Perfect Portofino

The Straits Times Senior Transport Correspondent Christopher Tan reviews Ferrari's new entry-level model, which replaces the California.
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride.
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride.
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride.
The Ferrari Portofino is like a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one, and cushy enough as a daily ride. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN

Ferrari's entry-level model outshines more accomplished stablemates with its unusual all-roundedness

The Portofino may be an entry-level Ferrari, but it is by no means a poor substitute for the marque's established and costlier mid-engined racers.

In fact, it happens to be a very complete day-to-day sports car - far better than the California which it replaces and more usable than rivals in the same price range.

Think of a coupe and convertible 2+2 seater rolled into one. And a ride which is cushy enough for daily jaunts - even if you commute from Changi to Tuas every day - and with enough luggage space for overnight bags if you wish to go further.

Its improvement over the California lies with its dimensions. The car is longer, wider and sits lower than its predecessor, but shares the same wheelbase of 2,670mm.

It is about 40kg heavier, but the additional heft is well compensated by a considerably more powerful engine. It is also this engine which makes the car more enjoyable.

Although essentially of the same block, it packs 600hp, or about 50hp more than the last rendition of the California T's V8. Torque revs to 760Nm - about 5Nm more, but arriving earlier at 3,000rpm (versus 4,750rpm in the California T).

  • SPECS / FERRARI PORTOFINO

  • Price: $855,000 without COE

    Engine: 3,855cc 32-valve bi-turbo V8

    Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift

    Power: 600hp at 7,500rpm

    Torque: 760Nm at 3,000-5,250rpm

    0-100kmh: 3.5 seconds

    Top speed: 320kmh

    Fuel consumption: 10.7 litres/100km

    Agent: Ital Auto

This makes it substantially more driveable. Throttle response has also been tweaked, with a lot more immediacy and nuance to foot pressure and sense of urgency.

The way it sounds is also very different. You get a loud, stirring V8 soundtrack, with more grunt and metallic overtone than any previous Ferrari. Its accompanying exhaust bark is so immediate and immersing that you feel you are in a mid-engined car.

In short, it is quite different from the way previous turbocharged Ferraris are tuned, with the car's thunderous vocals attainable from just above 2,000rpm. Clearly, this makes for a far more heady drive.

At the same time, the Portofino is exceptionally laid-back when you are light-footed. Most tasks on the tarmac can be accomplished between 1,000rpm and 1,500rpm. In this range, the V8 purrs ever so softly and the car glides almost as silently as a hybrid in e-mode.

Its immense torque allows it to accomplish this in seventh gear, at speeds of as low as 40kmh. Even without downshifting manually with the steering-mounted paddles, you are able to pick up from this speed.

The car obliges with the finesse of a muscular grand tourer, dropping its gear by a notch or two unobtrusively.

Of course, toggling the paddles is more exciting. Especially when you want an aural overload while zooming through a tunnel - with the roof down.

The other big difference is the car's suspension. It is suitably firm, but with damping which is calibrated to minimise the head-moving thumpiness associated with most sports cars.

This makes using the Portofino as a daily ride far more compelling. At the same time, its compactness makes it quite agile. While not as razor-sharp as a mid-engined two-seater, it acquits itself very well as a 2+2.

The Portofino offers easy access to its rear quarters, with front seats returning to pre-set positions without a fuss. Memory settings require just one touch to activate, too.

Lastly, its convertible roof is clever enough not to deploy if it detects something in the way (like a low ceiling or tree branch).

All in all, the Portofino feels a lot less like a beginner's Ferrari than the California and closer to the serious track machines the Prancing Horse is known for. In fact, you might even say it stands out for it unusual all-roundedness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline 'Perfect Portofino'. Print Edition | Subscribe