When one thinks of an entry-level vehicle, spartan tin cans with doughnuts for tires, rubber bands for engines and lint for upholstery comes to mind. But when the term applies to a car with a starting price hovering around $230,000-plus, it sounds “jumbo shrimp” oxymoronic and just flat-out wrong.
Perhaps the more appropriate term would be “heir.” In that case, the all-new Ferrari Portofino is a worthy heir to the company’s popular California T. That lovely beast, the best-selling in Ferrari’s history, proved there’s a market for a civilized Ferrari that’s as comfortable in the carpool lane as it is on the weekend racetrack.
Debuting to multiple oohs and aahs at September’s Frankfurt International Motor Show, the hard-top convertible Portofino features a juiced-up version of the California’s justly-famed 3.9-liter V8 twin turbo – nominated for International Engine of the Year in both 2016 and 2017 – pumping out 591 hp, 40 more than the prior version. Power meets the road via the same rapid-fire, seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission as the California T.
Ferrari says the Portofino’s power increase comes from a bunch of new tech – pistons, connecting rods, intake system design, a one-piece-cast exhaust header, software tweaks and torque delivery improvements in Ferrari’s Variable Boost Management system.
Although Ferrari hasn’t issued weight numbers yet, it says the Portofino will weigh less than the California T, but with better torsional rigidity, thanks to chassis and body-in-white redesigns. (Body-in-white is the manufacturing step when a car body’s sheet metal components are welded together. I didn’t know either. Thanks, Wikipedia – I’ll make a donation soon. Promise.)
There’s also function in that sleek, taut body, and the lines are a lot more aggressive than the outgoing California (not that it was a slouch). The outside headlight edge hides an air intake that vents into the front wheel arch and exits along the flank for reduced drag. The all-new retractable hard top is more lightweight and can be raised or lowered at low speeds.
The Portofino also boasts a brand-new color – Rosso Portofino. It’s a smidge darker than the company’s traditional Rosso Corso (racing red). But, of course, paraphrasing Henry Ford, you can get it in any color you want.
The really big thing with the Portofino, however, is this – a third-generation electronic differential (E-Diff3) that’s integrated into the F1-Trac setting.
Formula One racing technology is integrated with stability control systems that intelligently distribute power in direct relation to driving conditions (acceleration, steering angle, change of direction speed, and difference in wheel speed). By continually monitoring wheel speed, the system estimates traction levels and optimizes how torque is transmitted to the wheels.
Let’s just attribute all this to magic. Experienced drivers can get the thrill of Formula One racing dynamics while taking the Portofino to its limits. For regular drivers like you and me, the Portofino takes us to our limits as we experience awesome turn-in, nimble-as-a-ballerina balance and roller-coaster road grip.
Enjoying all that goodness is easy in the Portofino’s plush, leather-clad cabin. There’s an infotainment system with a 10.2-inch touch-screen display, an air-conditioning system that blasts chill with the top up or down, a new steering wheel and a wind deflector that cuts air flow inside the cabin by 30 percent while reducing aerodynamic noise with the top dropped.
The 18-way electrically adjustable seats feature a new backrest design that boosts legroom for rear-seat passengers — not that there’s much to begin with. Designated a GT, or Grand Tourer, means there are four seats, but the back two are more suited for a medium-sized Versace tote than human beings.
Interestingly, a few automotive writers have noted smugly that the Portofino’s torque numbers – 560 lb-ft – are about the same as its predecessor. Like that sort of stump-pulling grunt is somehow sneer-worthy.
Hey, if you’re so cool that zooming from 0-62 mph in 3.2 neck-snapping seconds is ho-hum, and you yawn at the snarling snap-crackle-pop symphony of exhaust that’s uniquely Ferrari, then you might as well quit reading now (as if you haven’t already and besides, we’re done anyway).
Oh, one more thing: The Portofino hits the U.S. market next summer but orders are already piling in. Not bad for a brand-new, entry-level car.
Brian Melton inherited his love of cars from his mom: She drove, with an unrepentant lead foot, several T-Birds, a black Jag MK-2 and a much-loved silver Mercedes 450SL.