The new 620hp Portofino M has a modified brief. How does it play in the UK…
By Dan Prosser / Wednesday, June 23, 2021 / Loading comments
Viewed head on, there is just a hint of Ferrari’s last V12 flagship, the F12 Berlinetta, in this new Portofino M. It’s the pair of intakes that sit low and wide apart in the bumper, adding menace to the front end. Like the Portofino before it and the California and California T before that, this 2+2 convertible plays a very particular role within Ferrari’s model line-up. Those new air intakes, however, are indicative of a slight change in method.
Now with 620hp from the same 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 as the fixed-roof Roma, the Portofino M is 20hp more powerful than the model it replaces. M stands for ‘modificata’, a reference to the tweaks and upgrades that have been made to make this a more sporting car than the one that came before it. With their folding hardtops, generous boots, comfortable suspension tuning and vestigial rear seats, the California and Portofino models are all aimed at everyday use, as well as buyers who have never owned a Ferrari before. But with this latest in the series, the Prancing Horse has lifted one blinker to also eye up more enthusiastic drivers.
Without wanting to make the car any more demanding in daily driving or more intimidating for customers who might be new to the marque, Ferrari set out to lend its droptop grand tourer some of the precision and response that earlier models lacked. More of the Fiorano, but no less of the swanky Italian coastal town that gave this car its name.
Around half of California and Portofino buyers hadn’t owned any Ferrari before. While some would move on to mid-engined or V12 models having had their first taste of Maranello, just as many would stick with the marque’s more laidback offerings. Along with the Roma, the Portofino M is the entry-point to new Ferraris, undercutting the F8 Spider by a full £50,000.
But where might its newfound dynamism come from? The Manettino driving mode switch now has five positions, the fifth being a Race mode. It is in that setting that Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer is engaged, which the company describes as ‘a lateral dynamics control system that uses Ferrari software to adjust the hydraulic brake pressure at the callipers on all four wheels.’ So it nibbles the brakes as you drive through and out of corners, making the car’s limit handling feel more predictable.
Elsewhere there’s an eight rather than seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It’s a new transmission that changes gears even more rapidly while also improving fuel consumption. Ferrari has made styling tweaks inside and out, while a gasoline particulate filter cleans up the car’s emissions but robs it of some power. To more than win back the horsepower losses, Ferrari’s powertrain engineers increased valve lift, enabled the turbos to spin faster and toyed with spray patterns – this wasn’t merely a case of ramping up boost pressures.
With its powered folding roof, the Portofino M is 100kg heavier than the Roma coupe it shares a platform and powertrain with. As the hardtop folds or unfurls itself, and as it drops into the boot or thumps back down onto the windscreen header rail, you feel the entire car jostle and wriggle with the effort of it all. In that moment, you realise what a burden it is for any sporting car to carry on its back a roof like this one, all that extra weight sure to be felt at every braking point and each time you turn the wheel.
The cabin itself is airy, though the rear seats are only any good for small children. While the Roma’s interior looks right up to date with its two great arcs of dashboard and the portrait touchscreen display that lives between them, the Portofino M’s interior belongs to a Ferrari design language that was introduced more than a decade ago when the 458 Italia was new, and it feels dated because of it.
What I noticed right away upon firing the V8 and pulling away for the first time is how good all-round visibility is on board the Portofino M. The scuttle is relatively low, meaning you observe the road clearly ahead of you, while even with the roof in position you see plenty over your shoulders. The low speed ride is comfortable and the steering light, all of which makes the car effortless in normal use. Only the brake pedal, which seems to respond with nothing at all right up until it responds with everything, making the car tricky to bring to a halt smoothly, undermines how easy it is to drive through town.
That pliant ride never deserts you, at least not until you switch into Sport or Race mode. Even then, as has become a reflex while driving these modern Ferraris, you press the Bumpy Road mode button to switch the adaptive dampers back to a more relaxed state, which works so brilliantly on our roads.
That’s when you find the supple chassis that deals well with bumps, but while keeping the mass of the car in check over a rising and falling road. The Portofino M has real body control, the kind that keeps the sump away from the surface of the road when you rattle through a sharp compression, but while marshalling the weight over crests. This, at long last, is the sort of performance car you can really chase along a B-road, feeling confident at its wheel.
Talking of which, the steering is measured and natural in its rate of response. Though it doesn’t flood your fingertips with messages, it isn’t overly light or exaggeratedly responsive like some Ferrari systems have been in recent times, allowing you to lean hard on the front axle from the first mile onwards. All of that combined means this is a droptop grand tourer that stands up to being thrashed along a back road, rather than recoiling at the prospect.
And the engine? It’s mightier than ever, still one of the most responsive turbocharged engines in production. Ferrari claims there is zero lag. It seems like marketing puff, but I find it buy into it. The force of the acceleration is fearsome, the way the torque is delivered – a little more with each new gear – meaning that shove doesn’t seem to wane as you shift up through the ratios. There is just a little bit of richness in this car’s soundtrack, but not the soaring musicality I would like. At least the eight-speed gearbox is close to flawless, managing to be smooth and refined in normal driving, then sharp and responsive in manual mode.
A significant step forward as a driver’s car, then, and yet certain truths remain inalienable. A topless car will always be less rigid than a fixed-roof one, for instance. There is some wobble and shimmy in the Portofino M’s structure across an uneven road, but less than you’d find in an F8 Spider. For another, a convertible car will invariably be heavier than a coupe one. Those two things mean an enthusiastic driver would still be far better served by the Roma, or better still the F8 Tributo.
A hint of the F12 Berlinetta? Perhaps. But no more than that.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI PORTOFINO M
Engine: 3,855cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],750-7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000-5,750rpm
0-62mph: 3.5 secs
Top speed: 199mph
Weight: 1,664kg (kerb)
MPG: 25 (WLTP)
CO2: 256g/km (WLTP)
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