Portofino M distills the essence of the Ferrari myth and pours it into a vessel many people can comprehend and enjoy. Cruising top-down, a moonlight drive with fresh ocean air, you’re leading man in the art house film of your own imagination.
Like California T and Portofino before it, Portofino M is a docile, wieldy craft for trawling beach neighborhoods of my native California—Laguna, Lido, Corona Del Mar, Naples Island. Many a Portofino M will never leave such enclaves, never be more than a few miles from the sand, only exercising power in quick blasts from stoplights on Pacific Coast Highway.
On the mountain, on a 2-lane back road, the art house film changes from romantic to action-adventure. Top down, looking over the fendercrests on short mountain straights, sounds reverberating off sheer rock faces pearlescent with dew, reverie sets in. For a few moments, you can be Fangio or Hill, Castellotti or Collins headed for glory in a 1950s Ferrari sports-racing car. Except Portofino M is reliable, smooth, and comfortable, the HVAC “scarf” flowing warm air over neck and shoulders.
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“M” signifies adoption of the 611-horsepower Roma version of Ferrari’s exquisite twin-turbo corporate V8, with a gain of nearly 20 horsepower. Roma’s 8-speed dual-clutch transaxle, derived from the 989-horsepower SF90 Stradale hypercar’s gearbox, is also adopted with slightly different ratios to best suit Portofino. Ferrari’s neural-quality electronics and stability control upgrades and extensions are also part of the bargain.
Man-machine relationship combined with tidy proportions allow most people to understand Portofino M almost immediately, the car becoming familiar within 10 or 15 minutes, an extension of self. Most neophytes need time to acclimate to a mid-engine car like Ferrari Tributo, to adjust to the sensation of being placed so far forward. Same applies to the 812 Superfast’s extremely long hood. Such cars are other-worldly compared to more conventional luxury coupes and sedans.
Powertrain and electronics are so flawlessly integrated, so seamless that on the hunt Portofino almost feels alive, like riding the back of a giant cat. A half-dozen full-tilt launches on a long, lonely dogleg straight running through a high mountain meadow proved that nothing’s lost in translation from Roma.
And here again, the synaptic shift quality of the new 8-speed gearbox and all the scripted delivery of torque emphasizes that the transaxle hanging between the rear wheels is just as important as the engine. There’s no hard THONK on the 1-2 shift, no awkwardness. Shock-free shifts every time.
Shifting gears rapidly up and down, using the manual shift paddles behind the steering wheel, creates a Portofino symphony: upper intake dancing at high revs, mixed with rich baritone turbo gooosh that is particularly strong when dipping deeply into the throttle and immediately following an upshift. Voluminous bass-baritone exhaust in Sport and Race settings completes the sensory immersion, a big brass section. Any Ferrari neophyte invited along for a drive will be entranced.
Sure, the Roma and Portofino M engine and gearbox symphony are subtler than big brother 812 Superfast’s 789-horsepower V12 screaming to 9000 rpm, arguably the greatest naturally aspirated engine currently offered.
But any car that can slip under 3.5 seconds to 60 mph and cover a quarter-mile in the 11-second range will set the adrenals afire. Ferrari’s corporate twin-turbo V8 is easy to exploit. Launching Portofino M from standstill to far beyond high speeds brought the same involuntary war whoops generated doing the same in a V12 Superfast—what a beautiful way to greet the early morning light.
More than any other company, Ferrari understands that driving is both a function and a sensual experience, beyond spec sheets and measurable performance. Ferrari blends sensory input in a manner no one else can replicate. In most German sporting GTs, it’s a wartime experience when driving hard, a mechanical function the rest of the time. In a Ferrari, it’s cinematic, it’s art house.
Because Portofino M’s job description includes cruising beach enclaves, it’s no surprise the options list features a suit of safety technology: rear cross traffic warning, predictive emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with a Stop & Go function, blindspot monitoring, lane departure warnings and traffic sign recognition.
Purists might scoff, but all these technologies are valuable at lower speeds in crowded venues, where half the fun is the distraction of smiling back at your admirers. Truth is, even reaching my favorite mountain route requires schlepping through traffic, even at 5 AM.
Before ticking off carbon-fiber pieces to dress the interior or engine compartment—the carbon-fiber steering wheel with built-in LED rev indicator is a mandatory option—order the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) for life in crazy California, or crazier Miami. Don’t skip the radar or surround view, either.
On the hunt these safety technologies do not impact your status as a virile male—you can turn them off. Instead, they pay dividends when you commit that ultimate act of automotive faith and generosity, tossing the keys to your favorite college student home for Christmas break, eager to meet up with her childhood best friend for a shopping expedition and afternoon drive that cleanses the soul.