Times really are changing for Ferrari.
In the last couple of years, the Maranello outfit has been undergoing a bit of a revolution, expanding their road car offerings to cater to different types of customers. Some want a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive V8, so they have the 488 Pista and the newer F8 Tributo. Some wanted a V12 with the engine in front, so they have the 812 Superfast. They even have a very limited edition, roofless Monza SP series, as well as an upcoming mid-engined hybrid called the SF90 Stradale.
If you want a Ferrari, the options are really limited only to your bank account, Swiss or not. But what if you don't want something fancy? What if you want a Ferrari that captures the essence of the brand in the styling, the heritage, the performance, and the overall sensuality, but without diluting the experience too much with ultra-high tech, aerodynamics, or trying to be too F1?
That's where a model like the Portofino comes in.
The Portofino is a grand tourer in the classic sense, and that's sort of what we've been missing. The car doesn't want to wow you with all the high tech aero details that would make a pimply car geek drop his jaw; that's reserved for models like the 488 GTB we drove two years ago or other, more extreme Ferraris. Instead, the Portofino wants to elicit a different kind of reaction - one of subtle seduction with the elegance of its shape, the smoothness of its curves, the sloping fastback silhouette, and those wide hips that cover the driven rear wheels.
The Portofino is properly pretty. That's not to say that Ferrari currently makes un-pretty cars, but sometimes we think they've focused on letting the aerodynamicists dictate the shape of their cars too much rather than coming up with something beautiful. With the Portofino, Ferrari let the aero guy come to the party, but it was the design guys that brought it.
And this Italian likes to go topless too. The Portofino is, after all, the heir to the Ferrari California, making it a convertible that can be really enjoyed with the roof retracted. Ferrari says 14 seconds is all you need to drop the top when the weather permits or to put it back up when the the weather won't... or if you want a bit more privacy with your date.
Getting inside the Portofino isn't an un-elegant thing to do. Unlike more dedicated sportscars like, say, a Lotus Elise, ingress and egress doen't require special dexterity. The Portofino is quite low, but not overly so. Getting in is even easier if the roof is open; perfect if you have a nice, climate controlled garage of sorts.
The interior is a case study in clean execution; Ferrari really did work to craft something that's both elegant yet befitting its status. Much of the upholstery is done in Ferrari's brown “Cuoio” leather; it's not my first choice from the 15 options in the Portofino's customization menu, but it's very nice nonetheless. The carbon fiber touches are also quite neat and don't look out of place.
Put your hands on the wheel and you'll instantly know you're in something special. The steering wheel's layout is very different from anything else you will encounter, but we'll get to that later. The knobs and buttons that control the vehicle's F1-Trac system is just to the left; you use this panel to fiddle around with some of the performance settings. The buttons for the transmission's primary functions are on an arch on the center console: Reverse, Auto, and Launch
There's that big 10.2-inch screen in the middle of the dash, and it's touch sensitive. Knobs and buttons are just below it in a smaller panel, along with the A/C controls. I'm not a fan of the way they designed the A/C vents, but they do work, and I like how they can be easily pointed to where you want cool air to go. Perhaps the real oddity with the Portofino is the presence of a slim screen in front of the passenger; you can configure it to display things like what music you're playing, or even digital gauges.
The back seat is, well, barely a seat. While the front seats may not exactly be supple, the rear seats are really quite firm. You can fit two people in there, but they'll be wanting for knee room if the driver and front passenger are fairly tall and like to set their seats a bit further back. In my setting, there's still good knee room, but only just. Most of the time, however, we don't expect the rear seat to be used much for people, so Ferrari put in a folding mechanism that allows you to actually bring a fully loaded golf set with you.
Pop the hood and you'll notice that there's a distinct beauty about the symmetry of the engine, and it's accented by those beautiful red valve covers. Of course it's a V8; we don't expect modern Ferraris to have a straight engine anytime soon. They call this an “entry-level” Ferrari, but there's really nothing bare or base model-ish about having a twin-turbocharged direct injected V8 with 600 PS and 760 Nm of tarmac (and tire) ripping torque being sent to the rear wheels via 7 speed dual clutch gearbox.
Press the ignition and you'll hear the sound of glory as the engine fires up itself. The engine and exhaust notes really are sounds to be enjoyed, and I found myself disregarding pumping out any kind of music via Bluetooth or USB. Who cares about music when this gas-fueled orchestra is emanating from it?
