A healthy mental and spiritual wellbeing is relatively easy to maintain. We’ve found the secret: It’s a Ferrari. An exceptionally fast one. One that lets you cleanse yourself of all cares, woes and worries, with torrents of crisp fresh air and the howl of a turbo-charged V-8. Meet the Portofino.
Ferrari invited us stretch the Portofino’s legs in the region of Puglia, in the ‘heel’ of Italy. The Pugliese people are renowned for being unconcerned with the rest of Italy, happiest when left alone in their own idyllic setting. Unfortunately for them, the rest of Italy is rather taken with their region’s incredible seafood wrestled from the Adriatic, thus there was a spot of traffic or seven to content with. But with four hours to be spent on two-lane country twisters, we found plenty of spots to flog those Maranello horses.
Look At That
Ferrari has made more than a subtle styling nod towards its legendary Gran Tursimo fastback cars of the past, including the 275 GTB 4 and 365 Daytona. Ferrari’s now retired California and California T had similar inherited proportions, but the Portofino has a more aggressive demeanor, brought out by the deep and angular sculpting of the side panels, front fascia and hood. It’s worth remembering that each of those beautiful sections has a quite particular aerodynamic function.
This is a big improvement from the styling of the California, which rarely drew the gasps a Ferrari should. The Portofino looks like it has just been drawn back like the arrow in a hunter’s bow. Potential energy begging to be loosed.
Don’t Look At This
Picking holes in Ferrari styling requires digging fairly deep. The completely necessary and required rear bumper and diffuser break up the most elegant and feminine lines of the car. But it is home to the car’s exhaust, and helps speed airflow underneath the car. It certainly suggests that the rear of the car is put together solidly. So you can cut Ferrari some slack on this one.
Cockpit and Cabin
The fine engineers and designers at Ferrari are always eager to ensure the appearance of your car is only limited by your imagination with Ferrari’s “Tailor Made” service, but be prepared to open your wallet. Wide. Those that do will be more than satisfied with the choice of 28 exterior colors and 15 interior hides with options for contrast stitching color and pattern.
The Portofino we tested came clad in a deep Metallic Grey, with a black interior. This more subtle appearance is perfectly suited to a car that Ferrari is determined will exceed the California’s abilities as a super grand tourer with everyday versatility. Meticulous attention is paid to presenting the interior as both a sumptuous cocoon and functional cockpit.
Awash in carbon fiber and brushed metal accents, this is certainly the most comfortable Ferrari I have spent time in so far. The prospect of extended hours of travel in some of Ferrari’s more aggressive stable mates would sound daunting to those who suffer sports car back pain. In the Portofino’s case, attention to the ergonomics mean the optional 18-way adjustable seats provide ample back support, extendable thigh support and heat. (There is no seat cooling, but you can always drop the temp by dropping the roof.)
With the folding rear bench option, you can stow two sets of skis in the trunk. When folded, the hard top steals plenty of cargo space, so if you’re hitting IKEA, stick to meatballs over end tables, but you’ll be able to get a few duffel bags or carry-on suitcases for a weekend in the Alps without issues.
On the topic of storage, alas, there is but one—optional—cup holder for your doppio espresso, leaving your passenger with only one spare hand to hold on as you attack the curves.
The dynamic range of the Portofino’s powertrain is its most welcome achievement. The delightful twin-turbo V-8 delivers 600 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque as an effortless breeze or as a torrent of locomotive acceleration. This is the first time a Ferrari has been equipped with an “active” exhaust, where valves are electronically manipulated for more or less noise. Under higher loads, the exhaust barks on upshifts and crackles on the overrun when you come off the throttle, a satisfying antidote to restrained commuting tones.
