Motoring

FERRARI PORTOFINO: DRIVING THE GOOD LIFE

In order to truly appreciate the Ferrari Portofino, you have to first understand the beauty of the place it’s named after.

Gareth Warren

Portofino is a little fishing village in the Province of Genoa, in Liguria, Italy. What makes this harbour town so beautiful is that it’s set in a natural inlet and surrounded by steep valleys. A little heavenly hideaway, and one that will no doubt be back to its Instagrammable self after being hit by last October’s ‘super storm’.

The village isn’t just beautiful; it’s lavish as well. Further away from the harbour are anchored superyachts that are sometimes larger than the little village itself. When you think about Portofino you would understand why Ferrari named its latest beast after something so beautiful and so luxurious.

Al Tayer Motors hosted a Portofino experience recently, and luckily, we were invited to tag along. There weren’t hairpin turns to push the car and test stability, nor sweeping left-handers to unleash the V8; instead we experienced the lifestyle aspect of driving and owning a Ferrari Portofino.

Petrol heads would know that the Portofino is the successor of the company’s previous V8 grand tourer, the California T, widely known as the gateway Ferrari. While the Portofino is still considered by many as an entry-level Ferrari, it’s faster, lighter, and more expensive than its predecessor. And much, much more good looking.

Design

Before we get into the sheer brute power of this vehicle, lets touch on design. While the Cali T had a serious poker-face look to it, the Portofino is the opposite. While the front grille curves upwards at the corners, mimicking a cute smile, the sleek headlights squint at you mischievously. If you do look at both the cars side by side, there’s absolutely nothing in common from a design point of view. Everything from the lights, and the hood scoops to the side mirrors and the hefty rear haunches have been completely redesigned. While the rear taillights on both follow a similar design aesthetic, the taillights on the Portofino are a
lot sharper.

Ferrari effectively made two cars for the price of one with the Portofino. The car doubles as a fastback coupe or a sporty convertible, and it looks like two totally different cars. It drives like two different cars as well. Similar to the Portofino’s duality, every design element of the car doubles as a performance add-on.

While planning for the Portofino, Ferrari’s aerodynamics department worked closely with design, collaborating on everything from initial layout choices to the management of the flows involved in heat dissipation. For example, partly hidden towards the outer edges of both headlights are tiny aerodynamic air-curtain-type intakes. These intakes increase the escape of air from the wheel arch and channel it along the scooped sides, which reduce drag.

While it is a beautiful vehicle, each part of its sculpted body was designed to cut drag and increase performance. The combination of concave and convex surfaces that wraps the car creates an almost natural projectile that counters head-on airflow effectively.

Engine

While the styling of the car contributes greatly to overall performance, the engine within does a fair deal too. It is after all the same engine in its predecessor the California T. The same engine that has won the International Engine of the Year award for three consecutive years in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Not only does the furious 3.9-litre twin-turbo-charged V8 inherit Ferrari’s zero turbo-lag, but it sounds gorgeous, too and makes the in-car entertainment system absolutely pointless. Whether top up or down, the engine’s roar is an absolute pleasure that you would never get tired of. It doesn’t matter that the Portofino is considered an “entry-level” sports car – the inclusion of the world’s best engine under the hood, gives it a leg up on competition.

Drive

There’s no easy way to say this – the Portofino is ridiculously fast. And you feel the speed instantly. It initially feels like a heavy vehicle at take off and needs a little nudge to get rolling, but once it gets going, it’s gone. The instant throttle response in under a second, connected to the twin-turbos, catapults the Portofino from 0 to 100kmh in 3.5 seconds, and helps it climb to 200kph in 10.8 seconds. That’s about the amount of time you just took to read the previous sentence.

The car features brand new electric power steering and that paired with the 7-speed, F1 dual-clutch transmission makes it an absolute dream to handle. In “fastback” mode with the top up – the Portofino feels like slightly more luxurious than a Grand Tourer should. However, when the top’s down, that’s another story.

While the car looks like a totally different vehicle when the top’s down, it drives like a different vehicle too. The roof can open or close in 14 seconds and can be operated on the move at lower speeds. If you try and speed up, the car urges you to slow down so it can complete its transformation.

The car feels a lot sportier with the top down; your senses are heightened by the growl of the engine. The sheer speed of this thing slaps you across your face and luckily, wind noise in the cabin is at a manageable level. The car is kitted with a brand new wind deflector, which cuts airflow inside the cabin by 30% and also reduces aerodynamic noise. Good thing the design team worked with the guys from the aerodynamics department to keep our Ferrari baseball caps safely perched atop our Ferrari heads.

Regardless of your preferred roof options, the car is an amazing experience that has shown me why Ferraris are closer to the top of the automobile food chain. The Portofino drives like a dream and  while there were significant improvements in the design and body of the car when compared to the California T, there were significant improvements to the very chassis as well. The new chassis is forged from 12 different aluminium alloys, and is greatly improved from the California T, so much so that the Portofino features a 35% increase in torsional rigidity over its predecessor. The vehicle is about 80kgs lighter now, too.

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Interior

I usually would touch on the infotainment system in this section. But to be honest – I was serenaded by the engine and didn’t care very much for music during my stint with the Portofino. But we can chat about other things.

While I did mention earlier that the Portofino is two cars for the price of one, I should add that you get four seats that could only realistically fit two. Ferrari could have easily done away with the rear seats as no adult, or even a child, would comfortably fit into the rear. Ferrari knows this and literature of the Portofino reads, “two rear seats suitable for short trips.”

The in-cabin display is a 10.25-inch full HD screen and there’s an optional passenger display as well. The small screen in front of the passenger seat is an amazing add-on that transforms your passenger into your co-pilot. The dedicated capacitive display is directly linked to the main screen and your passenger can toggle between information related to the vehicle’s speed, RPM, media playing, and navigation.

From the California to the Portofino, Ferrari did quite well. The car is as unique and as gorgeous as the place it’s named after. It’s a refreshing sight on the roads – and even more enjoyable when you’re behind the wheel.