The Geneva Auto show - the glitziest on the circuit - was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with other big shows (including New York) postponed.
The opening rounds of the Formula 1 championship - the pre-eminent racing series in the world - have been put on hold indefinitely.
For Ferrari (RACE), the most famous exotic carmaker in the world that does not rely on paid marketing, the cancellation of big auto shows and absence of its red race cars and passionate fans (known as the Tifosi) on race day Sunday is a huge loss for the brand’s identity.
But no one is really forgetting about Ferrari. The 81-year old brand is ingrained in our culture - Ford v Ferrari being a recent example of the carmaker’s broad appeal. And those with the means are still likely buying these cars even today, which brings me to the matter at hand.
Last year Ferrari introduced a new model to the lineup. I hesitate to use the term “entry level,” but that’s what the new Portofino is, the cheapest, or most attainable model Ferrari has on offer.
The Portofino replaces the California T, a similar 2+2, hard-top convertible that was not exactly loved by Ferrari fans and took some lumps from the automotive press to boot. The California had some awkward design elements and didn’t drive like many believe a Ferrari should drive — with urgency, and purpose.
I received the Portofino late last fall for test. I had seen in it before at a press launch, and let me tell you, it’s no California T. It’s one of the better looking Ferrari’s in my opinion, and that’s saying a lot because the Ferrari range these days looks really special. Don’t get me started on the oh-so sexy 812 Superfast.
But back to the Portofino. Under the hood, Ferrari has dropped in its 3.9L twin-turbo V8 - an engine that puts out a dizzying 590 hp, along with 561 lb-ft torque. This is 40 more hp and 40 more lb-ft of torque than the outgoing California T. The results are a 0-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds, and let me tell you it feels faster than that.
The hard top convertible is a piece of mechanical wizardry. The trunk opens in the opposite direction, where the roof panel and the rear windshield emerge sandwiched together. The roof then connects to the front windshield, the rear windshield sets itself down into place, and then the trunk closes back down. It is quite amazing.
In convertible mode, with the roof going into the trunk, you might think space is all but gone. But even with the roof in the trunk, you do have enough space for a small rollaway bag, as the roof and rear windshield parts are tucked near the top of the trunk lid.
Inside, of course, Ferrari is still doing stellar work, improving the ergonomics here and there but still letting you know this is a driver’s focused car. Under the dashboard hood, front and center, is a big, real tachometer, flanked by two digital screens for various kinds of data and information. Directly in front of that is your connection to the Ferrari, the race-car inspired, flat bottom steering wheel.
Ferrari fans will know basically everything can be controlled via the steering wheel. Engine stop-start, lights, wipers, even the turn-signal controls are a button push away on the wheel. And most importantly, the ‘manettino’ dial on the lower right of the steering wheel allows you to switch across comfort, sport, and ESC OFF (essentially ‘track’) modes on the fly. Many manufacturers have built similar selectors on their steering wheels, but I believe Ferrari’s manettino is still the best. You can almost envision Michael Schumacher dialing in the manettino on his race car, down the straight at Monza 20 years ago…
Back to the cabin. The center stock flows nicely with the wide touchscreen inlaid tastefully. The software is fine, with the various Ferrari quicks which they are known for, but you can bypass all that because Ferrari’s allow Apple CarPlay. A nice touch, but it will cost you. The seats feel great with lots of adjustment available, and I was not fatigued at all even after a few hours of driving.
One other thing you will notice in the beautiful cabin — rear seats. But they are not suitable for most humans; they are most likely for small cargo and/or small kids. I do have to note there are anchors for car seats, that when not in use are hidden by a nice leather cover. Hand-stitched I have to imagine...
The Portofino is all sport here - everything is composed, starting with your seating position, which is just right. Hit the engine start-stop button on the steering wheel and you’ll hear something that will make you believe in the divine (or at least the Church of Ferrari). The sound that comes out of that engine and through the exhaust will wake your soul.
Once on the road the steering was tight, no slop here, and the accelerator pedal responded immediately to input. Shifts are quick and sometimes unnoticeable in the ‘comfort’ setting. In sport and track modes, the shifts are more aggressive and give you a little nudge.
And that sound … it’s glorious. Somehow Ferrari is able to fine-tune its turbo-charged engines to sound like its naturally aspirated engines of the past. That, coupled with how tight and responsive the steering and handling is, will make you lose any initial thought that this car is something like a glorified Maserati GranTurismo.
No, this car is a sports car through and through. The Portofino can hang with some stiff competition (the McLaren 570S for example); it is no slouch. And that sound coming out of the back through those quad tip exhausts, especially with the top down is sonorous, profound… un suono bellissimo. it will keep you up at night.
And that’s another wonderful thing about this convertible Portofino (and even California T for that matter), the versatility it gives owners with the ability to have a hard top on those cooler days, and an amazing top-down, summer experience when it’s warmer. It was in the high 50s on one of the days I had the car, and with the top down and windows up, I was fine. In fact you could even have a conversation with your passenger, assuming you were observing the speed limit.
Also another big check in the versatility department (didn’t think I’d be talking so much about how practical this car is), is its MagneRide adaptive suspension system. Road starts getting too bumpy? Hit the shock absorber button on the steering wheel and the suspension loosens up, the road bumps smooth out, and you no longer have the sensation of a jackhammer drilling into your lower back.
And let’s not forget the two small “seats” in the back — very handy for storage or putting someone back there for a very short ride to your local bistro.
Enough about the practicality and versatility. The conclusion is this: The Portofino is a car truly worthy of the prancing horse badge. Enzo Ferrari would be proud of his team back in Maranello - for they have made an exciting, dynamic, and downright fun car that sits squarely at the top of the “entry level” (for the wealthy that is) supercar range.
Pricing: base price $218,750; price as tested $284,962