Ferrari Portofino review

Entry-level Ferrari finally earns the right to wear the Cavallino Rampante

By Shahzad Sheikh

Click below now to watch my video of the Ferrari Portofino Review

I’ve driven the Ferrari California, both the original and the later revised, slightly improved version. Actually I’ve driven quite a few Ferraris in my time. So when I first drove a modern-day Cali, I collected it and drove it to the office, tossed the keys to my Dep Ed at Car Middle East magazine which I was running at the time.

Ferrari Portofino review

‘What do you think of it?’ came the obvious question. My response: ‘It’s a nice enough grand tourer, it’s not a Ferrari in my book though.’ And that was that. I didn’t ask for the keys back.

Ferrari Portofino review

The softest and easiest Ferrari I’d ever driven was obviously tailored to be true to its remit. Which is that it had to bolster and increase Ferrari’s dramatically growing sales ambitions, and win over new buyers. In fact 60% of Cali buyers were new to the brand.

Ferrari Portofino review

And to them of course it’s a cool car, a great Grand Tourer and a chance to tell everyone you own a Ferrari.

Ferrari Portofino review

10 years later there’s a replacement, and it seems that somewhere within Ferrari, the uncomfortable concession of putting out a less-than-worthy car wearing the fabled Ferrari-badge, has weighed heavy on the aura of Enzo that still hangs over Maranello.

Ferrari Portofino review

So yes, the new car, the Portofino, is still accessible and easy to drive; yes it only has a three-step Manettino (others have five driving modes); yes it now has electric power steering (it has to in order to accommodate contemporary driver’s aid technologies); yes it’s still a front-engined Turbo V8 with a retractable folding hard-top and laughable 2+2 seating configuration; and yes it’s the cheapest new Ferrari.

Ferrari Portofino review

But cheap means AED850,000 ($232k) which ain’t cheap exactly. But here’s where things get more interesting – the 3.9-litre V8 is from the glorious and gorgeous Ferrari 488 (yes, okay, I’m not one for concealing what’s my current fav Fezza) and puts out 590bhp and 562lb ft of torque, with a top speed of 320kph and a 0-100kph time of a blisteringly quick 3.5 seconds.

Ferrari Portofino review

Wait, there’s more. The all-aluminium chassis is 80kg lighter, the power steering is taken from the 812 Superfast, it has magnesium seats which are 20% lighter, and it has 20% stiffer rear springs and 15% in the front for a firmer suspension set-up.

Ferrari Portofino review

Regardless though. None of this on-paper claptrap impresses me. After all I’ve experienced the mercilessly pulverising performance of an 812 Superfast.

Ferrari 812 Superfast review

And I’ve cavorted extensively with the sublime and sensuous 488 Spider.

2016 Ferrari 488 Spider review

And it wasn’t a promising start as we set off in glamorous convoy through the streets of Dubai for a cruise into the mountains, to get some pics at the Hatta dam. But then, whilst everyone went for lunch, I pinched the car and headed off to a favourite little road of mine nearby. You can watch my… no, let’s say, you can FEEL my response to the car in the review video at the top of this page.

Ferrari Portofino review

Roof-down, despite the scorcher of a day, Sport on, paddle-shift manual-mode selected for the 7-speed DCT (no actual manual available of course on modern Ferraris – even on the original California, only three cars with a stickshift were ever sold!).

Ferrari Portofino review

The poise is hunkered down, the turn-in is sharp, the road-holding and grip is solid, the body is tight and rigid, and the acceleration is shocking! It’s helped by a simple but clever idea of winding up the turbine to speed with electric power so that there’s no turbo lag and torque delivery is linear and seemingly relentless. It sounds good too.

Ferrari Portofino review

Blasting through the straights, wringing it through the corners, stretching out the revs, snapping in those blink-fast changes and suddenly I’m loving this entry-level convertible grand-touring Italian motor. Anyone who says ‘girl’s Ferrari’ will receive a slap in the face from my handsewn deerskin driving gloves that I don’t really own at all but wish I did on occasions like this.

Ferrari Portofino review

If there’s a complaint I can level at the Portofino, it’s that the steering (whilst understandably somewhat bereft of feel being electric) is too light. And I wish they’d firm it up substantially, at least in Sports mode.

Ferrari Portofino review

And okay, let’s be honest, this still would never be my first Ferrari. That would have to be a mid-engined road-goddess in the form of 488 Spider, a 458 Speciale, a F355 or of course, most deliciously of all, a 308/328 – I’d grow a Magnum moustache just to drive it! Or how about an adorable little Dino 246 – yummy!

Ferrari Portofino review

But that’s just me. For a lot of others, the new Portofino is now the perfect starter Ferrari. And that’s because it’s an approachable and daily-driver usable grand tourer, that turns sportscar on the right occasion and let’s shine through a real essence of Ferrari that was sorely absent in the Cali. I even like the way it looks now. It’s a proper Ferrari. Nuff said.

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