Fer­rari portofino

About £11,000 (Rs 9.9 lakh) and 40 PS… Fer­rari’s “en­try-level” car is back; harder, faster, pret­tier, and more ex­pen­sive. Is it now a truly great Fer­rari, and not just a great first Fer­rari?

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Ben Barry Pho­tog­ra­phy: Char­lie Magee

‘En­try-level’ is now far away from Cal­i­for­nia, and starts at 600 PS

Tt’s about 6,000 miles (9,655 km) from the coast of Cal­i­for­nia to Portofino, a fish­ing vil­lage on the Ital­ian Riviera. One glance at the new Fer­rari Portofino’s taut alu­minium body­work — and a quick scan of its spec­i­fi­ca­tion — sug­gests there’s a sim­i­larly large gulf be­tween Fer­rari’s new en­try-level model and its pre­de­ces­sor, the Cal­i­for­nia T. Squeeze the throt­tle, feel the twin­turbo V8’s huge swell of mid-range torque morph seam­lessly into a fran­tic rush to the red-line, then pull back on pad­dle-shifters that en­gage gears like they’re fir­ing am­mu­ni­tion. And sud­denly the sub­jec­tive gloss of style and the em­pir­i­cal de­tach­ment of stats be­come real with one noisy burst of ac­cel­er­a­tion.

If foot-to-the-floor first im­pres­sions sug­gest the Portofino is a size­able step on from the Cal­i­for­nia T, it prom­ises to be bet­ter at the sen­si­ble stuff too. Slow down to 40 km/h and you can now drop the roof on the move (the Cal­i­for­nia had to be sta­tion­ary), with the new roof and mech­a­nism mo­tor­ing away be­neath the boot with im­pres­sive ci­vil­ity in 14 sec­onds, invit­ing over­seas read­ers to soak up win­ter sun­shine, or Brits to re­al­ize you don’t feel the rain so much at 110 km/h.

This is all good news, be­cause while the Cal­i­for­nia T never was an en­tirely bad car, it was Fer­rari’s weak­est model, fail­ing to set pulses rac­ing like the more sport­ing, mi­dengined Fer­rari coupés and Spi­ders above it.

Fer­rari haven’t thrown the bam­bino out with the bath­wa­ter, so here the ba­sic con­cept re­mains un­changed. That means a V8 en­gine po­si­tioned low down and far back un­der the long bon­net, two-plus-two seat­ing and a fold­ing metal hard­top. Even the wheel­base of 2,670 mil­lime­tres re­mains iden­ti­cal. Price goes up by £11k (Rs 9.9 lakh) to £166,180 (Rs 1.5 crore), though that’s still a chunky £38k (Rs 34 lakh) shy of the 488 Spi­der, Fer­rari’s other fold­ing hard­top.

More rel­e­vant is the mar­ket the Portofino para­chutes into, which is as busy as it is di­verse. McLaren of­fer a fold­ing hard­top for a frac­tion less, but the 570S Spi­der is es­sen­tially a cheaper Fer­rari 488 Spi­der/McLaren 650S Spi­der (Wok­ing is still work­ing on a drop­top 720S). Buy­ers might also choose the As­ton DB11 Volante, a fab­ric-roofed V8 two-plus-two for £160k (Rs 1.44 crore), or a Mercedes SL, the two-seat fold­ing hard­top that’s £50k (Rs 45 lakh) more af­ford­able in SL 63 trim.

With the com­pe­ti­tion be­com­ing more com­pet­i­tive than ever, Maranello has drilled down into the de­tail, stretch­ing the Cal­i­for­nia’s al­ready broad re­mit like it’s been strapped to a rack. Sharper to drive and more pow­er­ful, but more com­fort­able, more ef­fi­cient, and more us­able, too — that, at least, is the idea. And Fer­rari in­sist that those last three traits re­ally are cru­cial to own­ers, 70 per cent of whom were new to Fer­rari

