The 2018 Ferrari Portofino is the California T plus 5 to 10 percent. Almost literally.
Improvements throughout make the Portofino roughly 10 percent more efficient than the car it replaces in Ferrari’s lineup. It’s 5 percent lighter than the California T and 7 percent more powerful, with 6 percent less drag. It accelerates to 125 mph four percent more quickly. It delivers nearly 10 percent more lateral acceleration, with 10 percent less undesirable noise and vibration inside and maybe ten percent more room for people and stuff. The Portofino is better than the California T in just about every respect, but it’s not even a mild departure from the all-purpose formula that made the California and California T the best-selling Ferraris ever.
If this plus-10 evaluation seems underwhelming or abject, consider a couple more points. Given the current state of automotive technology and the extent to which the California T had already been optimized, with 144 hp per liter of displacement and a combination of thrills and everyday usability no Ferrari had previously achieved, improvements of 5-10 percent across the board must be considered an impressive engineering achievement. So there’s that, and also that the Portofino is a remarkably versatile, very enjoyable car, in ways Ferraris weren’t supposed to be remarkable or enjoyable not so long ago. It’s a thrill to drive in a wide range of circumstances. If the Portofino doesn’t stir you at least a little, you might as well take the bus.
This car has been called the baby Ferrari, presumably because it’s the company’s least-expensive offering, but baby Ferrari is a poor label otherwise. By dimensions, the California T slotted between the smaller, mid-engine 488 GTB sports car and the larger, hyper-hypo 812 Superfast. The Portofino is about an inch longer and a hair lower than the California T, on an identical 105.1-inch wheelbase.
Ferrari says the Portofino starts on an entirely new frame applying 12 different aluminum alloys as castings, extrusions and sheet metal. It has fewer pieces than the California T frame, with more hollow castings and 30 percent less welding, measured by length. Its underbody aero trays are aluminum rather than plastic, delivering more structural support and requiring less mass elsewhere in the frame. Ferrari’s new “Superplastic” hot stamping technique allows thinner aluminum body panels. They feel and sound almost like plastic.
In total, the Portofino drops 177 pounds compared to California T, according to Ferrari, with 40 percent of the total taken from the body-in-white (and 30 percent from the interior, 10 percent each from the doors and roof, engine and electrical). Yet fewer pieces and welds mean more stiffness and less vibration. Ferrari says suspension attachment points are 50 percent stiffer than the California T’s, while static torsional rigidity improves 35 percent.
2018 Ferrari Portofino, top down
The folding top has been redesigned, using a lighter, more compact operating mechanism and a larger rear panel and glass. It opens in 14 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph. A new manually deployed wind deflector reduces cockpit buffeting 30 percent.
The look? Ferrari, of course, with classic long hood/short deck GT proportions and a significant, more angular departure from the California T. The Portofino engages in both a visual and tactile sense, and its feature color—Rosso Portofino—looks like CalCustom candy apple red. Its fastback rear glass is more bellicose than the California T’s. The transition from open to closed—elegant spider, aggressive coupe—is almost dramatic. This might be the rare retractable metal roof that looks better up than down.
The Portofino’s 3.9-liter V8 starts with the same cylinder block as the California T’s, the same flat-plane crank and similar twin-scroll IHI turbos on each bank. Individual scrolls on each turbine are fed by two staggered cylinders to keep exhaust pulses precisely even and minimize lag. Only now the precisely equal length exhaust headers are sand-cast in a single unit with the turbo case, rather than welded up from pieces. There’s also a new alloy for the Portofino’s pistons and rods, larger, lighter intercoolers and a cleaner air induction path. Its exhaust pipes have been straightened, with increased diameter, and the mufflers have been fitted with an electronically controlled flap to manage decibels, depending on throttle use and drive mode.
The payoff for all this massaging, which essentially amounts to more air in, more out, is 562 lb-ft of torque from 3000 rpm. That’s an increase of five lb-ft compared to the California T, with the peak holding over a wider swath. Horsepower increases 39 to 592, still peaking at an unturbo-like, Ferrari-friendly 7500 rpm, for a 7.5 percent increase in specific output.
Ferrari’s seven-speed F1 dual-clutch automatic keeps the same ratios in the Portofino as it had in the California T, with the same torque management strategy. From first through third, maximum torque is capped at about 460 lb-ft, then increased progressively in successive gears. The 557 lb-ft peak comes only in seventh. The point is to generate progressively stronger acceleration with speed and replicate the longitudinal acceleration curve of a normally aspirated engine. The Portofino also upgrades with Ferrari’s E-Diff 3 differential, which can continuously vary the torque load to each wheel.
