Ferrari is such an unassailable brand titan in 2018 that the concept of it failing to hit a home run every time out is pretty much unthinkable. But the truth is that the Ferrari California never truly made the grade as a ‘real’ Ferrari. Here was a coupé whose folding hard top roof meant it was also a convertible, yet it failed to hit the mark in either form. Packaging the roof saddled it with one of Pininfarina’s less successful silhouettes, while compromises in the chassis undermined its high speed handling. It looked – and felt – too soft.
The new Portofino fires a broad-side in both these critical areas. But has it hit the target?
The Portofino is also lighter. An all-new aluminium chassis helps to reverse the trend for increasing weight in modern cars, and smart manufacturing sees the California’s 21-piece A-pillar now constructed as a single component. At 1664kg with fluids, the Portofino weighs 80kg less than the California T, which might not sound like a lot but represents a significant effort by Ferrari’s engineers (they’re a highly dedicated bunch).
Extracting more power from a turbocharged engine isn’t just a matter of playing with the boost: you have to make it harmonious, robust, and driveable.
The engine is a reworked version of Ferrari’s garlanded 3.9-litre twin turbo V8, good for 591bhp in the Portofino and 760 Nm of torque from 3000 to 5250rpm. Ferraris, of course, have always been about power – and the sound they made as they exhibit it – so the challenge faced by throttle response-blunting, less sonorous blown engines is one Powertrain Director Vittorio Dini has enjoyed dealing with.
Mission accomplished. There probably hasn’t been an un-fast Ferrari since the 308 GTB (beautiful yes, quick no) or Mondial (less beautiful, slower still), but even so the Portofino is positively rampant, especially when you remember that this is effectively the brand’s entry point in 2018. It’ll do 62mph in 3.5 seconds, 124mph in 10.8 seconds, and 198mph all-out. Even with a back catalogue as glorious as Ferrari’s, the 3.9-litre engine really is something else, one of the very greatest Maranello has ever made. Intake and exhaust have been reworked, and there’s an electric bypass valve to control the soundtrack – quiet at low speeds, surprisingly full-blooded the faster you go – but the real revelation here is in the whip-crack throttle response. Clever variable valve geometry helps give this turbocharged engine the torque curve of a normally aspirated unit, and the same rising, rev-hungry response, while also dishing up loads of torque. So much, in fact, that the Portofino can pull from low speeds in seventh gear.
Only the most diehard purist would deny that, in terms of getting the best of both worlds – and improving efficiency – this is definitely the way forward.
Its dual-shift gearbox is unobtrusive in automatic mode, rather more present in manual mode, but mostly the Portofino mixes great speed with good manners around town. Ferrari’s magnetic damping system has evolved over the years and works as well as ever, although the springs front and rear have been uprated for the Portofino, and the result is a slightly busier ride than before.
Modern Ferraris have a unique way of flooding the senses and they’re also easy to over-drive. The Portofino’s body movements are much better controlled than the California’s, but at higher speeds it can feel a little nervous. This is partly down to its typically fast Ferrari steering, and the fact that its front end is so pointy the rear has its work cut out keeping up, while corralling close to 600bhp. Remember, this is a car that has to cover all the bases, maybe too many for its own good.
It’s impressive inside, though, as well-appointed as any Ferrari has ever been. Infotainment is handled by a 10.2in HD touch-screen, with Apple CarPlay connectivity, and the air con is 25 per cent faster than before, and 50 per cent quieter. This stuff matters to the clients, probably as much as the Portofino’s more obvious attributes. There’s loads of storage space, but the F1-aping multi-function steering wheel, almost a decade on from its first appearance, still feels like its answering questions nobody was really asking.
As to the other question, the one that marque adherents definitely were asking, yes, the Portofino is a true Ferrari.
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Engine: 3,855cc, V8, twin turbo, 591bhp @ 7,500rpm, 561lb ft between 3,000 and 5,250rpm
Performance: 0-62mph 3.5 secs, 198mph top speed
Economy and emissions: 26mpg combined, 245g/km