Feel the V8’s huge mid-range torque morph seam­lessly into a fran­tic rush

The Portofino’s De­sign is a bet­ter fit with Fer­rari’s V12s, echo­ing the 1970s Day­tona

when they bought a Cal­i­for­nia. They still want the heady buzz of driv­ing an ex­otic, but they daily-drive their cars 150 per cent more fre­quently than own­ers of sports mod­els, and 30 per cent of them reg­u­larly use the rear seats. They’ll par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ate the five cen­time­tres of ex­tra rear leg-room, that 8.5 km/l has be­come 9.3 km/l, and that there’s now 292 litres of lug­gage space, 52 litres up on the Cal­i­for­nia T. Be­ing 40 PS stronger at 600 PS and 80 kg lighter at a still chunky 1,664 kg won’t hurt ei­ther.

Nam­ing the Portofino af­ter a north­ern Ital­ian fish­ing port might have fit­ted nicely with the new model thanks to its con­no­ta­tions of class, style and dis­cre­tion, but it’s no place to launch a fold­ing hard­top in Feb­ru­ary, so we hop to non-patented Bari, in the far south of Italy, greeted by a fleet of Portofi­nos in greys and whites and reds flank­ing the en­trance to a luxury ho­tel.

Off-sea­son, this south-eastern cor­ner of Italy is eerily de­serted, its faded, empty towns al­most mono­chrome with pas­tel-coloured shut­ters and doors and weather-worn brick­work bleed­ing to­gether like mixed laun­dry care­lessly tossed in a hot wash. We drop the roof to bet­ter en­joy the blue sky and the warm fuzz of sun­shine, and park up on the beach for our first chance to prop­erly ap­praise the Portofino as a piece of de­sign.

The ex­te­rior can only be seen as a huge im­prove­ment. Far more overtly mas­cu­line, the Portofino is a bet­ter fit with Fer­rari’s V12-en­gined GTs, the F12/812 Su­per­fast, and echoes the 1970s Day­tona in its pro­por­tions. Hard­top closed, the roofline flows from header rail to tail, visu­ally dis­guis­ing the raised rear deck that af­flicts large fold­ing hard­tops — all that metal has to have some­where to fold into while still leav­ing space for lug­gage, af­ter all. Roof down, with the metal and glass stacked away, the com­pro­mise, and the raised rear, is more ob­vi­ous, but there’s no doubt­ing that the Portofino is a neat, con­vinc­ingly honed pack­age.

Open the Portofino’s door — same odd, ro­dent-ear lit­tle door han­dle as be­fore — and you sink into new seats built around mag­ne­sium frames that can get your back­side right down on the deck, race-driver style. Op­tional 18-way ad­just­ment sup­ports and squeezes and cos­sets via a new 10.25-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen sub­tly an­gled at the driver. Cru­cially, that new touch­screen

also means the nav­i­ga­tion and in­fo­tain­ment func­tions are far more in­tu­itive than be­fore, not the Cal­i­for­nia’s sub-af­ter­mar­ket me­an­der­ings that baf­fled and in­fu­ri­ated in equal mea­sure.

A new steer­ing wheel is still busy with but­tons, still lumpy like a flat tyre, but it’s ac­tu­ally at­trac­tive and nice to hold all the same. It frames a cen­tral rev counter, the 7,500-rpm red-line a tar­get, like this is the whole point of the game. Speed? It’s in there some­where. A Merc SL still wins for qual­ity and equip­ment — the cli­mate con­trols feel flimsy and there’s no heated steer­ing wheel or Airscarf to blow hot air on your neck here — but the Portofino cabin makes for a nice spot to while away an af­ter­noon. And, of course, the Merc doesn’t do rear seat­ing, even if the Portofino’s rear seats make adults feel JFK vul­ner­a­ble.

Thumb the starter but­ton and the Portofino wakes with a sur­pris­ingly rau­cous growl, its balls-drop drone promis­ing the sy­napse-like re­sponses of a race-bred flat-plane crank. When the Cal­i­for­nia evolved into the Cal­i­for­nia T in 2014, it her­alded Fer­rari’s re­turn to tur­bocharg­ing for the first time since the F40. Tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive, that en­gine lacked char­ac­ter and wheezed like an out-of-puff sax player at higher revs and al­ways paled in com­par­i­son to the sim­i­lar, but slightly larger, V8 in­tro­duced into the 488 shortly there­after.

