Motors

Ferrari Portofino: Red-blooded gateway drug

The Ferrari Portofino is a gateway drug to the most evocative marque in automotive history, pitched perfectly at anyone with £200k burning a hole in their pocket

Ferrari Portofino

DRIVING a Ferrari - any Ferrari - is always an event, but getting to enjoy one on some of the world-class roads that the Scottish Highlands have to offer is an even rarer and more special experience, writes William Scholes.

Making it feel even more blessed was the weather, with the east coast of Scotland bathed in warm sunshine and the mountains, forests and lakes monumental against their sky blue backdrop.

Even the midgies stayed away, meaning conditions were just about perfect for blatting about in an open-top Ferrari.

And sure, if Scotland reverted to type and it did rain, there was always the traditional way of staying dry - drive faster...

Happily, the car in question, like any adorned with the Prancing Horse badge, was generously equipped to “drive faster”, come rain or shine.

My steed was the Portofino, named after the stylish resort on the Italian Riviera. It is tempting to imagine that if Ferrari were an Irish company, this car might have been called the Portaferry or Portrush…

The Portofino is what one might call the entry-level Ferrari.

People - usually those who know little about cars - can be quite sniffy about these models, dismissing them as ‘not a real Ferrari’.

How can it be a true Ferrari, they ask, when the engine isn’t in the middle and it has more than two seats? Nor does the engine have 12 cylinders… and it even has a convertible roof.

These people can be safely ignored.

My steed was the Portofino, named after the stylish resort on the Italian Riviera. It is tempting to imagine that if Ferrari were an Irish company, this car might have been called the Portaferry or Portrush

Yes, the Portofino sports a V8 engine under its bonnet and has at least an effort at more than two seats. And yes, it also has a convertible roof.

But be in no doubt, this is a true, red-blooded Ferrari. The Portofino might be the entry-level model but remember we are talking about Ferrari here, not a Fiat 500 or Ford Fiesta.

Ferrari pitches the Portofino as its most versatile, easy-to-use car - though the credentials of the larger and more expensive four-seater shooting brake GTC4 Lusso are arguably just as strong.

This supercar-as-daily driver market is hugely significant to manufacturers like Ferrari.

Owners of the California T, which the Portofino replaces, reported using their cars far more often than they ever would a sports model, such as a mid-engined Ferrari 488.

Among other things, this ‘extended use’ meant that 30 per cent used the rear seats regularly and 85 per cent used it in their ‘spare time’.

Perhaps the most important statistic is the one that says that 70 per cent of people who buy these cars are new to Ferrari ownership.

The Portofino, then, is a gateway drug to the most evocative marque in automotive history, pitched perfectly at anyone with £200k burning a hole in their pocket.

Hook such individuals, and the rewards are potentially strong - Ferrari clients typically buy multiple cars each year...

Ferrari Portofino

Compared to the California T, the Portofino is a fabulous-looking car - unmistakably a modern Ferrari, with handsome proportions and gorgeous detailing.

The roof is a folding hard-top of fiendish complexity - the tailgate hinges in both directions, which I can’t begin to understand - but its greatest achievement is that it looks just as elegant whether the roof is stowed or erect. This is a rare feat among the ranks of folding hard-tops.

It can go from open to shut, and vice versa, in 14 seconds. You can do this while driving slowly, should you so desire.

Nor is boot space as compromised as you might imagine for something that has to swallow so much complicated mechanical and electrical gubbins - volume is up to 292 litres, or three carry-on suitcases.

But be in no doubt, this is a true, red-blooded Ferrari. The Portofino might be the entry-level model but remember we are talking about Ferrari here, not a Fiat 500 or Ford Fiesta

Even Ferrari isn’t optimistic - of daft - enough to present the Portofino as having proper ‘2+2’ seating.

It bills the cabin concept as ‘2+’, which essentially means it is ideal for two front passengers plus whatever you can squeeze into the back compartment.

There, you can find two of the most artfully arranged Isofix mounting points I’ve ever seen in the back of a car.

Ferrari says there is 5cm more rear legroom in the Portofino than in the California T, though I’m unconvinced: babies and very small children should cope alright, but unless you really, really dislike them, adults should avoid the rear pews.

Ferrari Portofino

Being generous, very short journeys might be manageable for an adult if they are sat behind a front passenger who has cooperated by sliding their own seat forward. Shopping bags, meanwhile, will be delighted at the leather-lined compartment.

