Faster, more comfortable, smoother and more efficient—Ferrari’s new Portofino hasn’t changed much in concept, but it’s better than the California T in just about every way. This is Ferrari’s most important car for key reasons, starting with the revenue stream, and it’s an obvious indicator how the little company in Maranello (and maybe its audience) has changed the last 25 years.
The important things are still here, of course: impressive power-to-weight ratio, crazy-high specific output, studied aerodynamics, Italian design and flair. There are new pieces of technology, too, though they aren’t always visible to the naked eye.
Herewith, five of the more interesting tech bits in the newest Ferrari. It isn’t clear if any will close an extra Portofino sale, but all of them caught our attention.
Passenger Video Display
Display screens of varying technologies are everywhere in cars these days, and more often than not they’re of the haptic-touch variety. The guiding principle for automotive designers seems to be that bigger screens are better. The Portofino also gets one, much bigger than that in the car it replaces, and it can be split to show two different views or data sets. As hard as it might be for old-school Ferrari geeks to wrap their minds around split touch-screens and 3D maps, the Portofino’s primary screen isn’t likely to get more than a passing mention in the typical drive review.
What pops more forcefully is a second touch screen, and something we haven’t seen elsewhere–an elongated, 8.8 inch LCD directly in front of the front passenger, hidden above the Portofino’s glove box in the space where you might expect a trim strip. This screen allows the passenger to display a separate data set, from performance meters like road speed and RPM to nav prompts to entertainment choices, independent of what’s in front of the driver or on the bigger screen in the center stack.
So now your passenger can manipulate the audio while you keep the full map on the main screen, or read you directions or make fun of your short shifts. What you cannot do is fib about how fast you’re going, assuming your partner won’t know better without craning over your shoulder.
Those narrow slits next to the Portofino’s headlights (inset) force air into the wheel wells, then out of the vents on the front fenders
Front Fender Vents
Slits, lips or lumps in Ferrari sheetmetal aren’t usually simple adornment, but the vents or channels pressed into the Portofino’s front fenders form part of a particularly clever, aesthetically interesting aero solution. Working in conjunction with a thin port outboard of each headlight assembly, the vents deliver a couple of significant benefits.
First, they dramatically improve front brake cooling, and they do it without adding drag. High-velocity air channeled through the headlight slits flows through the wheel well, over the brake discs and out the vent in the fender.
Indeed, the slit/vent combo actually reduces drag considerably, because it flushes out the extra-turbulent air that tends to collect around the wheel wells in a more predictable fashion. That air flows out as a denser “air curtain” from the wheel-well vents rearward, close to the Portofino’s flanks, according to Ferrari engineers. It’s one of the bigger contributors to a 6 percent reduction in drag, compared to the California T.
Cast-in Turbo Cases
The Portofino’s exhaust headers are now sand-cast as a single part with the turbo housing, rather than welded up from separate pieces. What’s the big deal with that? Where to start?
Yes, we are starting to see exhaust manifolds that are cast into, rather than bolted to, the cylinder head, on cars more pedestrian than the Portofino, and we’ve seen a more rudimentary example of what Ferrari has done with its turbocharged V8s. That came from Hyundai when it launched its 2.0-liter direct-injection turbo four in the Sonata in 2010. But it came only after Hyundai (one of the world’s largest, best endowed manufacturers) spent years developing a patented process to manufacture the single-piece manifold/ turbine case, and then had to look long and hard for a supplier who could actually manufacture it. And Hyundai’s single casting is a more conventional, pitchfork-style manifold.
This is more complicated. For starters, Ferrari wants exhaust headers that are precisely equal in length, feeding two separate scrolls on the turbo turbine with staggered cylinders to keep exhaust pulses precisely even. That minimizes turbo lag and promotes Ferrari-suitable engine sounds, but it also leaves a manifold that looks like snakes swarming around the turbine case.
If you cast this complicated form, you’ll need multiple mold pieces, inside and out, and all of these individual, resin-impregnated sand molds must be structurally bound to each other and stable enough to withstand the pressure of casting force. The interior mold pieces have to deliver the precise path and flow dynamics you require for turbo performance, but you also have to get them out when the part is finished. Then you have to flow your alloy to ensure uniform, bubble-free thickness.
Sound complicated? Remember: A company Ferrari’s size is doing this with a relative handful of engineers, miniscule compare to the number at Hyundai’s disposal, and then casting the manifold/cases at the same Maranello foundry that casts F1 engine blocks.
So the one-piece header/turbine case is pretty cool. The payoff for Ferrari might be twofold. First, the single casting might ultimately represent a cost reduction, once the development and capital costs are amortized over a lot of parts. At Ferrari volume, that could take a while. More to the point, they’re left with a turbo that more effectively harvests exhaust gas flow to more quickly compress intake air for the engine. See the chart above for a representation of the Portofino cast header/case’s improvement on the welded California T version.
Pink is the California T (plastic) and blue is the Portofino (aluminum). Blue is better
Undertrays on the bottom of production cars are nothing new, and they’ve trickled down in some fashion to some of the least expensive cars you can buy. Yet even in expensive cars with expansive undertrays, these drag-limiting devices tend to be molded from plastic or a light composite. The undertrays in the Portofino are stamped from aluminum and attached with bolts rather than Dzus-type fasteners or something else.
They’re not intended as giant skid plates, though they probably do add some protection in that context. The Portofino’s aluminum undertrays actually provide structural framing that plastic could not. That allowed Ferrari engineers to remove mass elsewhere in the Portofino’s frame with lighter extrusions or castings. In short, the heavier aluminum undertrays were crucial to lightening the Portofino’s frame 70 pounds compared to the California T, while still delivering a 35 percent increase in static torsional rigidity.
The really woke thing here isn’t visible to the naked eye
Magnesium Seat Frames
We’ve seen magnesium in post-war automotive applications since at least the 1950s, from racing wheels to transaxle cases in the low and mighty Volkswagen Beetle. Magnesium alloys have made a bit of a comeback through the 2000s, thanks partly to fabrication advances and usually in higher-end cars via a brace here or a case there. Yet with rare exceptions (like the Beetle), there’s usually a cheaper way to do it.
With a 35 percent weight advantage on aluminum, the appeal of magnesium remains, but the cost still gets in the way. Raw materials run about 80 percent higher than aluminum, and it gets worse when you start fabricating—a bit worse if you’re casting, compared to aluminum, and a lot worse if you’re extruding. Metallurgists say that every pound you save with magnesium is going to cost an extra $4 minimum, and maybe twice that depending on where you’re doing the saving.
So where did Ferrari introduce magnesium alloy into the Portofino? In those sexy, attention-grabbing seat frames, of course. Engineers say they’ve trimmed 53 pounds from the Portofino’s interior components, compared to the Ferrari California T, and we can be fairly certain that the biggest chunk of those 53 pounds came out of the seats. The magnesium frames also allow much thinner seat backs, and helped increase knee room in back of the Portofino two inches compared to the California T.
The cost of a magnesium upgrade might be easier to absorb in a $220,000 car, yes, but we appreciate Ferrari’s dedication to mass reduction nonetheless.