ferrari portofino m: this ferrari needs more fizz

© Provided by Independent Online (IOL)

IF YOU are in the market for a Ferrari - I mean the kind of Ferrari that makes your hands sweat and your pulse quicken and your mind race long after you've parked for the night-do not buy the 2022 Ferrari Portofino M.

The new R4.95-million convertible lacks the seriously sensuous curves and chiseled supermodel cheekbones that Ferrari has perfected over decades of making the most beautiful and collectable cars in the world.

Aside from the signature manettino switch and thumb-activated indicators, the interior lacks a distinctive "Ferrari-ness" in the way signature cabins in vehicles from Bentley and Lamborghini have that whisper or scream, respectively, of the brand that birthed them. With plastic-feeling knobs and air vents, a torture-chamber of a back seat, and a trunk that will fit three six-packs at best, this could be mistaken for the interior of a car far less expensive and with a substantially lesser pedigree.

Which is not to say that the Portofino M is a bad car - it's just not a great Ferrari. Its driving style is comfortable and quick, and although it doesn't meet par against other grand tourers, it may be more usable than most Ferrari models. But the Portofino M will never be a car that comes close to defining the marque.

Let's go back to where it all began. Named after the touristic former fishing village on the Italian Riviera, the Portofino M is the mid-cycle upgrade to the Ferrari Portofino that debuted in 2017, a model that replaced the rather banal California and the better California T.

M stands for modificata, or "modified," and this update to Ferrari's new grand tourer does indeed come with some vaguely pleasant modifications: 20 more horsepower than its predecessor; an eight-speed gearbox instead of seven; new torque control that makes it smoother under lower speeds; and a "race" mode, the first on a Ferrari GT convertible. Styling mods include air intakes on the hood, a new drag-reducing vent on the top of each wheel arch, and aluminum slats along the grille. It also has a new rear diffuser, which can come in carbon fiber.

Together, these enhance the driving experience over the previous Portofino, and it made for a fun four-day loan, including a Sunday jaunt to the beach. The new engine note sounded different enough from, say, that of a Toyota to get some attention; the feel of the brakes, suspension, and steering obligingly altered as I switched driving modes (choices: Wet, Comfort, Sport, Race, and ESC-Off) racing down Interstate 10 toward the Pacific Coast Highway. It drove smoothly and nimbly through traffic, and the retractable hardtop adequately shut out exterior road noise, so one could enjoy the Portofino M as a coupe, if one so desires.

With a respectable zero to 100km/h acceleration time of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 320km/h, the car is objectively fast, although it is not as light, nimble, or beautiful as the Ferrari Roma-which I adored and which, at R4.85m, costs a little less.

Despite such new creature comforts as heated and ventilated seats, the Portofino M lacked the overall posh pomp and artisan excellence that another grand tourer, the Bentley Continental GT, had in spades when I drove it just weeks earlier. Grand tourers at their best excel at high-speed, long-distance driving.

The Portofino M is just too uneven. With the top down, the visibility was excellent. Not so with the top up: That rear pillar is a black blot. And the new wraparound front bumpers that contribute to the car's too-softened looks make it hard to see over the hood when parking.

In the plus column: The tilt of the windshield, which can darn near totally obstruct my view in some exotic convertibles, easily accommodated even my long torso. In the negative column: The tiny trunk lacks any button to close and open it automatically, a normal component for plenty of GT cars and, at a price of nearly a quarter-million dollars, hardly a diva request. Is this not a luxury car?

More good and bad: The top drops in a short 14 seconds at speeds up to 40km/h - but lands with a decidedly not-posh clunk when it hits bottom.

I'm happy to report that the front seats are exceptionally comfortable; the rear seats were so small that when the front seats were arranged to allow decent legroom, no leg would ever fit in the back. The familiar jokes about using such perfunctory seats simply as hat- and purse-holders are true. That's all fun and games for cars that don't also purport to be for long-weekend holiday trips and practical driving, for which space and genial accommodation are key.

Here is my favorite thing about the Portofino M: It is high enough off the ground (Ferrari declined to discuss the exact clearance) to navigate tricky driveways, valet stations and pockmarked streets in the downtown Arts District. Now, that is what I call useable. You can't say that about many other fast rigs from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Pagani, Bugatti, and so forth, which make stressful driving for exotic sports cars that are otherwise divine.

The Portofino M is best used for leisurely trips around pretty areas on sun-drenched afternoons-as long as you don't need to put much in the trunk. During my test drives, it accomplished this with ease in ergonomic seats behind rich exterior paint hues and distinctive wheel rims, all while brandishing that all-important status symbol: the yellow Ferrari badge. I got plenty of (unwanted) attention in this rig from truck drivers and dudes in Hondas, who will honk at any blonde in a red car. Driving with the top up reduces that nonsense by half.

But as a driver, I found nothing really thrilling. A little love bite-a jolt to the senses-once in a while should remind us of the rich, blue blood prancing through its veins. That's exactly why one desires a Ferrari. The Portofino M lacks charismatic impetus. For all its softened edges and driving comforts, this is one prancing pony we can live without. - Bloomberg

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