All-new starter model deliberately dilutes the Maranello magic
Dancing Donkey does better; the California was dreamin’
ROOF-DOWN in Puglia, the heel of boot-shaped Italy, the Portofino is making a good first impression. The interior of Ferrari’s new 2+2 is door-todoor craftsmanship. The neatly designed instrument panel is an expanse of perfectly stitched leather and crisply detailed metal, studded with a just-right helping of technology, including a big central touch screen. The new, magnesium-framed front seats are snugly comfortable, the driving position pretty well perfect. And the Portofino’s topless aerodynamics cocoon the cockpit in calm air.
But then there’s the sound of what seems to be an asthmatic playing an out of tune didgeridoo. The ugly racket isn’t being made by some second-rate roadside busker. It’s coming from the Ferrari’s behind.
The Portofino’s exhaust system has electric bypass valves just upstream from each of its pair of twin-tipped mufflers. Their opening and closing is entirely controlled by software linked to the mode selected on the steering wheel manettino. There’s no manual over-ride.
Even in Comfort mode, calmest and quietest of the three manettino settings, the software will often choose to open the flaps at low revs and light throttle openings. The dissonant rasp that emerges around 2000rpm
is an assault on the ears.
Ferrari drivetrain engineers say the Portofino’s exhaust note was carefully tailored to build in volume through the revrange, which they divide, being opera-loving Italians, into bass, tenor and alto ranges. The aim is obvious; to add some aural drama to daily driving. While the bass should be sacked, the tenor and alto can really sing. Above 4000rpm and all the way to the 7500rpm cut-out the engine makes Maranello music.
The Portofino’s twinturbocharged 3.9-litre V8 is a heavily reworked version of that in the California T. It has new pistons, connecting rods, exhaust manifolds, intercoolers and accessory drive. Fuel efficiency is improved compared to the California T, and power increases by fully 26kw.
It’s a gloriously potent engine, yet amazingly flexible. The immediacy of throttle response is truly outstanding for a turbocharged engine, and what it delivers feels flawlessly and fearsomely linear.
If the engine is great, the transmission is even better. It’s the same rear-mounted sevenspeed double-clutch transaxle as Ferrari uses in the bigger GTC4 Lusso, with all-new control software. In Comfort mode it does a very fair impression of a torque-converter auto.
Switching to Sport mode makes shifts noticeably more brusque, but the way it behaves when left in Auto mode is superb. Braking hard for a hairpin it makes perfectly timed downshifts, and accelerating out makes snap-crackly upshifts until pressure on the accelerator is eased.
For a chance to use what are probably the best paddle shifters in the business choose manual transmission mode. The long, column-mounted paddles are a sensual delight, and deliver near-instantaneous shifts.
While the Portofino’s drivetrain is full-strength Ferrari, the same can’t be said for its dynamics. For a high-performance GT, the Portofino’s suspension delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride in both Comfort and Sport modes but something is amiss.
Ferrari’s engineers managed to shed 80kg, compared to the California T, in designing the same-size Portofino, most of it from the body structure and chassis components. But the car doesn’t, from the driver’s seat, feel light.
Nor does it feel quite as torsionally stiff as the 488 Spider, despite Ferrari claiming a 35 percent improvement in rigidity over the California T. This burlier chassis has allowed for the fitment of stiffer springs and retuned magnetorheological dampers. It’s not all good news
though. The Portofino’s broad tyres generate ample grip, so carrying corner speed, or handling heavy braking and hard acceleration isn’t a problem. But the chassis fails to create a sense of complete connection with a high-precision machine, something other modern Ferraris invariably manage to do. The electric power steering is too inert and selecting Sport mode on the manettino, which stiffens the car’s adaptive dampers, doesn’t do enough to boost agility compared to Comfort mode.
There’s no doubt the Portofino is a better V8-powered 2+2 GT coupe-cabrio than the California T. It has better looks, extra loudness, more straightline speed and a touch more of the spurious practicality that comes with a pair of tiny rear seats. But this isn’t a dose of full-strength Italian espresso intensity from Maranello, more watered-down Americano.