2019 Ferrari Portofino review

Yes, it's a real Ferrari.

So long as you have the money, buying a Ferrari should never be a difficult decision. At the end of the day, the Italian brand represents a universally recognised symbol of speed, glamour, wealth and performance.

Owning a Ferrari is a dream come true for many while remaining an aspiration for others. It’s one of the world’s most desirable brands, which is why it makes more money selling merchandise than it does cars. But, we are reviewing a car here today, specifically, the new Ferrari Portofino… and as good as it is, it shouldn’t be your first Ferrari.

Okay, hear me out for a second.

I get the purpose of the Portofino; it’s the quintessential everyday Ferrari you can take your three luckiest friends to the beach in, and park anywhere without having to worry about whether it will make the entry into the car park or not.

It’s a much softer experience, far less intimidating to drive than the brand’s other models, and there is definitely a place for a car like it in the range. But is practicality and four-seater comfort really why you’re buying a Ferrari?

Call me old fashioned and yes, I am fully aware of the fact not everyone wants a hardcore Ferrari. And of course, this is perhaps the most ideal cruiser, with the hardtop folded away, along the streets of the Gold Coast or Bondi. It’s got enough room to make it practical as a weekend getaway car, too, but let’s be real here, unless you’re just after the Prancing Horse badge, the Ferrari 488 is very much an everyday Ferrari as well.

And, having recently driven the 488 Spider, it’s everything the Portofino is, but just that little bit better. Actually, it’s a lot better.

Ferrari wants about $400k for the Portofino (realistically, you will need to set aside another $50,000 or so to make it properly yours with some options and then add delivery plus on-roads). Conversely, Ferrari asks for about $550k for the 488 Spider. If you can stretch the extra $100,000 or so, I advise you do. If you can’t – or more likely, if you already own another Ferrari and want something a little more user friendly – read on.

The Ferrari Portofino is the replacement for the California and if you compare the two, the new convertible is measurably better. It has a stiffer chassis with less weight, meaning it now drives even more like a Ferrari should, while it looks far more glamorous than its predecessor, and has an interior that is both modern and luxurious.

During our time with it, even when presented in this relatively conservative Argento Nurburgring exterior colour and Blu Sterling interior finish, it turned plenty of heads wherever it went.

At around $450,000 on road (can be a tad less if you haggle), it’s relatively affordable for a Ferrari but it’s by no means cheap. It goes up against everything from the Lamborghini Huracan and Audi R8 Spyder, to the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, Mercedes-AMG SL 63 and perhaps, even offerings from McLaren (570S Spider) and Aston Martin (DB11 Volante).

The point is, there’s a lot of choice for cars in this price range, but there is no other car that offers the exclusivity of the Ferrari brand with all the practical day-to-day goodness one would expect from an ‘everyday’ supercar.

Calling a Portofino a supercar is perhaps inaccurate. After all, the engine is in the front and while it’s fast (0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds), it’s not as fast as some of the cars listed above, such as the 911 Turbo convertible (3.1s), let alone the droptop Turbo S (2.9s).

At this point you would expect me to say, but it’s a Ferrari and you would trade what little performance advantage the lifeless Germans provide for the orchestral offering of the exhaust note at hand. Well… kind of.

You see, the 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 in the Portofino is the same as the one in the 488. That means it's perhaps the most brilliant twin-turbo V8 currently on the planet (sorry McLaren fans, but it’s true) with little to no turbo lag and fantastic power and torque delivery via its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. But it doesn’t sound as good as it goes.

In this application, it delivers 441kW of power and 760Nm of torque (down 51kW on the 488), so it’s by no means a slouch. But where the 488 tries its best (and mostly succeeds) to scream as the revs build up, the Portofino seems to emit a very different kind of note.

It sounds great, amazing in fact, but it doesn’t sound like the Ferrari you may have anticipated. There’s a sense of generic turbo noise to it, further emphasised by the gearshifts that produce an almost forced up or downshift note when in Sport.

