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First drive: 2018 Ferrari Portofino in the UAE (video)

First drive: 2018 Ferrari Portofino in the UAE (video)

This is the brand new Ferrari Portofino, the carmaker’s new “entry-level” model, and one of the few cars in its (very high) price segment with a folding hard top. And unlike the previous California model, no one is going to claim that the Portofino is not a real Ferrari, because it looks suitably Ferrari-like whether the roof is up or down.

The roof can be made to disappear into the rear compartment in 14 seconds with the push of a button, and even with the top down the Portofino retains its stunning good looks.

After the complicated roof folds away, there is very limited boot space with the top down, which takes away from what is supposed to be the “practical” Ferrari. However, let’s not dwell on that for too long.

The Portofino’s cabin features all the familiar Ferrari design elements, including the four circular vents, plus the slim floating centre console with a trio of knobs for the transmission and launch control. Our car’s interior is trimmed in leather all over. Only a few grey-painted plastic trim bits detract slightly from the ambience of this expensive car.

The front seats are supportive yet not cramped, and you sit pretty low in the car. Space in the back seat is expectedly tight though.

The car is filled with the latest in automotive gadgetry, such as the 10.2-inch capacitive touchscreen on the centre console, LCD screens within the gauge cluster and an optional 8.8-inch touchscreen on the passenger side of the dashboard that your travelling companion can fiddle with to see g-force and speed readings.

Speaking of speed, under the Ferrari’s angry face sits a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8, good for 600 hp and a massive 760 Nm of torque. The Portofino isn’t overly heavy at 1664 kg, and this is partly the key to a brisk 0-100 kph time of 3.5 seconds and 0-200 kph in 10.8 seconds as Ferrari says. It will even top 320 kph if you can find the space for it.

Ferrari also brags that there is no turbo lag, and it certainly does behave like a naturally aspirated engine, with linear power build-up and top-end kick. That makes it more interesting to drive only when it is being pushed hard. Otherwise it settles down in grand tourer mode for casual cruising, and can even get a bit boring.

The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, in this or any other Ferrari, is arguably the finest gearbox of its kind, with lightning-quick shifts up or down, and instant responses to inputs via the big paddles. Granted, it’s not as super-sensitive to throttle-position changes as in the 488, but it’s still very quick in selecting the right gears.

Keeping the drive mode selector on the steering wheel in ‘Sport’ allows a fair degree of sideways slip before cutting down on the action. That’s no bad thing, and you have to be doing something really aggressive to make it slide, as there is a ton of grip on dry tarmac.

The new electric steering still offers feedback, so you can confidently push hard, but it’s not as communicative as in older Ferraris such as the 488. The ceramic brakes are also very strong, yet they work fine in daily driving as well, with no grabby or squeaky behaviour.

Speaking of daily driving, the Portofino is very easy to move around town with, and not jumpy or twitchy at all. On the highway, it rides firmly and cabin quietness is average at best, but it is reasonably comfortable. For a more serene drive, you’ll have to look elsewhere in this price bracket, perhaps at Bentley, Mercedes-AMG or even Porsche.

All in all, the Portofino may not be as ridiculously fun as its high-strung siblings such as the 488 and the Superfast, and it’s not as comfortable a grand tourer as several of its price-segment rivals, but there’s still plenty to like. The all-new look is muscular and dramatic, it’s fast and it is sort of practical as well. The Portofino isn’t the ultimate Ferrari, but it makes more sense for its target market.

Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury. Video voiceover by Tammam Mazen and edited by Raies Imam.

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