The Portofino re­tains the same 3,855-cc ca­pac­ity, but it’s re­worked with new pis­tons and con­rods, a new vari­able-dis­place­ment oil pump that re­duces hy­draulic power losses by 30 per cent, a sin­gle-piece cast turbo man­i­fold, a new in­ter­cooler with larger pipes and a new ex­haust with fewer bends and re­duced back pres­sure. That’s why the V8 now de­liv­ers 600 PS and 760 Nm, up 40 PS and five Nm on the Cal­i­for­nia T, and enough to drop the 0-200 km/h sprint by 0.4 sec­onds to a claimed 10.8 sec­onds.

Throt­tle re­sponse is so sharp it’s ac­tu­ally hard to main­tain a con­stant speed in third gear at times, as if Fer­rari’s en­gi­neers were so fear­ful of a soggy, laggy throt­tle re­sponse from the V8 that they made this one fizz like a car­toon toaster tossed in the bath. A shift to fourth takes the edge off and you quickly adapt, but it’s quite strik­ing at first.

We head out from the coastal low­lands, manet­tino drive mode con­trol on the steer­ing wheel set to Com­fort, and on to the au­tostrada to test just how ca­pa­bly the metal roof seals out the roar of wind when closed — it’s im­pres­sive, go­ing a long way to jus­ti­fy­ing that bulky de­sign — then off through more de­serted towns. We bur­ble past Pi­ag­gio Ape three-wheel­ers and FIAT Pan­das that line nar­row back streets, wash­ing strung out on bal­conies, out into the coun­try­side where the road even­tu­ally starts to climb up into the hills. Vet­eran cy­clists with sun-beaten skin that could up­hol­ster an en­tire Fer­rari roam these parts, and a lo­cal stops when we pull over, clip-clop­ping over to check out the Portofino, me lift­ing his car­bon-fi­bre bi­cy­cle aloft like some­one’s just switched off the grav­ity, him por­ing over the Portofino’s car­bon-fi­bre-fes­tooned in­te­rior.

‘Do you like it?’ we ask. ‘No,’ he replies with such po­lite­ness and hon­esty it’s hard to take of­fence. He’s the ex­cep­tion. There are nu­mer­ous ‘ Bella macchi­nas!’ as pass­ing traf­fic pauses for a gawp and we apol­o­gise for be­ing English.

The road sur­faces are epi­cally frag­mented round here, but the sus­pen­sion — while erring strongly on the side of firm and

fo­cused — soothes the worst bumps, es­pe­cially in “bumpy road” mode. The steer­ing also im­presses, this only Fer­rari’s sec­ond elec­tri­cally as­sisted sys­tem af­ter the 812 Su­per­fast. There are none of the driver aids that this tech­nol­ogy en­ables — self­park­ing, lane-keep­ing — and that the Portofino’s client base would prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate, but its light­ness is both un­in­tim­i­dat­ing at a daw­dle and en­gag­ing when you hus­tle. It makes the Portofino feel light and nim­ble through di­rec­tion changes, and when you add an arm­ful of lock it gath­ers weight pro­gres­sively to con­vey the loads build­ing through the chas­sis, and even man­ages some tingly road chat­ter from the 20-inch Pirelli rub­ber. The ra­tio is quick, if less hy­per­ac­tive than some of Fer­rari’s sportier mod­els.

As the roads open, the strides that Fer­rari have made with this pow­er­train be­come in­creas­ingly clear. It’s just so much richer and fuller-bod­ied at higher revs, the torque clev­erly drip-fed in to en­cour­age you to wind out the revs just as be­fore, but you now revel in hit­ting those high notes. It also feels sig­nif­i­cantly stronger in terms of per­for­mance, cer­tainly more su­per­car than sports car.