Speaking of driving modes, where the 488’s Manettino switch on the steering wheel has WET, SPORT, RACE, CT Off and ESC Off, the Portofino is more realistic about its ambitions, offering only COMFORT, SPORT and ESC OFF. One could assume the Portofino is not meant to grace a race track and that’s perfectly okay. Even for a Ferrari.

Jump inside and you will be happy to find yourself spending long periods of time with the Portofino, especially when the weather is nice. It takes just 14 seconds to transform from coupe to convertible and the hardtop roof operates at speeds up to 40km/h. The beauty of the Portofino is it genuinely looks like a coupe with the hardtop on and a true convertible with it lowered.

While it’s advertised as a four-seater, you would not really be wanting to put four large adults in this car for extended periods, for as much fun as being in the back of a Ferrari is, your rear passengers may not be awfully delighted about the experience. My four- and seven-year-old boys found the rear seats perfectly suitable for long drives, and with ISOFIX points at hand, smaller child seats are no issue.

We found the cabin to be a rather pleasant environment with great feeling surfaces and craftsmanship. The 10.3-inch infotainment screen (with sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB digital radio) is also a pretty decent unit but it does have its occasional glitches.

Our test car had a variety of options fitted and while we could poke fun at the absurdity of charging nearly $7000 for Apple CarPlay – which is standard in cars 1/20th the price – it would be a futile waste of time, for Ferrari Australia knows its customers better than we do. In saying that, it’s a little rich asking $8300 for the carbon-fibre steering wheel with LED shift lights (basically a mandatory option), or a rear-view camera for $6950.

One option we would definitely recommend you give a miss, is the passenger display (that shows speed, tachometer and gear position) for $9501. Basically, it’s a screen on the passenger side that enabled my wife to abuse me for going ‘too fast’, all too often.

While in other cars I could somewhat get away with saying "no, I am going the speed limit, it just feels fast getting there", that expensive screen made me out to be a bad liar. So, I just turned it off. Ten grand well spent, then!

Behind the wheel there is a lot to love about Ferrari’s latest offering. Like all recent creations from Maranello, the Portofino rides beautifully regardless of what mode it is in. With the $8970 MagneRide dual mode shock absorber system ticked, it’s even better. We drove our test car all the way from Brisbane out to Warwick on country roads and highways, and it was an absolute gem as far as ride comfort went.

Turn the dial out of Comfort to Sport and it certainly sounds a lot better, too. The engine and transmission begin to respond to your demands at a far quicker rate. But even in this mode, the ride from the adjustable suspension is supple at worst. Yet, when you push the Portofino into a corner it sits perfectly flat and never once feels out-gunned.

Perhaps that’s the most surprising aspect of the Portofino, that it’s actually an amazing driver’s car. It’s a Ferrari after all and despite some accusations of it not being a ‘true’ Ferrari, it would categorically decimate the majority of apparent ‘sports cars’ on the road.

In fact, up to about nine-tenths – which is at least two-tenths more than you will ever want to push on a public road – the Portofino is on par with the 488. What that means is in the hands of an everyday driver on everyday roads, it’s just as quick or fun as a 488, so you will need a closed road or a race track to really extract the difference.

Where it does differ, though, is steering feel and feedback, in the sense the Portofino is lacking that level of finesse we’ve come to expect from Ferrari.

Really, the main problem with the Portofino is expectation. As a car on its own, it is brilliant. It’s perhaps the most user-friendly, high-performance convertible money can buy. But it’s wearing a Ferrari badge, and that is a benchmark that never stops rising. Sometimes to its own detriment.

If you’re considering the Portofino as your first Ferrari, you won’t regret it, however my advice is to spend an extra $100k and buy a 488. Because unless you absolutely and desperately need the two additional seats, as good as the Portofino is to drive and the extra level of practicality that it brings, there is something intoxicating and romantic about a rear-engined screaming Ferrari that you must experience.

Nonetheless, if you’re considering this as your second or fifth Ferrari, then you know exactly what you’re getting, and you will 100 per cent be delighted with the result.

Either way, if you don’t leave a Ferrari dealership with a smile on your face, you’ve done something seriously wrong.

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