There is, of course, a learning curve when it comes to operating a modern Ferrari, particularly with the way the steering wheel is configured. The ignition button is on it, as is the Mannetino switch to select what kind of drive mode you'd like. Instead of stalks, there are paddles just below the spokes to control the headlights as well as the wipers. Even the indicator switches are on the upper portion of the spokes. It's very nice how they got inspiration from a Formula One steering wheel and applied it to features you'd find in a normal car like wipers, lights, and indicators.
Even if you've driven a similar performance car like a Porsche 911, driving a modern Ferrari requires a bit of commitment. For starters, you'll need to actually use the paddleshifters; they're not actually optional. For you to actually get moving, you'll have to pull the right paddle to put the Portofino in drive (or D). When you park or if you're waiting at a set of lights and want to go into neutral, you step on the brake and pull both paddles at the same time. And of course, if you want to select the gear manually, just pull the left to shift down, and pull the right paddle to shift up.
In coupe configuration, the Portofino is a fine car for everyday use, but don't expect levels of comfort akin to a Mercedes or a Lexus. Despite being an entry-grade Ferrari, the Portofino is still a performance car through and through. The suspension, even in the softest setting for the magnetic-adjustable dampers, isn't going to be that comfortable on typical Philippine roads. You will feel a lot of the bumps as you go along. That's just the trade-off for a car like this.
Negotiating mall parking ramps will be difficult as this doesn't have the nose-lifting feature of the 488 GTB we drove two years ago. Neither will your village association like you because if you get home in the middle of the night after a drive, you'll wake up the neighbors. That's just life with any tuned car, performance car, or a Ferrari.
But find an open road and you'll fall in love with the sensation of thrust. The engine may be essentially the same as the Ferrari California T (the model that the Portofino succeeded), but it has 40 more horsepower, but just 5 Nm of extra torque. The key, however, is that the max torque comes in at a much earlier 3000 rpm, and holds it up to 5250 rpm. The California T's 3.9L V8 only developed max torque at 4750 rpm. And it comes as no surprise that Ferrari says the Portofino can get you from a standstill to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds.
The RPMs for the torque may seem trivial, but by tuning the engine to let the torque come in much earlier helps not just in acceleration, but in fuel economy. In my time with the Portofino, city fuel economy wasn't bad at all, with the numbers coming in at 5.2 kilometers for every liter (20 km/h average speed in traffic) in casual driving. On the highway at an average of 85 km/h the improvement wasn't as big as I thought; the Portofino was getting 9.2 km/l.
Granted, a Ferrari customer won't care too much (if at all) for fuel economy, but there it is anyway. Where the Portofino does like to show off is in the corners. With the suspension set to stiff and the Mannetino set to Sport, the Portofino makes you feel alive. On full acceleration, it brings out a level of focus in a driver that is hard to match in any other car. Dive on the brakes for a corner and you'll experience the beauty of those carbon ceramic rotors; they're a bit noisy when cold, but once you warm them up you'll fall in love with the ability to brake late for a turn.
Over the California T HS we drove a few years back, the performance is significantly better. Mid-corner, the Portofino loves to skirt the limit of its handling (and tire grip), which in itself is already very high. This new Ferrari is close to a hundred kilos lighter than the similarly specced California T, and that's because Maranello used a lot of lightweight materials in its construction while improving rigidity.
You can feel it when you're cornering hard; the Portofino points when you turn in, and all you have to do is feed into the throttle properly to get a great exit at speed. Here's the warning though: unless you know you can handle it, don't turn the Mannetino all the way to the right; that'll turn off all the primary driver aids. Caveat emptor.
Make no mistake about it, the Ferrari Portofino is truly a sexy car - a word we rarely use. It isn't without its niggles and nuances; the Portofino, after all, is Italian. The few things that come to mind is the user interface for the 10.2 inch screen; it's not as intuitive as we'd like. The DCT, while great for performance, feels out of place in our kind of traffic; it can be a bit jerky, which is probably one of the reasons why you'd rarely see a modern Ferrari being driven on any other day but Sunday. And here comes another: it's strange for a car billed as a grand touring sports car/convertible to have just one cupholder. If you're thirsty, you and your date will just have to put in two straws in one drink.
But who cares? If you're spending close (if not more) to the asking price of a very nice house in a very exclusive neighborhood in the city (it costs much, much more here than a Porsche 911 Turbo, FYI), you're not going to be bothered too much by a lack of cupholders or weekday traffic. If you're in the market for a Portofino, chances are you'll just use this on weekends, and you wouldn't really care too much for having a cup of coffee while driving anyway.