The Portofino's reason for being is unambiguous. If the 488 GTB is about handling, the 812 Superfast about speed and the GTC4 Lusso flexibility (plus speed) the California's replacement is primarily about bums on seats. Specifically new bums. Customers previously unknown to Ferrari accounted for around 70 per cent of the California's sales volume. No less importantly for Maranello, these were not buyers talked out of a 488 by virtue of a lower asking price, but were apparently people who would never dream of buying a mid-engined supercar in the first place.
Attracting this sort of patron meant building a certain sort of car, one that Ferrari could not necessarily boast much experience of. Certainly it had built 2+2s before, and front-engined Grand Tourers, and drop tops - but never in the same package, and never with the implied usability that a non-488 sort of enthusiast might expect. Consequently, while the old California improved as it matured, it remained caught between pillar and post, being neither a sublime-riding GT nor precisely a thrill-a-minute Ferrari either.
In replacing it, Maranello claims to have listened to buyers like never before. Fully 85 per cent of them used their California as a daily driver, and 30 per cent even claimed to make regular use of the back seats. As a result, the Portofino does not fall far from the tree: there's a folding tin-top roof (with all its usual drawbacks and advantages), a turbocharged V8 engine in the nose, a platform and chassis overhauled to point where they could be called new and a comprehensive reworking of the car's styling.
The latter is to the Portofino's considerable benefit. Only the most generous spectator would describe the California as memorable. Its follow-up is much more comely, and a better fit for the design language currently in vogue at Maranello, too. Granted, there's a tiny bit of fuss about some of the new creases and a question mark lingering over the proportions of that back end with the lid down - but a prettier nose and the swoop of the roofline (delivering a proper two-box fastback silhouette) has rendered a sleeker, more satisfying brand of convertible.
No less gratifying is the effort put in underneath, where it seems Ferrari's engineers have diligently rethought, redesigned and recast most of the car's existing architecture so that 80kg might be subtracted from the kerb weight claimed for the California T. Commensurately, body stiffness has climbed by 35 per cent. Maranello says that new components are to thank for a lighter roof, too - always the most convenient place to subtract mass from a tin-top.
It hasn't made folding it up any quicker, mind. It's a conspicuously long 14 seconds, and the process remains inelegant when compared to the 488 Spider's switch blade-ish unroofing. In the quest to make the Portofino more liveable, Maranello (typically as interested in boot space as you might be with your mother-in-law's new haircut) has endeavoured to find room for three cabin trolleys with the roof up. It'll manage two with it down, although the canopy remains bulky enough to nix the idea of you using it for anything longer term - or something less conveniently sized.
The cabin, on the other hand, is visibly enhanced. Most of the hard points are unchanged, but Ferrari has subtly revamped much of what you see and touch for the better. There's a new steering wheel and instrument cluster, although it's alterations to the switchgear which generally make the Portofino seem a notch more usable than its predecessor - a feeling substantiated by the much larger 10.25-inch touchscreen now at the heart of the infotainment system. There are terrific new slim-backed front seats, too; slim enough to have gifted (temporary or child-sized) rear seat passengers an additional 50mm of legroom.
Behind the red starter button is the same turbocharged 3.9-litre flat-plane-crank V8 that powered the California T. For the Portofino, the engineers have again delved into the details; chiefly to chivvy at the passage of air through the engine. The intake, intercooling and exhaust have all been revised - and are predominately responsible for the 40hp increase in output - although, as ever, it's the exquisiteness of items like a new cast single-piece manifold (now with equal length runners) that beggar belief.
The total tonnage of such artistry is intended to land somewhere between pushing the button and depressing the accelerator. And it does: the V8 barks and snarls and does nothing that isn't zingy or rousing. Conversely though, it can't do understated or mellow either. It will not creep forward without being prodded, and while it is too responsive to ever be thought unobliging, it's not precisely amenable at low speeds either - not in the manner of, say, a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet anyway. Even with the Manettino dial switched to Comfort it gurgles a little too gassily and wants for the seamlessness that you might expect from a twin-clutch gearbox in auto mode.
Of course it's possible to forgive the Portofino all this pouty, highly-strung stallion stuff on a deserted hillside in southern Italy when it can also be trusted to hit 7500rpm in a way that feels neither turbocharged nor hopelessly strained. In Sport mode, with the paddles in play, the gear ratios suddenly shunt together with heft and speed, complimenting an engine that never demeans itself with too much linearity or mid-range paunch, but instead revs progressively and impeccably - and perhaps a little more vigorously than its forbear managed.
Around the habitual finesse of the V8, Maranello has installed the kind of fail-safe rear-bias handling dynamic that deploys its third-generation electric diff to maximum effect. The car's steering is electric now too, and its impulsive rate of response has apparently been sourced only one drawer down from the iteration used in the 488 GTB. There's a faint lack of build-up to the way the rack gathers resistance, although your inputs are made to seem so direct that it's disarmingly easy to send the Portofino into corners with cheery abandon and wait for the E-Diff and F1-Trac system to compute an exit strategy.
Elsewhere that reliance would be made to feel contrived, but Ferrari's algorithms are too sophisticated to get in the way of a rational amount of fun, especially when they've been underpinned by the introduction of stiffer springs and the latest Magnaride adaptive damping system. Compared to the California, it's the Portofino's tighter body control and lateral sense of poise that makes it seem so biddable. And while there are inevitably holes to pick - there's no side slip control here and far too much travel in the brake pedal - the car makes a fair fist of being a Ferrari against an arcade game backdrop.
The broader issues crop up when you return to earth and just want it to be a benign sort of Grand Tourer again. Even with Comfort mode or the now familiar 'bumpy road' damper setting engaged, there isn't enough leeway in the new springs to prevent the car from becoming agitated over the kind of middling disruptions that a close rival might judiciously smooth away. On main roads not dissimilar to those found in the UK, this tended to make for a forgettable, turbulent sort of progress at precisely the time when a six-figure cabriolet ought to have been soothingly good company.
The net effect is not unlike the inability of the drivetrain to make peaceable, blameless progress; Ferrari's persistence with a taut and edgy handling character ultimately handicapping fulfilment of the brief at the opposite end of the scale. Of course that rather makes the car sound like a chip off the old block: neither one thing or the other, doomed by a mandate just broad enough for Maranello to fail to wrap its collective head around. But the new model is comfortably better than that. Better looking, better furnished, better finished, faster and likeably sharper, too. A finer Ferrari then. It's just no better at being a four-seat GT car. Go figure.
SPECIFICATION - FERRARI PORTOFINO
Engine: 3,855cc, twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 561@3,000-5,250rpm
Top speed: 199mph
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