The driver and front passenger undoubtedly enjoy the best seats in the house.

From here, surrounded by butter-soft leather, fillets of aluminium trim and lashings of carbon fibre trim, the Ferrari feels every inch the luxury good that these cars have now become, in addition to the engineering pinnacle they have long represented.

The steering wheel deserves a special mention for being so outrageously wonderful; red LEDs flick across the top of its rim as engine revs build, with the lights turning blue at peak revs - a trick borrowed from Formula One, and just one of the details that reminds you that Ferrari’s past, present and future is drenched in motorsport.

Floor the throttle and the rev counter needle spins towards its 7,500rpm red line limit with a lack of inertia of the sort that a pebble flung by Finn McCool might have experienced; instant, and zooming past the horizon

But the Portofino doesn’t just have the details covered. It has the big picture mastered, too, thanks to a driving experience that could only be Ferrari.

The engine is a 3.9-litre V8 with two turbochargers. Turbos used to be bad news for serious sports cars' engines, because they traditionally had poorer throttle response and a sense of ‘lag’ between asking the engine to do something and it acting on it.

The better engine-makers have gradually engineered-out the worst excesses of lag, but the Portofino’s unit - a 90-degree V with a flat-plane crank, if you must know - is comfortably the best resolved I’ve yet driven.

Floor the throttle and the rev counter needle spins towards its 7,500rpm red line limit with a lack of inertia of the sort that a pebble flung by Finn McCool might have experienced; instant, and zooming past the horizon.

Turbos used to sound pretty dull and muffled, too. No-one told Ferrari, because the Portofino sounds absolutely fabulous.

Ferrari Portofino

The exhaust pops and bangs to a thrilling soundtrack that ranges from basso profundo to countertenor as the revs rise and fall, and rise again; maximum aural effect comes courtesy of manual gearchanges at full throttle, a tactile delight heightened by the sensation of using the long steering column-mounted shift paddles and the red and blue lights dancing round the steering wheel’s rim.

The seven-speed double-clutch gearbox perhaps typifies the two sides of the Portofino’s character; manual shifts are as thumpingly ferocious as you would ever want of a daily driver, while left to its own devices as an automatic, it changes gear in a barely-felt instant. It’s an impressive duality.

The steering is very precise and direct, reacting quickly to inputs. Some might think it too light, and expect more heft from a car so powerful and fast.

‘Fast’ is to undersell the Portofino, however. The performance is astounding for a car that the ignorant might dismiss as a ‘baby’ Ferrari.

Put it all together, and the Portofino covers the 0-62mph sprint in 3.5 seconds; 0-124mph takes just 10.8 seconds. Top speed is rated at 198mph. Does that sound like a ‘baby’ to you?

The twin-turbo V8 makes 591bhp, which is plenty even in a car with a kerb weight just shy of 1,700kg - a decent fighting weight for a car wearing that complicated roof and shot through with top-tier engineering and luxury.

A chunky torque figure arguably tells more in a car with every day, grand touring aspirations, and the Portofino makes a hefty 561lb.ft from 3,000rpm to 5,250rpm - no wonder it not only gathers speed so quickly but also mooches around in traffic so easily.

Put it all together, and the Portofino covers the 0-62mph sprint in 3.5 seconds; 0-124mph takes just 10.8 seconds. Top speed is rated at 198mph. Does that sound like a ‘baby’ to you?

There are so many other details that one could dwell on with this Ferrari. The engine’s cam covers, painted red in true Ferrari testa rossa tradtion; the differential, with its Large Hadron Collider-levels of computing wizardry; the plaque inside the tailgate which details the options fitted to the car (mine had almost £60k of extras…); the digital display in front of the passenger to tell them just how fast the car is going; the delightful manettino on the steering wheel to switch between modes; the ‘bumpy road’ button to relax the suspension on rough roads…

Sports cars, perhaps Italian thoroughbreds most of all, have a reputation for being highly strung and temperamental.

Which makes the after-sales package that comes with a Ferrari all the more remarkable. Every new model comes with a four-year warranty as standard as well as - and this is unique - seven years’ servicing with no mileage restrictions.

It’s a rational counterpoint to a car that wears its passion so visibly and evocatively. But did anyone ever need an excuse to by a Ferrari in the first place?

Ferrari Portofino

Ferrari Portofino

Ferrari Portofino

Ferrari Portofino

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