With the upcoming F8 Tributo and recently revealed SF90 Stradale, Ferrari is on a product roll like never before. And the brilliance of the entry-level Portofino proves the depth of the range
This the most usable Ferrari money can buy, says Ferrari. In fact, the brand wants to see all of its cars enjoyed more frequently, but very much pushes the Portofino as a Ferrari that you can drive 365 days a year.
Of course, just because it’s the easiest Ferrari to get in and out of, offers the most readily accessible performance and the even a large boot, don’t mistake the Portofino for anything besides a very serious performance car and one befitting the famous badge on its nose.
Thanks to an extensive weight-saving regime that includes everything from a lighter V8 engine to seat frames fashioned from magnesium, it’s also lighter than the California T that it replaces by an impressive 65kg. Up front there’s a development of the electric power-steering system first used in the 812 Superfast, plus a third-generation electronic differential down the back – whereas the California T made do with a more conventional mechanical diff.
The Portofino’s engine is a thoroughly revised version of the California T’s 3.9-litre, twin-turbo, 90-degree V8. It produces 441kW at 7500rpm and 760Nm between 3000 and 5250rpm. All out, the Portofino has a top speed of 320km/h, and thanks to a launch-control system it can hit 100km/h from rest in a mere 3.5 seconds. Zero to 200km/h takes 10.8 seconds. The Portofino is properly fast. Ferrari fast.
As with all Ferraris nowadays, the gearbox is seven-speed dual-clutch (though the recently revealed SF90 Stradale boasts an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox). Shift speeds are faster and smoother than before depending on where you set the three-stage manettino switch.
The Portofino’s engine and raw performance are undeniably impressive on paper, but it’s actually the chassis, steering and suspension that have come in for the biggest rethink – mainly in an attempt to make the car as capable as possible on the move, but also as easy to drive at the same time. One does not, for instance, require the same skill set to drive the Portofino quickly compared with the rest of the range, says the factory. And given that the Portofino is the first Ferrari for many customers, that’s a clever more.
As such, the manettino is simplified to contain just three settings; comfort, sport and ESC off. The new electronic diff generates much more traction than before, that much becomes clear the very first time you summon full throttle in a low gear, at which point the Portofino squats ever so slightly and just goes. But the diff also aids stability at all speeds, claim the engineers, while the electric power-steering system has been set up to be as precise as is normal in a Ferrari but also lighter in feel and, thus, more manageable every day.
The dampers are also electronic and change in calibration depending on where you set the manettino. However, you can also select Ferrari’s now common – and highly effective – bumpy road setting, no matter where the manettino is set.
The 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres are bespoke to the Portofino but don’t feature a Corsa compound or tread. The Portofino isn’t that kind of car, says Ferrari, even though its kerb weight is an impressive 1664kg including fluids, making it not THAT much heavier – or slower – than a 488 GTB.
First impressions when you climb aboard, drop the roof and press the magic red button that ignites the engine are all good, all excellent, in fact. The roof glides into the rear bodywork in near silence in just 14 seconds, and the new seats feel great, providing support in all the right places without feeling like they’d be uncomfortable on a long journey. And the new cabin design is genuinely stunning. There’s a huge sense of quality to the interior, and the controls feel and look intuitive.
It’s also very quick, you soon discover, once you get moving and find a road that’s long and quiet enough on which to let rip. There’s no lag from the twin-turbo V8 engine and, therefore, instant response when you deploy the throttle. And it sounds pretty spectacular at full beans, too, with an engaging rasp from the V8 to accompany the onslaught of acceleration. Plus, the dual-clutch gearbox works an absolute treat in both directions, and in any of the manettino settings.
Being front-engined and rear-drive, the Portofino is more conventional in terms of its dynamic repertoire. The steering, like that of all modern Ferraris, is light and fast, though not as lively as that of the 812 Superfast or 488 models. As such, it takes less time to acclimitise to its reactions and become comfortably threading the Portofino down a winding road.
You can feel the electronics doing their thing pretty much all the time on the move, providing the car with an impressive ride quality, eradicating kickback through the steering over rough roads, and keeping the body flat even through quick corners.
Key into the Portofino’s dynamic nature and you can lean on the impressive levels of grip that feel nicely balanced front to rear. Given the amount of power and torque on offer, the tyres look relatively narrow (245s up front and 285s at the rear), but the Portofino’s chassis works both ends evenly. Body roll is largely absent, but there’s still enough feedback from the suspension and steering to judge how hard the chassis is working and how much grip remains in reserve.
Given that many Portofino owners will be new to the brand, and will have come from more prosaic grand tourers, the brake pedal has a softer tip-in than might be expected with a Prancing Horse logo staring back at you from the steering wheel. However, don’t confuse this softer initial pedal travel with a lack of performance; the Portofino’s carbon-ceramic brakes repeatedly bite big speeds in half with impressive performance and stamina.
The brakes, like the handling and performance, perfectly encapsulate the Portofino’s vast ability. Everybody can drive Ferrari’s entry-level GT supercar every day, but the Portofino is endowed with a depth of ability that will also entertain and enthral those drivers who want to dig deeper and push the limits.