Ferrari's Portofino makes a great noise. And the brand's entry-level sports car has other draws, as Jonathan Crouch discovers.
Ferrari's most accessible sports car has been treated to a root and branch revision and has re-emerged as the Portofino. Now featuring a more powerful and fuel-efficient 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine and a much-improved interior, this contender is prettier as well. Ferrari's biggest seller is about to stoke up even stronger demand.
What might an entry level modern Ferrari be like? In the California, launched in 2008, we got our answer. It wasn't one of Maranello's most universally loved models but it met its brief to widen the reach of the brand. Out of every ten California customers, just three had owned a Ferrari before, the rest purloined from brands like Mercedes, Bentley and Aston Martin. What the California didn't achieve though, was its goal of hitting 1,000 annual sales on a regular basis. Not even when it was usefully updated to 'California T' status in 2014.
So the brand has tried again at creating an entry-level everyday-usable sports car, bringing us this Portofino model. Like its predecessor, it persists with the kind of folding metal top that everyone else in the industry except Mercedes has now ditched. And there's essentially the same 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 beneath the bonnet, though it's been extensively worked over.
What exactly does 'everyday-usable' really mean? By Ferrari standards, the old California model was fired up more than twice as often as other Ferrari models, according to the brand. It's tempting to think of this Portofino as merely a mildly re-worked version of that model but the truth is actually quite different. For a start, though the 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 might be much the same in basic engineering concept, it features new pistons and controls, plus a modular turbo manifold. Essentially, it's now very close to the unit you'll find in the 488 GTB. All these changes have upped outright power to 592bhp, 38bhp more than the previous California T could muster.
Perhaps more importantly, this powerplant is surrounded by a completely fresh framework, specifically a body that's considerably lighter and 35% stiffer than the California's. As a result, the Portofino has a power-to-weight ratio vastly better than that of a direct rival like Aston Martin's DB11 Volante. It's faster too, the 62mph sprint possible in just 3.5s en route to 199mph.
You'd want a Ferrari to sound awesome: this one does, thanks to an electronically-controlled bypass valve in the exhaust which makes the engine note quieter or louder depending on the drive mode you've selected from the brand's usual 'manettino' rotary switch on the steering wheel. As you'd expect, the driving settings configure the powertrain, the dampers, the steering and the stability control. Plus there's a separate - and very useful - 'bumpy road' setting that allows you to have all the systems set for maximum attack but the dampers set to soft. We think likely owners are going to find themselves using this rather a lot.
Everyone seems to be agreed that the Portofino is a much better proportioned car than its predecessor. Apparently, the looks were inspired by the brand's 1968 Daytona model, but if you're the kind of Marenollo enthusiast who can remember one of those, you're probably the sort of person who'd have their eye on other models in the company's current range. But that's OK because the Portofino is aimed at conquest business and in particular, people likely to use their cars most days of the week rather than store them in the garage like a fine wine.
That's why this model has a tiny pair of rear seats. And a metal-folding roof (which doesn't activate any quicker that it did on the old California, taking 14 seconds to either open or close). Behind the wheel, the instrument cluster has a familiar Ferrari feel, with a couple of 5-inch colour displays flanking a central rev counter. There's also a 10.3 inch centre-dash infotainment screen complete with a much updated navigation system. One innovation is the option of a passenger-side touch sensitive windscreen display.
Even an 'entry-level' Ferrari is a pipe dream for most of us. This one cost just over £166,000 at launch, but few examples of it will leave the showroom at much under £185,000 one typical owners have raided the options list and personalised their cars. Still, that's much the samer money as you'd have to pay for rivals like the Aston Martin DB11 Volante, the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet and finer versions of cars like the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster and the Bentley Continental GT Convertible.
Aside from the folding hard top roof that neither of these rivals can match, the Portofino gets a decent slug of standard equipment, including a DAB stereo, USB ports under the armrest, sat nav with 3D mapping and a the touch screen infotainment system. Plus of course there are endless ways to upgrade the seats, the paintwork and the audio set-up.
Even Ferrari can no longer stick two fingers up at efficiency issues and the turbocharged powerplant offers better fuel economy and lower emissions than the old 3.9-litre V8 unit, despite being markedly more powerful. Although it's from the same family as the engines seen in the Maserati Ghibli and Quattroporte models, this installation features a range of efficiency modifications and a stop/start system to help drive emissions down to 245g/km (previous 250g/km) and economy up to 26.4mpg on the combined cycle.
As the car goes up through the gears, the amount of torque delivered by the engine also increases. This has allowed Ferrari to adopt longer gear ratios in the higher gears, helping to cut fuel consumption and emissions without affecting driving pleasure. As a consequence, touring range increases usefully. There's also an extended seven-year maintenance programme offered with the Portofino, covering all regular maintenance for the first seven years of the car's life.
This Portofino model is very different to its California predecessor. It's pretty much a completely new model that shares a few similarities with its predecessor. With a different engine, steering, suspension, interior, brakes, aero package and infotainment system, the brand's most affordable sports car has been transformed. It's a model that now looks to have realised the potential that many recognised in its predecessor.
As an entry-level Ferrari, it squarely hits the mark. It's more than fast enough, yet it's been designed to drive in an unintimidating manner. The folding hard top roof remains a draw and the styling is now sleeker than ever. If Ferrari is serious about capping production across its entire range, you'll need to be very quick to get an order accepted for the Portofino. This one's a hot ticket.