'Zero to 100kph? The claimed time of 3.5sec sounds about right. This Ferrari may be easier to drive, but it’s still instinctive.'
Dubai is an intriguing destination. It’s basically a desert that has become a major business hub. While the oil production has helped boost Dubai’s growth in the early stages, tourism and real estate have truly put the city on the world map. It also helps that the city sits halfway between Asia and Europe.
From a car nut’s point of view, the UAE's largest city is seen as a playground of the rich—a sandbox filled with all these exotic cars we could only dream of. And a fitting place to present the Ferrari Portofino, and the car’s first drive outside of Europe.
The Portofino is the successor to the California, a 2+2 hardtop convertible concept Ferrari introduced 10 years ago. There was something amiss about it, though. The front-end looked somewhat bug-eyed or appeared to smile too much with that grille combo. Sort of un-Ferrari like, in other words. The roofline also didn’t naturally blend with the rear. And even the name was too much of a tribute to the sunniest region of its most important market. They revised the design with the California T, but it still wasn’t convincing enough.
The Portofino, on the other hand, appears to be much more thought-out. It’s still a retractable hardtop but looks like two cars in one—a fastback coupe and an elegant spider. The headlights are slimmer and more swept back (which sort of bring to mind the 365 Daytona’s front end), the rear more dynamic with a tapered spoiler and sharper taillights. On the sides, triangular grooves result to triangular flanks, for the sake of style and aero. And the name? It’s named after a village on the Italian Riviera best known for its scenic harbor. La dolce vita!
Propelling this GT is a front mid-mounted 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8 derived from the V8 line that won the International Engine of the Year awards in 2016 and 2017. It now delivers 592hp and 760Nm, making it the fastest Ferrari convertible to date. New mechanical components include bigger yet lighter pistons and specific calibration to the engine management software. Coupled to the V8 is a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with a third-generation electronic rear differential Ferrari refers to as E-Diff3—adopted for the first time on this type of Ferrari.
All of that ride on a completely new aluminum chassis and a damping system with stiffer springs. Our Ferrari pro driver/instructor tells us the results are a 35% increase in torsional rigidity and a total weight reduction of 80kg. Can’t wait to take it out, then!
Before heading out for our drive, however, it's time to get comfy in the cockpit first. The 10.25-inch high-definition multi-screen controls navigation, the sound system, as well as the bolstering of the seats (a really cool feature).
We start the journey by heading to Fossil Rock, an hour away from downtown Dubai. Initial impression? Torque is linear, more usable on a daily basis.
By now I’ve said this one too many times: Smaller-displacement turbocharged engines are the way to go. Purists made a fuss about the move with the 488, but Ferrari silenced them by getting it right. And the sound? Still sounds like a Ferrari should.
I’m cautious of getting carried away, though. As much as the convoy is tempted to gun it, it’s standard highway driving, staying within the limit of 100kph. I’m hoping we can experience its maximum and 0-100kph sprint soon somehow.
When cruising, the Portofino proves to be a versatile grand tourer. Ferrari simply knows how to make things feel special, even at sane speeds. While the V8 isn’t in full song, how about listening to some tunes? Dubai being a happening place means it’s music-savvy, and there are a number of cool stations to choose from for you to crank up those tunes through the JBL sound system.
While I’m told we’re fortunate to experience Dubai in fairly pleasant weather before it really scorches up starting May, you’ll still think twice of putting the top down—we’re traveling through the Sharjah Desert and the sand is so fine, it easily gets kicked up.
We get to Fossil Rock, a massive natural rock structure with marine fossil formation from millions of years ago when water covered much of Arabia. This region of Sharjah apparently is endowed with archaeological sites from the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron, Pre-Islamic, Islamic, and the modern ages.
From Fossil Rock, we drive to the Hatta Water Dam. This is where the drive becomes more interesting. A good portion of the route is off the highway, with a bit more curves and hilly portions this time. The Portofino is fitted with electronic power steering—the first application of EPS in a Ferrari GT model (the first EPS was in the 812). It’s nimble and still has a lovely amount of heft.
There’s also a long stretch of road that seems deserted.
It’s 760Nm from a standstill.
It’s wild, so much so that it fishtails!
Lag? Zero—or very close to it, at least. It’s just uninterrupted all the way to the redline. Zero to 100kph? The claimed time of 3.5sec sounds about right. This Ferrari may be easier to drive, but it’s still instinctive.
We get to the Hatta Dam, a scenic destination with the Hajar mountains as the backdrop and a huge lake popular for kayaking. A picture-perfect landscape, it’s a far cry from the surrounding desert. With midday upon us, we’re starting to really feel the heat. After some light refreshments, we head back west to Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, which is about 174km away.
Bab Al Shams looks refreshing, especially after the two-hour drive. With rippled sand and some greenery, it’s a pretty background to shoot the car. And with the sun getting softer, we’re finally able to drop the top. I, too, take some shots for the ‘gram.
A friend and fellow car enthusiast who lives in Dubai commented on a photo I posted, saying it doesn’t look like a Ferrari anymore. Really? The Portofino looks more like a Ferrari than the California ever did, in my opinion.
The California helped bring in 70% of new clients, but also targeted the existing clientele when the entry-level GT was added to the stable 10 years ago. No doubt the Portofino will pick up where the California T left off.
The Portofino will be launched in our market third quarter of this year.