2018 Ferrari Portofino first drive review
The Ferrari Portofino is the replacement for the Ferrari California T which is often labelled as the soft Ferrari or the car from Maranello, that all things considered, wasn't. And yet, Ferrari talk of the California all too fondly. It brought it 70 per cent of customers who would never have bought a Ferrari! So it was vital that the replacement car was both more California and more Ferrari at the same time. A task that would be considered impossible by the hardcore tifosi. But not, apparently, by the engineers at Ferrari. This is despite the fact that there isn't any real direct competition. The Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, Mercedes-AMG SL, Aston Martin DB11 V8 and the Bentley Continental GTC are mentioned, but none offer the exact same set of elements. Which is why we will refer more to the California for context than any other automobile in this story.
Design and packaging
This is why Ferrari decided at the outset to not change the exterior dimensions of the car. However, the skin is new. It's smoother, more elegant in line and understated in the same way as a supermodel dressed in black for an evening in town rather than a shimmering scarlet one. The scarlet grows darker and more muted and the white is the shoutiest of the Portofino's colour schemes. The L-shaped headlights, a wide smiley-grille, vents and aero-routing complete the front-end. And it's very, very nice to look at indeed. The side body features a curved shoulder line with the bulged arches done smoothly.
A spine connects the headlight line to the door handles almost and produces a complex interplay of surfaces below it that Ferrari echoes in the door pad design as well. Er, who cares? "This is an open car, sir. It's more important with Spiders to ensure interior and exterior design speak to each other."
The rear is also wonderful. The round tail lamps are kicked out to the edge and are now fixed while the bootlid has aero functions but is a smooth, sleek design. I like very much indeed!
Then there is the new RHT or retractable hard top. Ferrari spent a lot of time refining the design so that the Spider-mode design looks elegant while the Coupe-mode silhouette showed the same elegance of line. Nailed it I say. We drove in the rain mostly and the top was up. But in either state, the car looks complete. The RHT now works in 14 seconds at up to 40kmph which is a huge useability improvement. That and a larger boot? "But of course, sir!"
The cabin design is all-new again with the dash executed as an upper half and a lower half which stretches all elements horizontally to give the illusion of space. It is actually a slightly larger cabin and I came to like Ferrari's instrument binnacle quite a bit, especially how the navigation display is different for the driver and on the main screen.
I still think that main screen can do with better graphics, but Ferrari says it has improved the interface and graphics. I wouldn't know - I was busy with, ahem, other features of the Portofino.
The passenger gets their own 8" touchscreen in the dash and I think that's a sweet addition to the interface allowing them to monitor performance, play with the music etc without disturbing the driver.
But the really big deal is skinny new seats that felt very supportive. They sit on magnesium frames for saving weight and liberate 50mm more leg room for the two rear seats. The +2 seats are still cramped but I suspect just a smidge more useable now.
As usual, Ferrari cabins feels wonderful in a blend of luxurious, cozy and functional way and the Portofino's insides are very attractive indeed.
The twin-turbo V8
It's a Ferrari and the engine should gets it own story but here's the upshot. The 3,855cc V8 is from the 488 family but this 600PS number features comprehensive tuning including new pistons and con rods. The new twin-turbo has a variable boost system that virtually eliminates turbo lag and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission helps you make the most of that ability. Ferrari says 760Nm is available from 3,000 to 5,250rpm and the engine redlines at peak power, 7,500rpm. Top speed for the Portofino is in excess of 300kmph with 200kmph arriving in under 12 seconds and 100kmph in just 3.5 seconds. For reference, this car is 80kg lighter than the California T as well as has 40PS more to play with.
The weight-saving comes in part from the chassis. Ferrari switches construction methods to reduce the number of components and welds to dramatically shed weight. Small things add up. For instance, the underbody protection is now in aluminium and it serves the aerodynamic function and takes on a structural role too. This rear-wheel drive chassis wears stiffer magnetorheological dampers, has a rear-ward weight bias and uses all-new tyres in the same size as the California T. Brakes are dinner plate carbo-ceramics.
And then it rained
Ferrari invited us to Bari on the eastern coast of Southern Italy even as it snowed in both Portofino and Maranello in the hope of good weather. Which didn't work out. So we got a 160km drive on some incredibly bumpy and broken tarmac even for Italy. In the rain. And we should be gutted. Because I mean, 600PS new Ferrari, yeah?
But it proved to be just the right taste of the Portofino. In Comfort mode, the Ferrari astonished us by absorbing a surprisingly wide range of road imperfections easily. In Sport more it shook you up a little bit more. But I remember my drive in the 458 - it would have turned us into autohack smoothies on the same roads if memory serves.
And yet, things stiffen up when you start trying to push the car a bit. The steering - the electric power steering from the 812 Superfast debuts on the V8 GT platform for Ferrari on the Portofino - feels direct enough and feedbacky enough for me. I felt the contact patches giving up on the slippery roads and I got enough information about the road underneath the wheels too. The Portofino darts into corners with agility and enthusiasm and yet, you can back off and sweep through the corners with controlled aggression if you choose as well.
The power comes on strong and direct and it's easy to modulate. Now and then, the Ferrari will remind you that it's a 600PS car despite the "softest Ferrari" labels with unexpected wheelspin or a quick powerslide. Journalists with skills enjoyed this and people like me thanked the lord above for traction control to kick in and turn the moment from 'frikkin'ell' to an instant burst of laughter.
I do like the blue button on the steering wheel that allows you to be in Sport mode but switch the suspension to Comfort settings for bumpy roads. I used it a bit on this drive and I suspect it will be a boon in India.
This is a beautiful Ferrari for everyone (who can afford it). It should be friendlier to the hardcore Ferrari fans who regard everything but the F40 as too soft for sure. It will also make fast friends, ahem, with new supercar lovers who can afford just the one and want to drive them with some regularity. The rain and bumpy roads turned our drive into a commute and vacation drive for the most part and the Portofino did the business. It was a cozy, comfortable cabin, we trundled down B-roads and the autoroutes in comfort with the bass roar of the V8 muted on even throttle and pronounced when you depressed the loud pedal.
Even in India, I suspect that Portofino owners will be seen out and about a bit more often than usual. This is something that's expected from, say, the Porsche 911 series but all other supercars not so much.
The Ferrari Portofino goes on sale this July in India with prices expected to start at Rs 3.5 crore - there will be a long, long list of optional and bespoke upgrades that owners will be able to add to their cars.
The Ferrari Portofino is a well-judged successor to the California T. It's not as soft, far more practical and yet it's also got more performance, feel and ability. Which is perhaps why it's named after the colourful Italian fishing village rather than America's leading hipster state.
Type 3,855cc 90° twin-turbo V8
Max Power 600PS@7,500rpm
Max Torque 760Nm@3,000-5,250rpm
Kerb weight 1,664kg
Top speed Over 320kmph
Price Rs 3.5 crore onwards
Availability July 2018
+ Blend of ease of driving and genuine Italian performance
- Could a Ferrari be too normal?
OD Rating 4.5
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