Climb­ing up through the hill­side, roof dropped, the tree­line co­ag­u­lates with speed like we’ve plunged into a tun­nel. Manet­tino in Sport, scorched tar­mac tex­tured like coarse sand­pa­per, the Portofino’s nose feels nim­ble and alert as it swings ea­gerly from left to right, the sus­pen­sion com­posed as it com­presses over the out­side wheel, steer­ing weight­ing up but en­cour­ag­ing me to push and lean on the grip, gear-shifts breath­lessly punc­tu­at­ing the power de­liv­ery.

The Portofino does the stop­ping stuff just as well: the car­bon­ce­ramic brakes and ruth­less down­shifts com­bine to haul the Portofino down, the pedal strong and feel some, down­shifts flick­ing the revs up fran­ti­cally with each shorter ra­tio, par­tic­u­larly when you call for first gear at what feels like much too high a speed. It’s equal parts ag­gres­sive and sat­is­fy­ing, like the Portofino’s happy to in­dulge your ev­ery whim.

This new Fer­rari is a good car to drive quite quickly, but it can only in­dulge for so long the kind of ex­tro­vert driv­ing its sib­lings lap up, and it sim­ply doesn’t feel as com­posed when re­ally pushed. A low-fre­quency jig­gle that per­sists through the struc­ture is an early warn­ing sign. Fer­rari point out that this is a new body-in-white, with welds 30 per cent shorter to save weight, a new alu­minium un­der­tray that helps both aero­dy­nam­ics and stiff­ness, and greater ef­fi­ciency chased from ev­ery el­e­ment: the A-pil­lars now con­tain just two com­po­nents, not the 21 pre­vi­ously em­ployed, for ex­am­ple. It all adds up to a claimed 35 per cent in­crease in tor­sional stiff­ness.

But there’s no dis­guis­ing the fact that a 488 Spi­der rides bet­ter and feels more struc­turally co­he­sive than this. So does McLaren’s drop­top 570S for that mat­ter. And when you re­ally turn the Portofino all the way up to 11, metaphor­i­cal cracks start to ap­pear in the chas­sis. It’ll smear black lines all over the tar­mac with its new third-gen­er­a­tion E-diff, and you can have all sorts of rear-drive fun, there’s no ques­tion of that, but there’s quite a lot to man­age — the front pushes into un­der­steer a lit­tle too read­ily, and when you sling the thing side­ways the rear end feels pretty soft, in terms of both the rear sus­pen­sion and the body struc­ture. It’s as if ei­ther side of the rear end is wob­bling around in a shiny track­suit telling ev­ery­one to ‘calm down, calm down’ like a Harry En­field Scouser. With the space and speed of a track, it’d prob­a­bly feel pretty ter­ri­ble.

The elec­tri­cally as­sisted steer­ing also has a bit of a wob­ble — re­leas­ing a lit­tle op­po­site lock through one cor­ner, it sud­denly di­als in a load of ex­tra weight, like all the noughts and ones can’t com­pute what’s hap­pen­ing quickly enough.

Does any of this mat­ter? The typ­i­cal Portofino owner prob­a­bly won’t drive be­yond six or seven tenths, in which case this new en­try-level Fer­rari will do ev­ery­thing they dreamed it would. But most 488 Spi­der own­ers won’t push their cars be­yond the lim­its, just as most Range Rover own­ers won’t reg­u­larly ven­ture off road, yet both those cars ex­cel if used hard. When I last drove the Cal­i­for­nia T, I said its re­place­ment needed to feel more like an F12 on a bud­get, a car that can do the long-legged GT thing then switch into hooli­gan mode like it’s for­got­ten to take its meds. The Portofino comes closer to that, but it still leaves me crav­ing more.

Turn the Portofino all the way up to 11 and metaphor­i­cal cracks start to ap­pear

Cleaner, classier cock­pit still won’t worry the folk at Mercedes-Benz

Prod for a quick squeeze Mod­ern Fer­rari de­sign has its haters — but we’ve no idea what they’re talk­ing about

Choose red paint to go with the herd

( Above) Fold­ing roof is faster now. Ben re­mains as fast as he’s ever been

En­gine gains are mod­est on pa­per but mas­sive in terms of on-the-road drama

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