First drive in the new entry-level Ferrari GT
The last time I visited the achingly beautiful Italian Riviera town of Portofino, Rod Stewart’s yacht was moored in the harbour. The place was abuzz with the news that the spandex-pantalooned warbler had been banned by the local authorities for misbehaving in one of its restaurants. That was all the evidence I needed that the place has class.
Ah, class. That indefinable quality that you recognise when you see it, and understand when it’s lacking. Kaleidoscope-coloured, azure-shored, decidedly upmarket Portofino undoubtedly has it.
Which is, equally undoubtedly, why Ferrari has chosen to name its latest car after the place. It even alludes to it in the press conference, describing the town of Portofino (and therefore the car) as “not showy like Monte Carlo.” Tellingly, Ferrari’s new Portofino is also described as “socially acceptable”. Which does make you wonder which cars might be ‘unacceptable’…
The Portofino is, says Ferrari, its most versatile model – after all, it has four seats (just), a boot big enough for holiday tomfoolery and a hardtop that you can fold away for sunny saunters. Yet it’s still fairly compact – barely any longer than a 488 GTB, and some way narrower.
The Portofino’s role is the entry level to Ferrari ownership. People who buy Maranello’s front-engined convertible are 70 per cent new to the brand, use their cars 150 per cent more than Ferrari sports car owners, holiday in it, and a surprisingly high 30 per cent of them use the rear seats.
To think of the Portofino as a lightly revised California T would be an error. This is a new car in many significant areas. So how does it perform?
The new car keeps its 3855cc V8 twin-turbo powerplant intact, but it has more power and performance than the 2014-2017 California T. In fact, its 600hp output is a full 40hp more than the Cali T’s. That translates to a top speed of 199mph – three up on the Cali T. A slender 0.1 second has been sliced from the 0-62mph time, taking it down to 3.5 seconds, but the more telling figure is the 0-124mph time of 10.8 seconds, a full 0.4sec faster than before.
How has Ferrari boosted power? Firstly it’s cleaned up the air intake with new, more linear ducts with a larger diameter. Meanwhile, the all-new exhaust is fatter and has less back pressure. The one-piece equallength exhaust manifold is single-cast, so no welds to interrupt air flow. The pistons and con rods are new, and a variable-displacement oil pump sucks up less hydraulic power. Finally, a new I-shaped intercooler cuts dynamic losses and increases cooling.
Ferrari quotes “zero turbo lag”, which turns out to be a throttle response of under one second. Still, by the standards of turbo engines, Ferrari’s V8 is one of the greats – and voted as such, having won the Engine of the Year award for the past two years running.
Peak torque has hardly changed at 561lb ft, but it’s now on stream across a broader rev range: maximum pulling power is right there from 3000 to 5250rpm in upper gears. Why upper? Because clever Variable Boost Management adjusts the torque delivery to suit the gear selected, from third to seventh. Looked at another way, you could say Ferrari has capped the torque in lower gears to make it feel more like a non-turbo car.
And looked at yet another way, it encourages you to change up earlier, benefiting fuel consumption (which is, for the record, 26.4mpg). And at 245g/km, CO2 emissions are below the crucial gas-guzzler tax band. Epic grunt is available from just 1000rpm and the Portofino just pulls away without fuss at any speed right up to its 7500rpm redline. It’s easy to leave it the gearbox is automatic mode but you’d be missing out: using the paddles is a pleasure, and the changes are rewardingly quick.
One criticism of Ferrari’s V8 turbo engine has always been how it sounds. Yes, it’s always been smooth and creamy, but is that what buyers really want? Frankly, the V8 engine that Ferrari builds for Maserati sounds much nicer. That’s that partly down to the fact that it’s naturally aspirated but it’s also because Maserati knows how to make an exhaust note that resembles a pride of lions at a rampant bunga-bunga party.
