Ferrari Portofino – First Drive


Falling in love again. Kevin Haggarthy drives Ferrari’s new super baby – the Portofino.
Car buffs are well familiar with the emotive superlatives used to describe Ferrari. Some of you may be even bored with them. Yet each time I drive a new Ferrari I lose myself to a spiral of poetic prose like a lovesick child. I’ve finally found ‘love’…..again!

Yet it is a motor car. A machine. How do you create life, feeling, emotion, excitement, exhilaration inspiration and beauty in….a machine? The answer lies in spending a day behind the wheel of the new Ferrari Portofino.

This very same reflection took me back to the dinner conversation with Ferrari senior personnel the night before. To my left was the Head of Product Marketing, to my right a chap called James May who does a bit of telly, to the right of him the Portofino’s Chief Designer and in between, a few other scribbler colleagues. We debated words and phrases symbolising Ferrari – ‘beauty’ ‘speed’, ‘style’, ‘exclusivity’ all got the thumbs up. Yet, if one of my non-Ferrari colleagues around the table came up with a word or phrase that didn’t quite fit the brand, suddenly you’d hear an animated response from the Ferrari personnel “….no, no no, that is not ‘Ferrari!”.

The point was indeed clear: what makes Ferrari are the human and emotional qualities that can only be created by those who feel the spirit of the brand in their souls; “It is a big responsibility ” Mr Head of Marketing tells me, “– but one we embrace.” I don’t see how anyone who doesn’t have that essential Ferrari DNA in their veins could ever successfully work for this brand – which is hence duly cliched with emotion.

The new Portofino has more of the spiritual Ferrari DNA than the California T it replaces. That car, albeit softer and more user friendly than other models, was indeed capable of creating the Ferrari magic, whereas the previous California was geared towards less demanding customers, who were maybe trying the brand for the first time, and wanted a relatively ‘easier to drive’ prancing horse that could be used day to day. I suspect many of its customers even lived in California, where sunshine and long-distance cruising are typical.

But the Portofino is having none of that; whilst admittedly a tamer expression of the brand and retaining the California’s ‘drivability’, it performs from the outset like a true Ferrari. No more Mr Nice Guy. With the Portofino, if you want to buy into the brand, you buy into it ‘pure’.

The Portofino’s much more alluring styling was apparently inspired by the legendary Daytona. Instead of the lazy sunshine of California, in the Portofino, we have a name inspired by one of the most charming villages on the Italian Riviera. 35% stiffer and 80 kg lighter than the outgoing California T, it sparks into life with an exhilarating scream from its award-winning V8 engine which is boosted by an extra 40bhp. Add to that technical handling improvements; stiffer springs, the latest evolution of the ‘magnetorheological’ damping system, (SCM-E) and a new ECU configuration implementing control algorithms to improve the dynamic handling. You can see where this is going. Now we have a true ‘baby Ferrari’.

Yet whilst so true to the brand, this prancing horse drives quite differently to any of the many Ferraris’ we have previously driven. The lightness, power and precision give it more of a ‘go-kart’ feel, yet that uncanny Ferrari know-how makes it a pliant and comfortable companion when the Manettino is set to ‘comfort’ for everyday driving.

The Portofino is a positive step change up from the California; more ‘Ferrari’ if you like but not enough to deter first timers to the brand, or those who may be disinclined towards a harder core driving experience.


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