I recently had the chance to drive a 2018 Ferrari Portofino, which is the latest Ferrari model that replaces the California T. As usual, the Portofnio has inspired a slew of negativity from Ferrari fans for the fact that it’s the "entry-level" model and that it’s not a "true" Ferrari. These people are all completely wrong.
I drove the Portofino courtesy of Ferrari of Newport Beach, which is a beautiful Ferrari dealership in the very center of the luxury sports car capital of the planet — Orange County, California. Ferrari of Newport Beach has everything, and they recently received a Portofino as a demo car. They sent me a note asking if I’d like to drive it, and I don’t have to be asked twice to go and drive a new Ferrari.
So here are the specs. The Portofino has about 600 horsepower and 651 lb-ft of torque, which are truly insane numbers for an "entry-level" Ferrari. It’ll also do 199 miles per hour, which is similarly crazy — the result is that the Portofino has more power, more torque and roughly the same top speed than the revered 575M, the Ferrari flagship from just a few years ago. This is a serious car.
And it drives like one, too. Obviously, acceleration is impressive, as it does 0-to-60 in 3.5 seconds, but a lot of cars accelerate quickly, and it’s not particularly difficult to make a quick sports car. But the Portofino’s biggest asset, in my mind, is its steering and handling. The steering is incredibly precise, with a monstrously quick steering rack that seems to respond to the smallest inputs. The steering may be electronic (and, indeed, it is), but it’s not overassisted, light or vague. It feels exactly how you’d want a sports car’s steering to feel.
Handling, too, is exceptional, with the Portofino boasting an incredibly controlled body in turns with very little body roll and no fears about its intended trajectory. It doesn’t handle very differently from some of the better front-engine sports cars on the market, including vehicles like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which has the advantage of being both smaller and lighter. It’s hard to describe how impressed I was with the Portofino’s handling, except to say it’s very much in "real Ferrari" territory and behind the 488 GTB only due to physics: It’s just impossible to push out of a corner like a midengine car. Otherwise, the Portofino has it all.
And that includes engine note. Recent turbocharged Ferrari models have gotten some negative press for not having "true" Ferrari engine sounds, but that’s certainly not true of the Portofino. With this car, it seems like Ferrari has stepped up its game, recognizing that the engine note has to stay thrilling for people to remain interested in the new crop of turbo cars. That’s exactly what has happened, as the Portofino sounds as angry and aggressive as you want it to — when you’re on the throttle.
When you’re not on the throttle, the Portofino offers another major benefit: It’s surprisingly docile. This is a car that can reach supercar speeds and offers breakneck acceleration — but it can also cruise around town, if that’s what you want. This is maybe the Ferrari that most offers everyday drivability and Ferrari performance, combining those two items better than probably any other Ferrari on the market.
If it sounds like I’m effusive in my praise for this car, that’s intentional. I liked the original Ferrari California, but it was a bit odd-looking — a problem the California T fixed. But both of those cars still carried some of the "entry-level" Ferrari stigma, as they didn’t quite touch the "true" Ferrari models in terms of simple desirability. I think the Portofino may suffer from a similar fate by virtue of simply being the entry-level Ferrari, but it doesn’t deserve it — it’s an amazing car, it’s one of the best modern Ferrari models, and at $250,000, it’s the bargain of the Ferrari range.
That may sound crazy to say, but it’s now easy to equip a 488 well into the $300,000-plus range — and the 812 Superfast can be pushing $450,000 with options. The Portofino does it all for a lot less — and it’s the Ferrari that I, personally, would buy if I were in the market.
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