The Ferrari Portofino: a car that beguiles strangers

    21 October 2020

    The Ferrari Portofino is silvery grey like a fish, and lovely; you would call it the entry-level Ferrari, if you are a prat, or the Ferrari for cautious women, if you are a realist. This doesn’t bother the children at the Exeter Services, who beg me to raise the retractable roof, but that is what it is to travel in – or with – a Ferrari. Strangers have expectations of you, and that is a complex gift. You have to wear tights at least.

    The Portofino model is one year old, and it replaces the California: they are both Ferraris for people who are frightened of the Superfast (it is actually called that) and who, if sitting in the passenger seat at Goodwood Racetrack, have their hands on their helmets shuddering.

    There are many gorgeous cars just now. Some reviewers think this is the end of cars, as they are so perfect – so utilitarian – they have reached an apogee. Clarkson moans about this, but he moans about everything: the cars are not dangerous enough. Others think – and this is an equally masculine view – that as cars become utilitarian, they have lost what makes them special. (All the early astronauts, Tom Woolf noted in The Right Stuff, had sports cars to match their rockets).

    I think it is more accurate to call it the end of petrol and the beginning of electric. The first electric Ferrari will be here after 2025. And whilst they will no doubt be spectacular in their own way, what will they do for the engine noise? If you want a new petrol Ferrari, I would get one before then. Get the Last Petrol Ferrari.

    Understated but nevertheless sleek – the Ferrari Portofino

    All cars have personalities, even if we are projecting – that is why we buy them. Otherwise we would content ourselves with VW Golfs or Ford Fiestas. But nothing comes close to the consciousness of a Ferrari, which really does, to me, feel masculine and alive; or perhaps I think that because I like to drive close to the ground. (SUVs are practical, and often beautiful, but I find it hard to get excited about them. Look! Far-off mini roundabouts in the gloaming!)

    Marketing only works – and Ferrari is, by numbers, the most famous brand in the world – if the product is sound. Ferraris are like cold seawater or hot baths or chocolate biscuits: they are psychologically transformative and, therefore, addictive. That is why so many people own multiple Ferraris and take one after the other, like Maltesers. In the early years Enzo Ferrari only sold them to people he actually liked. It has nothing to do with travel in reality – though it does that very well – for no one needs to go from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds which is, by the way, insane. It is, rather, travel in your mind: the ultimate luxury good, and the only one that does not look ridiculous in Lego.  It comes in Lego, although the Lego one does not move, and Meccano too (likewise).

    It looks smaller than it is, like an actor. It is bubble curved and faintly sombre – it is not a 488, a car that screams its presence – with strangely elongated headlights and a hot, low grill for the horse. It is pretty then, and genteel for a Ferrari, filled with leather and a large touch screen (Ferrari has got user friendly in its seventh decade). It is perhaps less beautiful than the four-wheel drive Lusso (“Luxury”), which I drove on snow last year; there was an oddness to the Lusso which was very beguiling.

    The interior of the Ferrari Portofino – plenty of engine, not too many bells

    The drive, however, is glorious: plenty of engine, not too many bells. The opposite – all bells, no engine – is my nightmare. It is a V8 with a crazed amount of power but its opposite too: serene control. When I drove it across Bodmin Moor in a storm with the roof down – it can only be raised at 3omph and below – I did not even get wet. The rain flew over my head. I was moving faster than the storm.

    She looks, then, like what she is: an £160,000 luxury car. And, should you seek an Italian GT with retractable roof (not fabric, like the Aston Martin DB11 Volante), this is exactly the car for you. Or the fantasy you.