It seems almost sacrilegious to refer to the Ferrari Portofino M as an entry-level car as it sits here my driveway, looking resplendent in Rosso Portofino.
No Ferrari deserves to be labelled in this manner, at least none I’ve ever driven, and certainly not its latest GT convertible complete with retractable hardtop roof.
As a motoring journalist for more than a few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have piloted my fair share of Maranello’s finest creations over several decades.
While some lean towards mid-engine Ferraris, others favour the more traditional front-engine GT cars. I don’t have any preferences between the two.
Each one I’ve driven has provided an unforgettable driving experience, something I still cherish today, especially those driven flat-out in Italy.
To fully appreciate the Portofino M is to follow its lineage from the first modern take on the Ferrari California launched in 2008, designed under the watchful eye of Ken Okuyama, who also designed the Enzo.
I didn’t end up getting any seat time in the original California, and very little in the updated and turbocharged California T that dropped in 2014. I did end up in Italy, behind the wheel of the brilliantly revised California T Handling Speciale.
Next came the Portofino, cutting a leaner and more beautiful profile on the road. While it drove well enough, it didn’t measure up to the California T Handling Speciale for driver engagement.
It just wasn’t as sharp, nor did it inspire the same level of confidence.
I’d all but given up on the Portofino as a Ferrari worthy of the tick of approval from the genuine enthusiast set, until the Portofino M (for Modificata, or modified) arrived with improvements designed to sharpen vehicle response and driver feedback.
There’s a bit more power from the twin-turbo V8, and a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (from the Roma) with shorter spacings for the lower gears, and a longer stretch at the top end.
There’s also a new manettino mode dial with Race mode, a first for a Ferrari GT convertible, as well as better brake feel and a new exhaust that eliminates the two rear silences for a louder note.
The bodywork (mainly front and rear bumpers) have also been enhanced for better aerodynamics, while inside reveals a perfect blend of contemporary tech with some old-school instruments.
The Portofino M slots into the Prancing Horse stable one peg above the Roma, starting from $429,888 before on-roads and options.
The Portofino is priced from $403,888 before on-roads, and the fixed-head Roma is on the showroom floor with a $409,888 tag.
For those yet to decide on their exotic convertible, there are plenty of rivals prepared to take your hard-earned, like the Aston Martin DB11 V8 Volante ($406,495), and Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible ($450,100).
Lamborghini has its V10-powered Huracan Evo RWD Spider priced from $422,606 before on-roads.
Despite a long list of pricey options to choose from, the Portofino M also comes with plenty of standard kit, including:
- Carbon ceramic brakes
- LED headlights and taillights
- 20-inch alloy-painted wheels
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Dual-zone climate control air conditioning
- Auto headlights and wipers
- Keyless entry and start
- Electrochromic rear-view mirror
- Auto-folding and heated door mirrors
- 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation
- Performance launch control
- Car protection cover
- Battery maintainer (trickle charger)
- Carpet mats
The options fitted to our tester were extensive and comprised the likes of;
- Rosso Portofino exterior paint: $20,090
- Scuderia Ferrari shields on fenders: $2987
- Sports exhaust pipes: $1357
- Adaptive front lighting system: $5431
- Adaptive suspension with Magneride: $8959
- Heat-insulating windscreen: $1901
- Rosso contrast stitching: $2721
- Square pattern style leather seat upholstery: $8007
- Ventilated full electric seats: $12,488
- Aluminium driver and front passenger foot rest: $1357
- Foldable rear-seats backrest: $2715
- Passenger speed, revs and gear display: $9501
- Hi-power audio system: $10,045
- Rev counter in red: $1248
- Carbon fibre steering wheel with shift LEDs: $12,215
- ADAS full package: $14,660
- Surround-view monitor: $9773
- Neck warmer: $5431
- Front grille with chromed edges: $2715
That bumps the price to an eye-watering $563,489 before on-road costs, or considerably more than an F8 Tributo Spider.
Due to the high cost of Ferraris and all other exotic sports cars, the Portofino M hasn’t been crash tested for any market. That’s unlikely to ever change.
Nevertheless, it comes with driver and passenger airbags, an electronic differential, sixth-generation side-slip control, and ISOFIX for the rear seats.
Our tester was also fitted with an optional suite of active safety technologies, including adaptive cruise with stop/go, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam, traffic-sign recognition, surround view with a 3D display, and rear-cross traffic alert.
I’m a sucker for a regulation-red Ferrari with tan leather seats and contrast red stitching. Anything else is a compromise in my mind.
Unlike the Roma and its full-screen approach to infotainment and instruments, the Portofino M is the perfect blend of old and new. It’s modern, but also feels like the cars I grew up with.
For instance, the instrument display is one of this car’s best features, using a centrally-positioned and analogue rev counter in an anti-glare binnacle, which is flanked by dual 5.0-inch TFT screens displaying information such as a digital speedometer and vehicle information.
It’s not busy, but it certainly doesn’t leave you wanting more info.
The optional carbon steering wheel with LED shift lights at the top is a thing of beauty, and feels exceptional in the hands. It also has a red start button, five-position manettino switch, damper settings, and typical Ferrari turn-signal buttons.
It looks and feels a bit like Carlos Sainz’s weekender, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s not just the rich smell of leather that excites here, it’s the full leather dash with impeccable stitching and metal work that makes the Portofino M’s cockpit feel special.