Ferrari’s confidence in the car’s ability to handle the bumpy country roads of Apulia was telling. The updated magnetic ride suspension now benefits from dual coil dampers to improve the car’s adjustment to varying road conditions. Optional comfort mode activates with a press of steering wheel button. A few more taps gets you additional stiffness, yet still comfortable when you decide to push harder in Sport Mode. The car also receives the new electronic power steering and (electronically controlled) electronic-differential first seen in the sensational 812 Super Fast. The sum of these elements is a grand touring car with a remarkable bandwidth of ability.
The average California owner is reported to use their car 150 percent more than Ferrari’s other customers. And while there have been big strides forward from the California in both drivability and comfort, the Portofino still falls a little short of some of the established. The Portofino has a tendency to hang onto gears at low speeds, which could be a frequent annoyance for some.
The magnetic damping also struggled to conceal high frequency bumps and some of the bigger divots you tend to encounter, but only at lower speeds. The higher speed damping was very good on challenging, pock-marked roads.
The Future Is Now
Finally, Ferrari’s produced an infotainment system that is as good as the cars it builds. The Human-Machine-Interface (HMI) controls media, navigation, and climate via a 10.25-inch touch display. Don’t want greasy fingerprints inside your Ferrari? You can navigate the system with push dials on either side.
Two 5.0-inch LCD displays appear on either side of the Giallo yellow RPM dial, especially helpful for displaying navigation prompts. Everything functions intuitively and the system moves between menus with acceptable lag. Apple Car Play is supported, but no dice for Android lovers.
And there’s a display embedded in the glove box, from which your passenger can control the media hub, search for restaurants along the navigation route or input new destinations. It also displays the cars performance information, so be prepared for an earful if you’re caught speeding or trying to set the high score on the g-force meter.
Every moment with the Portofino was highly enjoyable. Wheeling a convertible Ferrari through the Italian countryside was fun. Go figure.
Equally engaging—and edifying—was meeting the engineers, designers and minds responsible for the vehicle. Take Ferrari’s head test driver, Raffaele De Simone. In a company that builds less than 9,000 vehicles a year, the impact people like De Simone impart on the finished product is extremely tangible. Over dinner, De Simone deftly deflected repeated questions about the potential of Ferrari SUVs and fully-electric super cars. His preferred deference? “If you can think of something, we are working on it.”
Ferrari returns 35 percent of its revenue into research and development of future products, an astounding number. The evolution of the Portofino from the California speaks to Ferrari’s inability to be satisfied with adequate. Not when the pursuit of excellent is far more noble and attainable.
The Portofino is the first car that can genuinely claim to be both a coupe and a convertible, both in styling and performance. When those 600 horses are thundering at full gallop and you’ve got the potential to reach 200 mph, with what feels like little effort, you’re left with the rather breathless conclusion that this is the approachable Ferrari we’ve wanted for a long time. What it may lack in ride quality when puttering around town, it handily makes up for when you’re pinging the rev limiter around a hairpin, with nary a hint of chassis sway.
Perhaps the crowning achievement here is opening the world of Ferrari up to so many people. The Portofino’s starting price of $214,533 may sound absurdly expensive without context, but that price point has become a very competitive market over the past decade. The fact that the California was Ferrari’s most successful car sold during that timeframe demonstrates there are plenty of buyers jumping at the chance to own a Prancing Horse.
We live in an era where cars never been faster, more usable, or more diverse. And not just the ones that cost as much as a house. The Portofino is up against the likes of Porsche 911 Turbo S, Mercedes-AMG SL 65 and the V-8 Bentley GTC, each special in their own way. Selecting the Portofino from that lusty-worthy crop could be a tougher consideration than not. Those who do will never be disappointed.
- Performance: A
- Comfort: A
- Cargo Capacity: C
- Lust Factor: A
- Overall: A
- Price: $214,533 (plus destination fees)
- Performance: Twin-turbo V-8 engine, 600 bhp; 560 lb-ft
- Top Speed: 199 mph; 0-60 – 3.5 secs
- Fuel Economy: 22 mpg (combined)