I can’t help feeling that Ferrari has taken a leaf out of its near neighbour’s book in this department. The all-new exhaust has given Ferrari the opportunity to fit electronically-controlled bypass valves – a first for Maranello. That means the flaps open more quickly to let the soundtrack change according to what mode you’re in. When you first start the engine up, it’s in ‘Ignition’ mode with closed valves and a muted sound. With the Manettino set to ‘Comfort’ mode, the valves open a little, for a fruity noise that won’t disturb al fresco diners outside the car, or conversationalists inside it. I must say, though, that I was expecting a bigger difference when ‘Sport’ mode is engaged and the valves open up – instead, you’re hard-pushed to tell the difference apart from a loud ‘thwack’ on upchanges at high revs.
Weight loss is a big factor in the new car, too. With a kerb weight of 1664kg, the ’Fino is 66kg lighter than the Cali T. The construction of the body/chassis is simplified; the A-pillar, for instance, is now two-piece, versus 21 components in the Cali. The new hardtop is also lighter than the California’s. There are a lot of hollow parts, too – yet body stiffness is 35 per cent up (for instance, by fitting the underbody with aluminium cladding in place of plastic to boost rigidity). Ferrari has also shed weight in the electronics and engine departments.
BOULEVARD OR B-ROAD?
The 2+2 front-engined V8 convertible has always represented Ferrari’s grand touring option. The Cali T always felt much more ‘boulevard’ than ‘B-road’ but the Portofino has, I’m pleased to say, much more appeal for sports car lovers.
20in wheels are one inch broader across but the tyre profiles remain the same (245/35 front, 285/35 rear). The springs are stiffer (for the record 15.5% at the front and 19% at the rear). Ferrari’s SCM-E magnetorheological damping system has evolved, too, with uprated dual-coil dampers and a new Gen3 ECU which better deals with vertical movements. In ‘Comfort’ mode, the suspension is surprisingly cosseting for a car of this nature, and certainly superior to the California over rough roads.
But here’s the good news: the Portofino now feels more incisive, rolling less through corners. That’s particularly true when you turn the Manettino to ‘Sport’ mode, even though the difference between the modes isn’t huge. Likewise, the effect of the ‘Sport’ button that sets the dampers independently of the manettino settings – the ride quality isn’t notably affected.
The front engine/rear transaxle layout remains, as does the slight rearward bias in weight (46 per cent front, 57 per cent rear). Ferrari’s third-generation electronic rear differential (E-Diff3) is fitted for the first time on its touring model, and is integrated with the F1-Trac traction control. It feels easier to drive fast and you can really put the power down on apexes. It’s also claimed to cope far better in low-grip situations, but the relentless sunshine of our Puglia test drive prevented any testing of this wet weather claim. Certainly there was no lack of traction on any part of my test drive, except when I flicked the manettino switch on the steering wheel to F1-Trac Off – hello, tail slides!
Perhaps the biggest change of all, though, is the switch from hydraulic to electric power steering – only the second Ferrari to go electric (after the 812). In the past, this might have been regarded with horror as a retrograde step, but electric systems are so good these days – and Ferrari’s in particular – that I’m pleased to report it’s actually a boon.
The assistance is well judged on the whole, with a solid on-centre feel and no nasty vibrations through the wheel. The rack is quicker than before – seven per cent keener, in fact. Only when really pushing do you get the sense that the car is doing things for you, rather than you doing them; for instance, on sharp twisty roads, you get the sensation that it’s about to oversteer; in fact its nose has just tucked in with a sharpness that’s unexpected, and just a touch artificial. Its feels odd at first but you do get used to it. The brakes are unchanged: chunky Brembo carbon-ceramic discs. Pleasingly, there’s none of the cold-start deadness that sometimes afflicts carbon brakes – Ferrari has definitely cracked this issue. Carbon also has the benefit of being virtually wearfree and the discs could quite conceivably last for the car’s entire lifespan.
