When you have a Ferrari for five days you make plans around the car – so, does Maranello’s entry-level drop-top live up to the badge?
It would be an understatement to say that I am excited today – driving a Ferrari never gets old, no matter how many you’ve driven. However, I’m extra enthused today as I make my way to the showroom to pick up the 2019 Ferrari Portofino, because I have been afforded the opportunity to test the car for five full days – a rarity when it comes to Maranello’s press cars.
At the showroom, I’m greeted by the dealerships’ PR manager and sitting right next door is a canary yellow – or Giallo Modena in Ferrari-speak – Portofino. This is the first time I’m seeing one in the metal and I have to admit, it’s really rather good looking compared to its predecessor which had a Kardashian-spec lumpy behind. The air vent above the front wheel-wells runs prominently into the doors. At the bottom, the sheet metal is tucked in towards the rear wheels, giving it a shapely ‘waist’.
I get in the car, fire up the ignition and there is a remarkably gritty ‘whoomp’ as the 3.9-litre turbocharged V8 roars to life. Then there is immediately a problem. Albeit a minor one. The mirror is filled with the reflection of the bootlid, giving you a somewhat jaundiced view of the world behind.
“Please be careful; this is a brand new car,” says our PR manager. I nod. When am I not careful?
The California and the California T, in my view strayed a little too far from the Ferrari formula. However, the predecessor was still a sales success. Over 11,000 cars found homes in a decade and most of these were conquest sales, and attracting buyers who wouldn’t normally consider a Ferrari was the company’s goal from the beginning with an entry-level model. Anyway, back to the Portofino.
As I take the morning trudge to work, it’s not hard to see that this car turns heads. Captain Obvious observations aside, this thing really goes. It’s loud and devilishly fast.
Naturally, I reach work rather quickly and spend most of the day largely looking forward to the drive back home. So far, the Portofino has been extremely usable around town. It’s not ground-hugging low and doesn’t straddle postcodes when it comes to its dimensions. So far, so good.
On the way back, I run into bumper-to-bumper traffic and even in stop-and-go situations, the Portofino is not particularly jumpy or recalcitrant, which is often the case with double-clutch transmissions at slow speeds. It’s not perfect, but you can certainly live with it on an every-day basis.
Today I have decided to take the Portofino on a long drive on the highway since it’s more of an everyday Ferrari, rather than an angry mountain road monster. Even at speeds of up to 140km/h, which is legal by the way, wind-noise is acceptable and the engine doesn’t drone incessantly as can be the case with sports cars in this segment.
I’ve reached my destination, the Golden Tulip Resort in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, for a meeting. I know it’s an odd choice for a business meeting, but it’s a story for another day. Naturally, the Portofino gets a prime spot in front of the entrance.
Meeting over, on the way back I start noticing the details of the interior. It’s a fantastic place to be. Extremely well equipped and my favourite feature, a secondary display in front of the passenger seat, shows your terrified fellow-occupant information such as speed and radio channel. It’s a bit pointless, but I love it.
More importantly, the interior trim materials are great and everything fits perfectly giving it a really upscale feel. Now, before you gleefully point out that ‘of course it’s upscale, it’s a supercar’, trust me you’ll be surprised if I tell you how many times I’ve seen worse build quality in cars that cost twice as much.
Not much is happening today, so I have decided to wring the Portofino’s neck a bit before the school run in the afternoon. This thing is fast, like, expletive-inducing fast. Zero to hundred is seen off in just over three seconds, while the top speed sits at 320km/h. The gearbox is a little too aggressive in manual mode and the power steering, like all Ferraris, is a bit too twitchy and takes getting used to. Sneeze and you’re in the adjacent lane.
The ride quality is beautifully resolved, thanks to the reprogrammed magnetic dampers and stiffer springs. Even though it nudges the scale at nearly 1,650kg with all the fluids, it doesn’t feel wieldy at all. Body control in corners is miles better than the California T’s, and yet there is enough give to not rearrange your vertebral column on bumpy roads. The ride quality is fantastically judged.
It is school run time and the Portofino is making me look like a bit of a show-off – the things I have to endure for you guys! My son is thrilled to see the Portofino and excitedly tells his friends that it’s his dad’s car, as other parents look on, some with visible disapproval, presumably making serious character judgements. Time to make a hasty retreat.
Today I have another meeting, this time in a more reasonable location in Dubai Design District. This hipster-laden place is home to all sorts of artsy and designy businesses and offices, and the Ferrari fits right in with the modern façade of the buildings surrounding it.
With the meeting done, it’s time to finally return the Portofino to its real home before the school run. One last blast in the car and I have reached my verdict. The 2019 Portofino does not deliver the same sensations as a full-on Ferrari like the 812 Superfast or 488 GTB, but it’s not far off either. It’s noticeably better than the California T in every possible way and from AED856,000, it’s the cheapest entry ticket through gilded gates to the world of Ferrari. It’s a supercar you can happily live with every day, and yet it’s special enough to turn every drive into an occasion.
Wonder how my son will react today, when I roll up to fetch him from school in a slightly battered rental Chevrolet Spark?