As far as entry-models go, the Ferrari Portofino is one of the least sacrificial gateways to Maranello’s vast supercar line-up that the prancing horse has ever built.
Just like the California before it, the Portofino will lure new buyers to the brand, but this far-superior replacement is the most deeply convincing hook yet - from top-down cruising to full-throttle blasting, suburban pottering, and even heavy-traffic commuting.
While the Portofino’s $399,888 starting price is lower than the old California T with Handling Package’s sticker, even a minor dabble in Ferrari’s options catalogue will cost you dearly. Some stuff we can totally see the point of, such as the Magneride dual-mode suspension system ($8970), parking camera ($6950), adaptive front lighting system ($5500), foldable rear seat backrest ($2717), coloured floor mats with logo ($2156) and possibly even the JBL Premium hi-fi system (the priciest option on our test car at $10,100). Others, like a carbon-fibre steering wheel with LED shift light ($8300) and Apple CarPlay (a steal at $6793) make a vat of Krug champagne seem good value.
Besides being a ripper all-round supercar with free servicing for the first seven years, the Portofino comes with more kit than you’d think: a slick folding-roof system that can electrically lower or erect itself in 14 seconds, excellent carbon-ceramic brakes, full LED headlights and tail-lights, 20-inch alloy wheels with tenacious Pirelli P Zero tyres, front and rear parking sensors, keyless engine start (via a charming red button on the steering wheel), yellow Scuderia Ferrari shields on both front mudguards, a vast 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with digital radio, a car-protection cover and a battery maintainer are all inclusive in your 400-grand investment.
A Ferrari ‘Prancing Horse’ badge, beaming loud and proud from the triangular Scuderia shields at the trailing edge of both front guards. The Portofino may be the definition of understated muscularity, but those two yellow inserts are as shouty as Versace furniture. Then there’s Ferrari’s awesome 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8, which is just as delightful in the Portofino as it is in the sportier two-seat 488, combining effortless torque with enormous performance reserves. The fact that the Portofino sounds luscious even when you’re tootling about is all most people will want.
Compared to Italian cars of the past, and even the comparatively stripped out Ferrari 488 of today, the Portofino presents itself as polished and premium. Gorgeous leather trim (in a stunning navy blue in our test car), beautifully tactile shift paddles, classy instrument graphics and some truly high-end upholstery stitching and retro ‘Portofino’ badgework make this two-plus-two cabin feel special. Admittedly, some trim sections don’t quite match up perfectly, and the switchgear is well below Bentley or Rolls-Royce quality, but for a contemporary every-person’s Ferrari, the Portofino nails its brief.
Given its low-slung, two-door stance it is surprisingly practical. Sure, the Portofino’s back seat offers such marginal legroom that front occupants will have to move the seats forward for any child beyond toddler status, but it has rear seats. A Porsche 911’s rear pair may be more useable but with the roof down, the Portofino has limitless headroom, and the back row is great for bags and backpacks and shopping. The front seats almost drop onto their runners, delivering both a centre-of-gravity advantage and plenty of adjustment for basketballers, while the Portofino’s boot capacity is 292 litres with the roof up. That isn’t a massive amount but it’s workable for a cheeky weekend away, and better than a California’s.
For a two-plus-two supercar standing 1318mm tall, the Portofino is much easier to jump in and out of than many regular coupes. It’s more accessible than a 911, for example, and the door opening is broad enough to allow most people to retain their dignity, depending on the tightness of your shorts or the brevity of your mini-skirt. There’s no keyless entry – only keyless start – but the Portofino’s triangular-shaped door handles are reasonably easy to use, though lacking flair in their design and operation. The rear-view mirrors mounted on thin stems are both pretty and allow for an unimpeded view around each A-pillar.
