddles, when it thunks each up- and downshift with real speed and vigour. Leave it in Auto mode, and there’s some hesitancy at times, feeling a touch clumsy on step-off and when manoeuvring, and refusing to creep as you lift off the brake pedal.
The new electric steering’s very direct – hardly less so than a 488’s – and while it has weight, doesn’t manage that weight cleverly enough to give you something to push against as the front wheels bite. There’s almost no stability-minded ‘dead zone’ to the Portofino’s rack around the straight-ahead, and so it demands as much of your concentration on the highway as a 488 would. In the right environment though, the Portofino exhibits incredible handling response and is just so ready to be flicked into fast corners. The Portofino’s on-throttle handling balance has plainly been taken to new heights by Ferrari’s latest-gen active differential. Even when the stability controls are active, the car feels incisive yet obedient, and generally good fun.
In more everyday settings, the Portofino impresses with its ride quality that, though not entirely supple and cosseting, won’t rattle your bones either. There’s a bumpy road setting for the magnetorheological dampers that adds a subtle but effective layer of softness to the ride. Some of the roads in south Italy seem to be the handiwork of India’s municipal bodies, and suffice to say the Portofino handled them just fine. There was a touch of body shudder, however, over the worst, sharpest lumps and bumps.
Should I buy one?
Ferrari will launch the Portofino in India in July this year with prices starting around Rs 3.5 crore (estimated, ex-showroom) before options. In many ways, it is the most sensible Ferrari for India. Sure, a 488 would feel livelier on a race track, but are you a track day regular to begin with? If not, the Portofino is all the Ferrari you’ll need. It’s sexy, fast and sharp but at the same time also comes across as a relatively easy Ferrari to live with, and one you could actually use as your daily driver. And when the sun shines bright and the air is cool, you always have the option of putting the roof down too. The Portofino, then, is a car that’s really good at offering the best of all worlds.
With inputs from Autocar UK