The gearbox, too, gives further impetus to the slowly coagulating sense that the car’s identity is slightly muddled, and permanently at odds with itself. The twin-clutch unit is at its best when you’re shifting gears manually using the column-mounted paddles, when it thunks each up- and down-shift through with real speed and vigour. But it’s unconvincing when you just leave it in ‘auto’ mode, often timing its shifts with frustrating hesitancy, feeling a touch clumsy on step-off and when manoeuvring, and refusing to creep as you lift off the brake pedal. In a mid-engined supercar, all of those quirks are easy to overlook. But in a grand tourer, effortless ease-of-use matters much more.
In typical Ferrari convention, the Portofino has three driving modes which variously configure its powertrain, dampers, steering and stability control – but it also has a separate ‘bumpy road’ suspension override button so that you can have most of the systems set for optimum driver engagement but the dampers set to soft. Suffice it to say, the car has obvious, regular need of that ‘bumpy road’ button.
The Portofino’s ride too easily becomes jittery and restless on a vaguely undulating surface in ‘sport’ mode. It calms down a bit when you dial down the suspension, but never quite avoids a clunk or fidget for long enough, whatever sort of road you’re on, to successfully create the easy long-striding aura of a proper GT car. There’s a touch of body shudder, too, over the worst, sharpest lumps and bumps.
Does the Portofino handle like a true Ferrari?
The car’s handling also helps to rob it of the breadth of ability needed to make it seem suited to any journey; relaxing, at times, as well as exciting. The new electric steering’s very direct – hardly less so than is a 488’s – and while it has weight, doesn’t manage that weight cleverly enough to give you something to push against as the front wheels bite. There’s almost no stability-minded ‘dead zone’ to the Portofino’s rack around the straight-ahead, and so it demands as much of your concentration on the motorway as a 488 would.
Away from there there’s better news. Ferrari’s habitually effective lateral body control and incredible handling response is absolutely in evidence in the way you can so readily flick the Portofino into fast corners. The car’s on-throttle handling balance has plainly been taken to new heights by that active diff – to the point, however, that the whole dynamic mix now seems a touch over-seasoned.
There’s no need for owners to worry: the stability controls work well to make the car feel incisive but obedient when they’re active, and there’s plenty of fun to be had with them on. But Ferrari’s remarkable side slip control oversteer-tamer isn’t fitted here – and without it, you just never feel sufficiently at ease with the car’s steering pace, or have the confidence you’d need in the predictability of the rear axle, to be inclined to get stuck into that final layer of the driving experience.
There is certainly quite a lot of added alertness and attitude about this car’s dynamic character, and for a great many owners it may very well feel like the authentic Ferrari roller-coaster-ride that the California perhaps failed to serve up. In some ways this is a more versatile, better luxury sports car than a California, too.
But be it by design or accident, this is a car that seems to me little easier-to-drive, easier-going or broader-of-bat, if at all, than several mid-engined supercars I could mention – and one of them built by Ferrari itself. If someone asked me to drive 300 miles on ordinary roads and in uninterested fashion in one or the others right now, I don’t think I’d pick the new boy.
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