Then again, I’ve never driven a Ferrari that didn’t feel that way inside.
There’s also decent space for odds and ends throughout this cabin, with room forward of the console bridge that houses the drive buttons, while the centre-console bin itself can swallow phones, wallets, and keys.
The 10.25-inch infotainment screen is crystal clear and in easy reach of driver and front passenger, but it lacks the seamless integration of some makes.
Below that is a cluster of shortcut buttons and a small console for the HVAC system, that effectively consists of four large (and endlessly flexible) turbine-style vents.
Our tester was fitted with the optional passenger screen that shows speed, revs, and gear position, offering some involvement for the passenger should things become exciting in the M.
Not only do they offer another visual treat, the aluminium pedal set and optional aluminium footrest for driver and front passenger offer brilliant feel.
This is a Ferrari that looks just as good with the roof open or closed. The process of lowing or raising it is simple and relatively quick, taking around 13 seconds if you want the windows down too.
If there’s a chill in the air and you still want the roof open, there’s an optional neck warmer that directs heated air from vents just below the headrest in three fan speeds.
As you might have guessed, the Portofino M is a genuine two-plus-two, meaning these some tight rear seats for very young kids. There’s a 292L boot, but only when the roof is raised. It eats significantly into the boot when it’s lowered.
The Portofino M is a traditional front-engine GT car from the house of the Prancing Horse. And like it or not, it could be the last time we see a flat-plane V8 with twin-turbos at work under the bonnet of anything coming out of Maranello.
In this case, all 456kW of power and 760Nm of torque are sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission lifted from the Roma.
It may sit close to the bottom of Ferrari’s performance curve, but the Portofino M is capable of blistering performance.
It’ll go from standstill to 100km/h in 3.45 seconds, or 0.5 seconds quicker than the standard Portofino.
Moreover, the engine belongs to the same V8 turbo family voted “International Engine of the Year” on four consecutive occasions between 2016 and 2019.
There’s something scintillating about hitting the bright-red start button on a carbon-fibre steering wheel emblazoned with the Prancing Horse, even before the starter whirs and the V8 fires to life.
For the first few minutes, I’m quite happy to potter around with the manettino switch pointing to Comfort. Unless you’ve got a bit of clear road ahead, this is easily the choice for roof-down boulevard cruising on a Sunday.
Even then, give the throttle a bit of a nudge and the Portofino M has one of those Jekyll and Hyde moments before dropping four gears and piling on the pace like the seriously fast Ferrari it truly is.
What amazes me is just how quick throttle response is, and how immediately the new gearbox responds, albeit from seventh gear. Switch to Race or even Sport and you’ll be wishing you were anywhere but Australia.
This is where the Portofino M feels like a race-ready bit of kit, roof down or not.
The shift speed is off the clock when left to its own mapping, but it won’t be enough, so you start pulling the lightweight carbon-fibre paddles for more engagement on the drive.
It’s so quick I’m seriously wondering if there’s any need for something quicker, because this alone at full throttle feels like warp speed with no discernible lag.
Ferrari is in a league of its own when it comes to throttle response and shift speed regardless of where the car sits in its line-up. It’s testament to its remarkable engineering, designed to create a unique experience for driver (and passenger).
It feels way sharper than the standard Portofino, although like the Roma, the steering requires a more delicate attitude than you might be used to.
It’s wonderfully quick, and capable of rapid changes of direction with very little movement of the steering wheel. This is the Ferrari way these days.
The carbon-ceramic brakes are phenomenal, not just for their ability to wipe off big speed in the shortest possible distance, but for their natural feel and the sure-footed feedback they deliver. They don’t actually feel like ceramic brakes except for the crazy-good stopping power.
Body control and ride compliance are two more aspects Ferrari consistently delivers on, and the Portofino M is no different. Even in Sport when driven with a fair amount of commitment, the suspension offers a perfect balance between ride and handling.
There’s no body roll, but the adaptive dampers help the car maintain a high level of grip and composure while ironing out the bumps. It’s almost all too easy in the Portofino M, but there’s also great feedback from the major controls. All this with the roof down.
Turn the seat heating and air scarf on and, unless it’s raining cats and dogs, keep it open and enjoy the noise.
Even though Ferrari had to put in a new exhaust equipped with a particulate filter, which effectively robs the turbocharged V8 engine of even more noise, it was re-engineered for a strong exhaust note throughout the rev range.
It’s not scintillating like an old-school naturally-aspirated Ferrari V8 or V12, but I can assure you it’s still highly emotional as you’re rowing through the gears and watching background start to blur. Even better on the rapid downshifts.
Ferrari offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the Portofino M, along with a maintenance program which covers all scheduled servicing for the first seven years of its life.
Those service intervals are at either 20,000km or once a year, whichever comes first.
Roof down or up, the Portofino M is a beautiful machine, especially in Rosso Portofino.
It’s also fundamentally better than the Portofino it replaces in every way.
I’ve been besotted with the 812 Superfast since driving it in Italy a few years ago, but I’m pretty sure the Portofino M is the better daily, given its breadth of capability – not to mention its more manageable size and cost.
It’s a seriously quick two-plus-two with enough room to collect the kids from school, and sublime handling and ride comfort to make you feel like a Ferrari Formula 1 pilot the moment you turn that glorious manettino switch to Race.
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