As a two-seater, the Portofino is brilliant. It plays its coupe card to perfection by feeling abundantly spacious up front without ever feeling oversized or flabby on the road. But the Portofino’s versatility spans more than just its ability to squeeze three aircraft cabin bags into its boot with the roof erected. It’s about being a consummate all-rounder. This svelte Ferrari is defined by its effectiveness as both a genuine daily driver and a twisty-road stunner.
The front buckets aren’t cushy, but their support is outstanding, and they feel like they’re custom-made to work in unison with the Portofino’s taut suspension.
ON THE ROAD
Ferrari’s twin-turbo 3855cc V8 was the outright winner of the International Engine of the Year award in 2016 and 2017, and the Portofino shows why. It has enough muscle to pull from just 1200rpm in higher gears yet will forcefully charge towards its 7500rpm redline just like Ferrari’s much-loved naturally aspirated engines of the past. With two turbochargers fluffing up its lower and middle ranges, however, this 441kW/760Nm powerhouse manages to be all things to all people. It’s a cinch to drive in traffic, but also addictively delicious in the way it exponentially gathers speed. Few could dismiss a 0-100km/h claim of 3.5 seconds, or a top speed in excess of 320km/h. This ‘hairdresser’s Ferrari’, if you want to be brutally unkind, is almost as fast as a Porsche 911 Turbo, yet makes up for its slight performance deficit by sounding incredible. Whether extending every gear right out or short-shifting manually and feeling the hairs prickle on your arms as the Portofino’s exhaust barks a thunderous whip-crack, there’s infinite enjoyment to be had here.
Our test car featured optional ‘Magneride’ dual-mode suspension dampers ($8970), with Comfort and Sport settings, and a ‘Bumpy Road’ mode to dial off the kidney punishment on Australia’s inconsistent surfaces. But even in Sport, the 1664kg Portofino treads surprisingly lightly, dancing across bumps and potholes rather than crashing into them.
Given its two-plus-two, hardtop-convertible brief, the Portofino isn’t as dynamically hardcore as many of its stablemates, but it comes surprisingly close. There’s a litheness to this near 1.7-tonne Ferrari that belies its weight and configuration, fulfilling pretty much every expectation of a Maranello-engineered product. With the steering wheel’s Manettino switch set to Sport, there’s an accuracy of cornering line and an intimacy of handling balance that encourages the Portofino’s driver to keep pushing harder. With 54 per cent of the car’s weight biased towards the rear axle, underpinned by vast 285/35ZR20 rear tyres, there’s inherent mechanical balance and grip in the Portofino, and you can feel that from behind the wheel.
What’s not so apparent is a natural level of steering weighting. The harder you drive, the chattier the Portofino’s feedback, but much of the time its steering is simply too light for a car of this calibre. The response is near-perfect – super-keen to change direction, but never nervously so – however we wish there was a little more meat in this particular sandwich.
What really elevates the Portofino’s driving experience, however, is its multi-faceted character. Aided by a body structure that’s 35 percent stiffer than the California’s (while trimming 80kg from overall weight), the Portofino feels robust with the roof dropped, yet supple enough in the suspension department to maintain its cool on most Aussie roads – especially with the ‘bumpy road’ button activated on its steering wheel.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite carrying almost 200kg more than a Ferrari 488 GTB, the Portofino is a lusty, thrusty, thrilling performer. The higher the needle climbs on its central tachometer – a bright yellow one in our test car (for a not inconsiderable $1256 extra) – the greater the intensity of its acceleration, as it should be in any performance car, let alone any Ferrari. With maximum power of 441kW achieved at the Portofino’s redline (7500rpm), this is proper supercar stuff. But equally as important is the Portofino’s continental shelf of torque – a staggering 760Nm from 3000-5250rpm – and not just because its engine capacity is a mere 3855cc. This abundance of all-round muscle perfectly supports the Portofino’s jack-of-all-trades versatility. Pretty yet beautifully muscular, docile yet devastatingly quick, Ferrari’s ‘entry-level’ coupe-convertible feels every bit as premium as its badge, and its price, would suggest.