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Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Should Ferrari stick with what it does best?

Date Published: 13 Mar 2018
Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

However, that statement could be construed as a contradiction in terms, because by its very nature should a Ferrari not be a car for special occasions, and special occasions only? A car that you do not, in fact should not, necessarily want to use each and every day. And one that when you do drive it, should blow your mind, and that of everyone else who encounters it?

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure, the Portofino - which replaces the 10 year-old California, itself supplanted by the California T in 2014 – is quick with a capital F. All out the Portofino can do 320km/h, and thanks to a launch control system it can hit 100km/h from rest in a mere 3.5 seconds, with 200kmh coming up in 10.8 seconds.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
And not merely because the 3.9-litre twin-turbo, 90-degree V8 engine under its sleek bonnet has been comprehensively revised to produce a whopping 591hp at 7,500rpm, and 760Nm of torque between 3,000-5,250rpm while emitting “just” 245g/km of CO2.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
Thanks to an extensive weight saving regime the Portofino is also 80kg lighter than the California T, and uses a development of the electric power steering system first used in the 812 Superfast. It also has a third generation electronic differential – the California T made do with a more conventional, and less effective (says Ferrari) mechanical diff – while its retractable hard top works faster and also weighs less than before.

As with all of today’s Ferraris the gearbox is dual-clutch, and you select the seven forward ratios with paddles fixed to the steering column. Shift speeds are faster and smoother than before, says Ferrari, depending on how you set the three-stage manettino switch.

The Portofino’s engine and raw performance are undeniably impressive on paper, but it is actually the chassis, steering and suspension that have come in for the biggest rethink. The new electronic differential generates much more traction than before, but also aids stability at all speeds. Meanwhile the electric power steering system has been set up to be as precise as in other Ferraris but also lighter in feel, and thus more manageable in the everyday driving this car is aimed at.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
The dampers are also electronically controlled and change their calibration according to the manettino setting chosen. However you can also select Ferrari’s now common, and highly effective, “bumpy road” mode irrespective of the manettino setting. This puts the dampers in a more compliant mode while maintaining the more urgent responses from the drivetrain, such as Sport or even ESC off, and is a most useful addition to the chassis' breadth of talent.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
The 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero tyres are bespoke to the Portofino, and in line with its more civilised mission in life do not feature a Corsa compound. The Portofino is not that kind of car, says Ferrari, even though its kerb weight is an impressive 1,664kg including fluids, which makes it not THAT much heavier – or slower – on paper than a 488 GTB.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
First impressions when you climb aboard are good, in fact excellent. The roof glides into the rear bodywork in near silence in just 14 seconds. The new lightweight seats feel great, providing a fine combination of comfort and support. The new cabin design is also genuinely stunning, with a huge sense of quality to it, and controls that look and feel intuitive. On first acquaintance the Portofino certainly hits all the right buttons.

It is also extremely rapid, something you discover the moment you get moving and find a road that is long and quiet enough to let rip. There’s almost no lag from the twin-turbo V8 engine, so instant throttle response is a given.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
The engine and exhaust sound pretty spectacular on full beans, with an engaging rasp from the V8 underpinning an onslaught of serious forward thrust. And the dual clutch gearbox works a treat in both directions, seemingly in any of the manettino settings.

Yet after a short while in the Portofino, you realise that there is something weirdly missing from its dynamic repertoire. The steering in particular feels too light in any of its settings, and is therefore remote in both its feel and response. At the same time there is also a strange absence of feedback beneath your backside when you aim it towards a corner.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
 You can sense the electronics doing their thing pretty much all the time on the move, which is both good and bad. Good because you get a decent ride quality on virtually any surface. Bad because there is simply not enough communication coming from the car to your fingertips and seat of the pants.

To be honest the suspension feels over-digitised in the way it reacts to whatever the tyres encounter, be that in a straight line or when cornering, which makes it feel a little bit like you are playing a computer game rather than driving an actual car. Ultimately it is all a bit too easy, with nowhere near as much interaction as you get from a 488 on the move, even though you can still cover ground at an astonishing rate.

Ferrari Portofino - Failure To Launch
Ferrari says this is exactly how the Portofino should be perceived because it is a car you can use 365 days a year. But I am not 100 per cent convinced about that even if there is more room in the rear seats than before, a much more efficient air conditioning system, and a retractable hard top that is quite brilliantly engineered.

The bottom line is that I would happily trade some of this usability for a bit more touchy-feely excitement on the move. And if that makes the Portofino a bit less civilised then so be it, because it is what happens on those special occasions that matters most in a Ferrari.

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