FER­RARI PORTOFINO

All-new starter model de­lib­er­ately di­lutes the Maranello magic

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - JOHN CAREY

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.

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