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Car reviews - Ferrari - Portofino

Our Opinion

We like
Lingerie body, athlete’s heart, orchestral exhaust, ice-skater’s handling, carefree warranty and service deal
Room for improvement
Low-speed engine delivery, sat-nav lethargy, rear-seat crush, expensive, three-year waiting list

Ferrari California T evolves into more beautiful, better handling Portofino

19 Dec 2018


WHY did Ferrari’s California T, the much-convertible that broke a 25-year drought of production turbocharged models from Maranello, last barely three years on global markets?

It certainly had a lot on its side – it was the ice-breaker for freshman Ferrari owners because it was significantly cheaper than other models, the turbocharged V8 was an alluring centre piece to the pretty 2+2, and it sounded, and performed, the way any Ferrari should.

Ferrari obviously thought the California T could be improved as its main criticism was the hefty weight.

The diet started with what was supposed to be some changes to the body, while the replacement would carry over the bi-turbo V8 and seven-speed dual-clutch drivetrain.

The result is the new Portofino that uses a variety of lightweight metals and composites in its body to slash 80 kilograms off the weight of the California T, hitting the scales at 1664kg.

Drive impressions

The Ferrari Portofino is the cheapest model in the Italian supercar brand’s stable with a $398,888 (plus on-road costs) pricetag, about $70,000 less expensive than its 488 GTB sibling and $104,000 down from the GTC4 Lusso T that shares its drivetrain.

Personalising the car is encouraged through a configurator that opens with 15 seat colours, 20 stitching colours – plus the choice of thick or thin cord – and 26 paint colours.

It can get expensive, and some items could be expected as standard such as the reversing camera that is a near-$7000 option, as is the Magneride adaptive suspension that is about $9000 and Apple CarPlay at a whopping $6800.

The infotainment system is bright and clear with a 10.25-inch screen but the satellite navigation was awkward to use and slow to respond. No complaints about the audio, though.

Like the California T, it is styled in-house by Ferrari though the Pininfarina heritage is obvious with its rolling hips, short overhangs and wheel-hugging front arches.

However, the Portofino is a 2+2 but pays little attention to rear passengers, preferring to cosset the front occupants.

The roof is folding metal with its electric action capable of closure within 14 seconds and the ability to seal the roof at speeds of up to 45km/h.

In the flesh it is a much bigger car than images may suggest, stretching to 4.6 metres long and 1.95m wide.

Surprisingly, it has a useable boot. Though it favours soft luggage, the boot (with roof up) has a 292-litre capacity. More storage can be found in the rear seats – because no-one will be there for long – to ensure the Portofino is suitable at its goal of being a premium grand tourer car.

The Ferrari comes with free scheduled maintenance for seven years and has an optional maintenance program (about $5000) that comprehensively covers the car for 15 years.

The bark of the engine and the rush of the torque at mid-range shouts Ferrari and demands driver attention, but the smoothness of the adaptive suspension and ease of the new electric-assist steering take on appeal by a very different customer.

The Portofino neatly pairs performance with occupant comfort and grand touring space, enveloping occupants in rich layers of leather and fabric, choices of metal or carbon-fibre, and kitted out with equipment centred by a 10.25-inch screen.

The size of the car is surprising but exaggerated from the low-set driver’s seat and there is a need to set the steering wheel high to eyeball the top of the central multi-coloured tachometer. In this position, the waistline is high and the four quarters of the car are invisible, making a reversing camera a mandatory inclusion.

The steering may be light but the accelerator pedal requires weight and a prodigious stab to alert the gearbox to engage. It is the only flaw in an drivetrain that is rich in sound and utterly unyielding in its power delivery.

It is a car that delights as its character unfolds, rising from its almost benign low-speed tractability that, on test during a Melbourne storm, made it so user-friendly in the wet, to a scalded cat with relentless fury.

The key to the engine’s outrage is keeping it in its high rev range, running it from around the 6000rpm mark through to its peak power point at 7500rpm and towards 8000rpm, while using the large paddle shifters to staccato through the gears.

It is a lovely gearbox, now made quicker in its shift speeds and easier to use since the California T version with an automatic “park” engagement, separate “reverse” button on the dash, and automatic park brake action.

The Magneride suspension is equally as mandatory as the reversing camera, especially when the car is tasked with living to its name as a GT machine and the roads – such as those tested through the Mornington Peninsula – can be rough and narrow, potholed after the deluge and strewn with the results of nature’s pruning of the roadside trees.

While electric-assisted steering can feel dull and disconnected, the Portofino’s lightness of the steering feel is hardly excessive for a model that is aimed predominantly at new Ferrari owners and many are women and many live-in urban areas.

The benefits easily outweigh any pedantic opinions of cornering differences between this and the previous hydraulic system.

This easy driving mannerism is the key to the car and one of its most endearing features. Depending on the road and the mood of the driver, it allows the occupants to arrive slightly shaken and occasionally stirred, but always comfortable.

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