The biggest update in the Portofino’s chassis is electric power-steering assist—the first in this slot and only the second in a Ferrari, after the recently launched Superfast. The ratio is reduced 7 percent compared to the California T. Ferrari’s magnetorheological damping system has been upgraded with dual-coil shocks, meaning more current for more rapid, precise changes in damping rates. The improved shocks allow stiffer springs (15.5 percent stiffer in front, 19 percent rear) without a corresponding spike in ride harshness, according to Ferrari engineers.
Still, those engineers say the biggest contributors to the Portofino’s increased lateral grip versus the California T are its lower weight and the electronic differential, which also improves traction on low-friction surfaces. Portofinos roll on 20-inch rims with 245/35 and 285/35 Z-rated rubber from a manufacturer of the buyer’s choice.
Inside, the Portofino gets a horizontally-oriented dash similar to the 812 Superfast’s and a bit more rear seat space, created by thinner, lighter, magnesium-frame front seats. The rear seatback folds forward, sort of like a wide pass-through. Trunk volume increases to 10.3 cubic feet, thanks to a combo of more space and a more compact top mechanism. New air conditioning reduces operating noise 50 percent (8 decibels). It also increases response time 25 percent and airflow volume 20 percent, with different control logic when the top is open or closed. The new infotainment system gets a 10.5-inch screen with split view, faster processing and Apple Car Play.
The first Portofinos should reach U.S. dealerships in June, starting at $214,533 with the $3,750 destination charge, then roll out to customers in August. But do Ferrari buyers really care about trunk space or the infotainment system?
Apparently they do, at least in this slot, and we can credit former President Luca Cordera di Montezemolo for figuring it out. When he introduced the California at Paris in 2008, Montezemolo said Ferrari was launching a fourth, more versatile model for people who could afford a Ferrari but had previously found none to meet their needs. Perhaps the best characterization of Ferrari’s first front-engine V8 was Ferrari’s own: The California and its successors would be “the everyday usable Ferraris.”
Good move. When the last California rolled from Maranello in late May, 2014, production had surpassed 10,000, making it the top selling single-model series in Ferrari history. In the four years since, the California T has sold at a higher annual rate, and Ferrari doesn’t expect anything to change with the Portofino.
As with its everyday usable predecessors, Portofino buyers will drive their cars 2.5 times more than owners of other Ferrari models. Some 85 percent will drive their Portofino daily and for vacation travel, and 30 percent will put children in the back seat. Perhaps most important to Ferrari, 70 percent of Portofino buyers should be new to the brand.
The Portofino drives like a California T plus 10 percent, maybe a bit more, and we’d guess that’s enough to get the Silicon Valley types who made the California a hit thinking about their next car. Ferrari has played it safe with the Portofino, yes, but dwelling on the business plan minimizes how emotionally satisfying it is driving this car.
You may not need no stinking turbos, but we guarantee you’re going to like them in this beauty. Just let go of the thought that Ferrari V8s with turbos are somehow not good and enjoy the rush.
There is a rush—maybe not with the sheer intensity a similar V8 generates in the 488 GTB, but more than enough to demonstrate why Ferrari buyers seeking an all-purpose ride are drawn to this car. Flatten the accelerator and the Portofino flies, with nothing remotely like turbo lag, in a fashion that isn’t necessarily reflected in its impressive acceleration figures. Just be careful if you’re casually chewing gum when you slam the gas pedal, because the gum might get driven into your throat.
The turbo engine is more forceful at lower revs, compared to Ferrari’s naturally aspirated V8s five years ago, but the crazy thing is that the Portofino doesn’t run out of steam. Thanks to appropriate ratio selection and Ferrari’s torque management strategy, it just goes and goes as long as you can keep it flat, in long, Ferrari-appropriate swells of acceleration that make passengers suck a quick breath and shake static from the head.
Downside? Maybe that the turbo engine provides less flywheel effect than naturally aspirated V8s of Ferrari yore. Press the gas hard and it rockets. Lift and the boost drains, and it dives. That can be good on a track, or if you’re trying to save the brakes, but bad when there are fairly frequent, substantial pulses in traffic. The trick for smooth road travel in the Portofino is moderate application of throttle, and staying out of the high-boost zone (which plays into the plan anyway, because the ultimate point of the turbo engine is better fuel economy and fewer CO2 emissions). It isn’t hard to master.
