If you were to sit down and sketch the archetypal GT car, it would probably look a lot like the Ferrari Portofino: Classic front-engined proportions, 2+2 seating and enough room to whisk its occupants from Milan to Monte Carlo in comfort and style.
And yet the Portofino’s predecessor, the California raised a few eyebrows when it first appeared in 2008. It was somewhat softer than the other cars in the range – both in style and in character – and it was the first front-engined Ferrari road car to use a V8 rather than a V12.
A series of revisions brought in with facelifted California T – in particular, the optional Handling Speciale package – gave the California an added edge. Now the Portofino has taken that process a step further, with a thoroughly re-designed chassis that’s 35 per cent stiffer and some 80kg lighter. There’s also the small matter of the engine tweaks, which have summoned an extra 40bhp from the familiar 3.9-litre twin turbo V8, bringing the total output to 592bhp and 760Nm of torque. That’s enough to catapult the Portofino from 0-to-62 mph in 3.5 seconds and on to nearly 200mph. Not bad for the baby of the range.
Of course, the term ‘baby Ferrari’ has always been something of an oxymoron. Starting at £168,390 (think closer to £200,000 with options) the Portofino is up against some very stiff opposition. It slots roughly in between the Aston Martin DB11 Volante and the Bentley Continental GTC in terms of price and performance. From the moment you open the door, though, it’s clear that the Ferrari has a somewhat different character to the Brit bruisers. There’s a delicacy and precision to the cabin design that feels unmistakably Italian. Our test car was positively drenched in carbon fibre, which fits in well with the hooded instruments and racy flat-bottomed steering wheel. You can even spec an optional ‘Passenger Display’ that allows your co-pilot to see precisely how fast you’re clipping those all-important apexes.
So, top marks for style. And everything works well too. The infotainment system is clear and reasonably responsive, the seats are firmly padded yet beautifully comfortable and the boot sits towards the larger end of the class at 292 litres. There’s also a ski hatch that allows access to the cabin for larger items. True, you’d need to be an exceptionally small or bendy adult to get comfortable in the rear seats, but there’s enough room for younger children, plus ISOFIX points come as standard.
Thumb the bright red starter button (mounted on the steering wheel, naturally) and the V8 fires with a deep, resonant bark. At least, it does with the ‘Manettino’ switch set to Sport. If you’re particularly fond of your neighbours, you can always reduce the volume by switching to Comfort mode, which keeps the flaps of the active exhaust closed during startup.
It won’t come as any great surprise to discover that the Portofino is monumentally fast. What’s impressive, though, is the way that performance is delivered. The flat-plane crank V8 responds crisply from any engine speed and pulls energetically up to the 7,500rpm red line. It sounds good too, with the thunderous rumble at low revs giving way to a proper motorsport-inspired howl as the roadside hedges blur into hyperdrive.
That same sense of inertia-free agility is present in the handling. The suspension settings are essentially taken from the Handling Speciale pack, which was offered as an option on the California T. This means that the spring rates are up by 15.5 per cent at the front and 19 per cent at the rear (relative to the standard California T). However, the damper control is now handled by the dual-coil Magnaride system used on the 488, which is said to provide faster response. Other changes include the adoption of electric power steering for the first time in a Ferrari GT, a revised version of the company’s electronically-controlled differential (dubbed E-Diff 3) and tweaks to the traction control system.
It does take a few miles to dial into the Ferrari’s ultra-sharp steering, but once that happens, you start to wonder why all cars aren’t set up like this. It scythes through corners with real precision and composure. There’s impressive traction too, with Sport mode on the Manettino allowing a little wriggle from the rear end when you start to push harder.
When you’re in the mood, the Portofino ratchets up the involvement, several notches from any other convertible 2+2 GT. Crucially, though, it remains genuinely comfortable. True, there are more cossetting GTs out there, but the Ferrari runs them pretty close for ride and refinement, while also offering a far more intense hit of adrenaline. And it’s that breadth of ability that makes it such an enticing package. At times when a lot of supercars would be tucked up in their temperature-controlled garages, you could still get out and enjoy the Portofino. It helps that the folding metal hardtop takes just 14 seconds to rise, turning this convertible into a very convincing coupé, with minimal wind and road noise (although you do lose some of the drama from that manic V8 in the process).
This, then, is a Ferrari that you could really use every day. As with the rest of the range, it even comes with a four-year warranty and seven years’ free servicing. But more importantly, it’s the real deal; a ferociously fast and genuinely engaging driver’s car that feels more than worthy of the Prancing Horse emblem.
Car reviewed: Ferrari Portofino cabriolet, on the road price £166,296 0-62mph 3.5secs Top speed 199mph Engine 3855cc 8 cylinder unleaded Euro 6 Fuel Economy Combined 26.4mpg CO2 emissions 245g/km Max Power [email protected] Torque [email protected] Transmission 7-speed dual clutch man sequential auto mode
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