I never really liked the way the Cali looked. While the Portofino is still no thing of beauty, it’s much more sculpted and dynamic. It’s a little longer, a little wider and a little lower than the Cali. Ferrari likes to talk of its car as “a suit of clothes” that its owner puts on, and refers to the 1968 365 GTB/4 Daytona as its design inspiration.
That’s partly borne out in the new fastback profile, with rear buttresses extending back on to the hard tonneau cover, giving the rear end a ‘flow’. New cooling air ducts in the front wings look more purposeful, while a front end design described as “grintoso” (gritty) gives it extra aggression. The aerodynamics are improved, too, by six per cent (Cd 0.312).
The hardtop is all-new and slides open in 14 seconds, and can be raised and lowered on the move at speeds up to 25mph. Redesigning the roof stowage area liberates enough space for two ‘cabin trolleys’ when the roof is down (three when it’s up). With a quoted capacity of 292 litres, though, by my calculations the boot is actually smaller than the outgoing Cali T’s. There’s a new wind deflector, too, which is very straightforward to fit, if a little rickety; once in place, it’s remarkably effective at keeping the cockpit free of draughts.
The cabin is freshly designed, too. The new steering wheel looks and behaves beautifully. The seats have been redesigned with new magnesium alloy frames to save weight (20 per cent less). With 18-way adjustability, they’re both supportive and comfortable, although I reckon they definitely look better in optional 1960s-style ‘Daytona’ or tyre-tread-inspired ‘Trapuntato’ forms. It seems a bit rich, though, to charge £2400 extra for Apple CarPlay and £1536 for a parking camera.
The new air conditioning system works faster and more quietly, and offers different programmes according to whether the hardtop is up or down. Oh and rear seat space is up by 5cm, which means that, er, very slightly larger children can sit there. I even tried it myself, all 5ft 8in of me; and while I did just about squeeze in, the passenger in front then couldn’t.
Considering the Portofino’s target market – GT drivers who expect comfort and usability every bit as much as performance – the latest Ferrari hits the spot. It’s absolutely not intimidating in any way: relaxing to drive and certainly the easiest Ferrari to live with.
But I think the new Portofino has far more appeal for the keen driver than the Cali T ever did. For me, the Cali put the ‘soft’ in ‘soft top’. In contrast, the Portofino has a harder side if you want to tap into it, a broader range of character that includes the ability to excite. It’s lighter, sharper to drive and sounds much nicer than before.
No, it won’t touch an 812 Superfast for excitement or pace, but for buyers who want feel-good touring ability – and that’s around a third of Ferrari buyers, incidentally – then the Portofino is the one to have. It’s a convincingly accomplished all-rounder: top-down cruiser, decently practical 2+2 and balls-out performance tool when you want it to be.
The Portofino is on sale now, with the first UK deliveries expected in July 2018. It’s priced at £166,180 – not especially cheap but hey, you can spend that much on an Audi R8 these days.
Roof can be opened when you’re still moving. Shape is both more aggressive and more flowing than Cali T.
600hp provides supercar levels of performance. Sounds fantastic, too. Cabin oozes class.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS 2018 FERRARI PORTOFINO
ENGINE: 3855cc V8 twin-turbo
BORE X STROKE: 86.5mm × 82mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.45:1
MAX POWER: 600hp @ 7500rpm / DIN
MAX TORQUE: 561lb ft (760Nm) @ 3000rpm / DIN
TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed dual-clutch semi-auto, rear-wheel drive
BRAKES: Carbon-ceramic discs all round (390mm front, 360mm rear)
WHEELS: 20in alloy
TYRES: 245/35 ZR20 front, 285/35 ZR20 rear
DIMENSIONS: 4586mm (L), 1938mm (W), 1318m (H)
KERB WEIGHT: 1664kg
MAX SPEED: 199mph
0-62MPH: 3.5 secs
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 26.4mpg