And maybe the sound. The turbo engine’s noises are generally lower frequency and less metallic than those emanating from the California or a 458 Italia. Ferraris V8s now roar with a distinct rasp instead of wailing like a Banshee, but they still sound like heaven.
It’s been 20 years since Ferrari introduced the F1 automatic-clutch transmission in road car, and evolution has been kind. That first F1, in the F355, was good for one thing only: shifting manually while going fast. It was miserable as an automatic if you got caught in moderate traffic. In the Portofino, the F1 can still shift like the crack of a whip, but it’s more like a conventional torque-converter box at a sedate pace. There’s still a mild thumping during low-speed coast down, but this isn’t a Rolls-Royce, kids. It’s a 200-mph supercar, and in that context the transmission tuning for low speed will impress you.
The electric steering assist isn’t an obvious step down. A slightly quicker ratio makes for crisper turn-in compared to the California T, without inducing jitters at 120 mph, thanks to the torque vectoring rear diff. The Portofino’s steering falls on the light side, but not as light as some Ferrari hydraulic systems past, and on-center feel may be a slight step up. The Portofino unwinds quickly, and to the extent you can actually load the front tires on a road drive, seems to deliver progressively stronger torque feedback through the wheel. Carbon-ceramic brakes have been standard on Ferraris for ten years, and again, evolution is good. After 150 miles in the Portofino, you won’t notice a difference from conventional iron or steel, based on noise and vibration.
With its active torque-vectoring diff, relatively quick turn-in and relatively firm springs, the Portofino always feels athletic and nimble. Its balance of grip front to rear is apparent. Yet the trick here might be that, even at moderate speeds, the Portofino convinces you you’re really going, flowing, and working it like a pro. At posted road speed plus 10-20 percent, it’s so easy and accommodating that you can forget you’re directing a 600-hp, 1 lateral g, 200-mph convertible (or coupe). We suspect this ego-building is Ferrari’s artful intent.
Right now you might be wondering if this sensation of speed and hustle, as opposed to legitimate Ferrari speed and hustle, is somehow less than genuine Ferrari, or even lame. That’s probably ridiculous. If a 488 GTB is the baseline, the Portofino isn’t as pointy, nor constantly screaming to be hammered. Yet it will coddle you less, maybe protect you less, that some Aston Martins or a Bentley Continental GT. In sport mode, the Portofino will leave you more than enough rope to hang yourself—enough that, even in a straight line, the stability/traction control lets the rear end wiggle side-to-side under a heavy boot.
Ferrari’s test drivers report that, at the Fiorano test track, the Portofino laps a flat two seconds slower than a 488, with 69 less horsepower and a few hundred pounds more mass. On the other hand, it laps faster than some stiff, hot, ornery specials of Ferrari legend, including the F40.
The company seems quite confident in the Portofino’s ride quality. It offered the first test drives way down in the heel of the Italian boot, not far from Brindisi, where the roads are mostly old, polished smooth and frequently as cracked as any in Europe. There was a mild, recurring rattle somewhere in the region where the test car’s driver door panel met the dash. For now we’ll hang that on a pilot car. There was no racket from fast moving, crashing suspension bits, no wiggles along the dashboard, top up or down, nor even an urge to switch the Portofino out of sport mode, except for the obligatory sampling of a “rough road” feature in the suspension-management software.
2018 Ferrari Portofino, top up
The interface for the Portofino’s new infotainment system is surprisingly cogent, and the nav system works fine a good ways off the beaten path. Crazy sometimes thinking what has become of Ferrari.
The Portofino, elementally, is a cover-all-bases, everyday-usable Ferrari GT. Such cars require compromises, and the compromises in the Portofino are more artful than those is some other very expensive cars, with a flair that has separated Ferrari for 70 years. Take this one.
On Sale: August 2018
Base Price: $214,533
Powertrain: Front-mid 3.9-liter turbocharged V8, rear-mount seven-speed dual clutch automatic transaxle
Output: 592 hp @ 7500 rpm, 562 lb-ft from 3000;
Curb Weight: 3,668 lbs
0-60 MPH: 3.2 sec (est.)
Fuel Economy: 16/24/19 mpg (est)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Fast, sexy and loud when it wants to be. Few vehicles do compromise so successfully.
Cons: Aimed more at a target buyer than Ferraristi