Words: Sirish Chandran
Portofino is not far from Cannes, St Tropez and the swish hangouts of the rich and famous on the French Riviera. Keep hugging the coast as you head east and you will crawl through Monaco in the most expensive traffic jam in the world emerging on the other side into the Italian Riviera, smack in the middle of which is the fishing village of Portofino. Well it used to be a little fishing village till Richard Burton popped the question to Elizabeth Taylor here, and more recently Richard Hammond raced James M ay back to St Tropez. May was in a speedboat, The Hamster was in a Ferrari Daytona, fitting since the seventies icon is listed as the inspiration for the new every day Ferrari, the Portofino.
The affordable Ferrari
Relatively speaking, of course, as before options and taxes the Portofino will set you back by Rs 3.5 crore. It succeeds the decade-old California, a controversial car but also the best selling Ferrari ever accounting for around 30 per cent of annual volumes that are now in the region of 8500. 70 per cent of all California customers are new to the brand say Ferrari and until the SUV-that-is-not-an-SUV arrives Ferrari’s volume growth will hinge on the Portofino’s success. Which, going by the styling, is hardly going to be a huge challenge for the sales guys.
Function for performance
Where the California was a bit frumpy with an oversized butt the Portofino looks like a proper Ferrari – harder, sleeker, lower, wider and with more obvious aero detailing. The L-shaped headlamps have become a Ferrari visual signature and they immediately put to mind the 812 Superfast and 488 GTB, two of the greatest cars on the planet. Keeping with the Ferrari tradition of very-obviously-wind-tunnel-honed bodywork the trailing edges of these lamps have a prominent air curtain-type intake that vents into the front wheel housing. By channeling the air out along the scooped sides this sucks out the pressure from the front wheels (wheel turbulent wake control in Ferrari-tech-talk) and aids in bringing the drag coefficient down to 0.312. That dramatic vent on the flank is the most distinctive piece of visual ornamentation, ‘function for performance’ according to the designers, and together with the narrowed flanks gives it those really tight and cool coke-bottle hips. Even the rear has been slimmed down with the taillamps positioned at the extremities and are now fixed unlike in the past where it moved with roof mechanism and thus required additional lights at the bottom to meet regulations.
Ferrari’s designers highlight that the Portofino is the only car in the world that is both a real coupe and an elegant Spider at the same time. It really looks tremendous in the metal – with the roof up there’s no way of knowing this is a convertible and with the roof down it looks like it was designed to be only driven topless.
While the wheelbase and all key dimensions remain unchanged the body-in-white is new with torsional stiffness up by 35 per cent and the stiffness of the suspension mounting points going up by 50 per cent. Weight has gone down by a significant 80kg thanks in part to reducing complexity – for instance the A-pillar that used to have 21 individual parts is now a two-piece unit. The suspension hardware is mostly the same with front dampers stiffer by 15.5 per cent stiffer and rear dampers stiffer by 19 per cent. There’s a new electric power steering taken directly from the 812 Superfast, third generation of the e-diff though without Side Slip Control and a further evolution of the MagneRide dampers. And finally the roof stows away in 14 seconds, now even while on the move at speeds up to 40kmph.
And more power
The V8 retains the 3.9-litre capacity of the California T but detail improvements like new pistons and con-rods to handle the 10 per cent increase in cylinder pressures have resulted in a 38bhp power bump to 591bhp. Gianfranco Ferrari, the engine man I shared two dinners with (and no relation to Mr Ferrari, it’s a surname as common in Modena as Nair in Kerala) was particularly proud of the equal length exhaust pipes that have now been cast as a single piece including the turbo housing instead of individual pipes welded together.
Torque goes up, but by only 5Nm. There really is no need for any more torque, peaking as it does at 760Nm – in a car that weighs just 1664 kg. In fact there’s such a tsunami of torque that max torque is only fully unleashed in the higher gears, in the lower gears the torque traces a markedly different curve with a lower peak, around 650Nm in first and progressively going up in second and third. It gives the engine a distinctly non-turbo character in that there’s no wallop of torque followed by a running out of breath. Floor it and the engine feels inexhaustible getting harder and punchier as it goes through the gears. Every gear liberates more, more torque, and you’re pinned harder and harder into your seat. There’s no let up. And there’s no turbo lag. At 2000rpm the response time is just 1 second. For perspective, on the 488 it’s just two-tenths quicker at 0.8 seconds.
Two-tenths is shaved off the Cali T’s 100kmph time, now taking 3.5 seconds. The excellent 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox shifts harder and faster, both up and down the ratios, and aids in getting to 200kmph in just 10.8 seconds. Top speed is over 320kmph. Oh, and you also get a cruising range of 740km, handy when racing a speedboat back to St Tropez.
It also sounds harder and more powerful, engineers making a big deal of the aural quality aided by an electronic flap in the exhaust that remains closed to be ‘socially-responsible’ at idle shouting out a strong soundtrack when the throttle is depressed more than 50 per cent or in Sport mode.
The usable Ferrari
We didn’t drive the Portofino in Portofino, it’s the off season in the Italian Riviera and so we landed up in Bari on the south-eastern coast of Italy where the roads were the worst I’ve experienced in all of Europe. On the plus side though I can tell you with complete conviction that the Portofino will work very well in India. Stick the F1-inspired Manettino in Comfort and the ride quality over broken roads for a 591bhp sportscar is astonishingly good. There’s 120mm of ground clearance and short overhangs so there’s no need to worry about the nose grinding on road imperfections, so much so that it doesn’t get or need a nose lifting mechanism like on the 488. And when you’re in the mood to drive a Ferrari like a Ferrari ought to, sticking Manettino in Sport, there’s still a bumpy road mode for the suspension that gives you great ride while sharpening the exhaust note, steering, gearbox and engine responses.
Add to that the Portofino is very easy to drive. Like all Ferraris the steering is incredibly quick, 7 per cent quicker than the California’s, and the unintended side effect is that dodging potholes needs the merest suggestion on the steering wheel. It does make the Portofino slightly too busy and requiring more concentration at motorway speeds but you get used to it.
Not only were the roads poor but it also rained on our drive making the roads greasy and slippery. With sturdy centuries-old stone walls lining the narrow roads caution was the order of the day but I can tell you that the light steering allied to the uncanny absence of body roll does feel aloof when pushing on. Just when you go from six-tenths to nine-tenths, want to be dialed into the entire experience, the Portofino filters out that last layer of detail. And without the safety net of Side Slip Control I didn’t attempt oversteering it on these roads.
The every day Ferrari
Then again if you want a slide-slipping Ferrari there’s the 488 GTB. What’s remarkable about the Portofino is that despite the hardcore performance you can drive it at a relaxed pace. It engages you at moderate speeds; it flows, there is compliance in the damping and the cabin is plush. Top up it will rush through the Cote de Azure getting you from the French to Italian Riviera at great speeds. Top down it feels at home with the rich and famous soaking in the sun in Portofino. It’s a stretch imagining one using a Ferrari everyday, but as an everyday Ferrari the Portofino is spot on.