Kevin Haggarthy

ferrari portofinoCar buffs are well familiar with the emotive superlatives used to describe Ferrari. Some of you may even be bored with it. Yet each time I drive a new Ferrari I lose myself to a spiral of poetic prose; like a lovesick child, I’ve finally found love… again. And after a day spent behind the wheel of the new Ferrari Portofino, I was happy, inspired, exhilarated – I wanted more.

Responsibility

The reflection took me back to the evening dinner conversation with Ferrari senior personnel the night before. To my left was Ferrari’s head of product marketing Nicola Boari, to my right a chap called James May who does a bit of telly, to the right of him the Portofino’s chief designer Adrian Griffiths, and in between, a few other scribbler colleagues. We were debating words and phrases symbolising Ferrari – beauty, speed, style, and exclusivity all got the thumbs up. But if one of my non-Ferrari colleagues around the table came up with a word or phrase that didn’t quite fit the brand, suddenly you’d hear an animated response from the Ferrari personnel “No, no, no. That is not Ferrari!” The point was indeed clear: what makes Ferrari are the human and emotional qualities that can only be created by those who feel the spirit of the brand in their soul. “It is a big responsibility,” Nicola Boari tells me, “but one we embrace.” I don’t see how anyone who doesn’t have that essential Ferrari DNA in their veins could ever successfully work for this brand. Hence Ferrari is duly clichéd with emotion.

DNA

ferrari portofino 2The new Ferrari Portofino has more of the spiritual Ferrari DNA than the California T it replaces. The California T was indeed capable of creating that Ferrari magic, albeit softer and more user-friendly than other Ferrari models. The original California was geared towards less demanding customers, who were maybe trying Ferrari for the first time, and wanted a prancing horse that could easily be used day-to-day. I suspect many of its customers even lived in California, where sunshine and long-distance cruising are typical. The Portofino is having none of that; whilst admittedly a tamer expression of the brand and retaining the California’s drivability, it goes from the outset like a true Ferrari. No more Mr Nice Guy. With the Portofino, if you want to buy into the Ferrari brand, you buy into it pure.

The Portofino’s much more alluring styling was inspired by the legendary Ferrari Daytona. Instead of the lazy sunshine of California, in the Portofino we have a name inspired by one of the most charming villages on the Italian Riviera. It sparks into life with the exhilarating scream of a Ferrari, and is 35% stiffer and 80 kg lighter than the outgoing California T. Its award winning V8 power unit is 40 bhp more powerful than the California’s too. Add to that technical handling improvements: stiffer springs, the latest evolution of the magnetorheological damping system (SCM-E) and a new ECU configuration implementing control algorithms developed by Ferrari to improve the Portofino’s dynamic handling. You can see where this is going. Now we have a true ‘baby Ferrari’.

But whilst so true to the brand, this vehicle drives quite differently to any of the many Ferraris we have previously driven. The lightness, power and precision give it more of a go-kart feel, yet that uncanny Ferrari know-how makes it a pliant and comfortable companion when set in ‘comfort’ for everyday driving.

A driving experience

ferrari portofino 3The Portofino is a positive step up from the California. It’s more ‘Ferrari’ if you like but not enough to deter Ferrari first timers, or those who may be disinclined towards the more hardcore Ferrari driving experience.

It’s also a new Ferrari driving experience in its own right; a lighter, more agile car, its now electronic steering requiring a finer balance of driving style – no place for aggression and no need for it. The back end will respond instantly to sharp steering inputs and should you confidently (and surprisingly easily) tease it out of line, it soon self-corrects and helps to point you in the right direction – even without traction control. Like with all well sorted chassis it’s predictable enough not to cause alarm, and actually if you have the ability to drive it on the edge of adhesion in a safe environment, i.e. a track or handling circuit, you’ll have the time of your life.

At normal urban speeds and in comfort Manettino setting, the Portofino is relaxed and absolutely driver-friendly to any reasonable level of driver skill. Be reassured. At these speeds you will be inclined to enjoy the engine note and the sunshine, appreciate the admiring glances and just enjoy relaxing in a Ferrari. A beautiful one at that, its scoops and lines much more in keeping with the contemporary Ferrari look.

On take-off the throttle responds to the slightest movement of toe, never mind foot. It is progressive with that keen engine note that tells all within audible distance that a Ferrari is in town. That scream progresses through each of the gears at the flick of a steering mounted paddle, or you can choose the automatic self-regulating option if you wish… then it’s up to you.

If you are a keen Ferrari driver you will soon step up the pace and enjoy the character change that follows suit. As we’ve said, the car is light but there’s plenty of grip, and until the tyres are warm it isn’t wise to do anything unorthodox. As the car warms to your driving style the Ferrari DNA begins to shine. Some very clever person at Ferrari knows exactly what you’re looking for – and Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde… the Ferrari way.

Tech Spec

Engine 3855 cc twin turbo V8

Power 592 bhp

Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch auto

0-62 mph 3.5 seconds

Top speed circa 200 mph

Average fuel consumption 26 mpg

On sale now. First UK deliveries expected July 2018. £166,180.

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