What it’s like to drive a Ferrari for the first time

Because a man can dream
by Jason Tulio | Nov 21, 2018
PHOTO: Jason Tulio
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Pardon the disclaimer, but like many of you, I grew up fantasizing about horses of the prancing kind.

I think back to the childhood games of braggadocio I would play with my friends—the ones where you’d act out a make-believe battle, and your imaginary weapon always had to be better than the other guy’s. “Oh, you have a machine gun? Well, I have a bazooka!” When it came to racing, being the first to mention a Ferrari was a sure-fire way of ending the argument. Even to children, that’s what the Italian brand symbolizes. The end. The be all and end all. Summa potestas.

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Until recently, my stint as a motoring journalist had yet to yield any seat time with a Ferrari. That is, until I got to attend a track day hosted by Autostrada Motore, the country’s official Prancing Horse distributor.

Before I hopped into the Portofino, I got to do a few laps of the Clark International Speedway in the 488 GTB. That track-ready machine performs exactly as advertised: It’s potent, powerful, and gruff on road imperfections when you don’t get the gear shifts quite right. You feel the acceleration through your fingers as you grip the heavy tiller. It’s how you imagine all Ferraris to be.

The Portofino, meanwhile, is advertised as the brand’s grand tourer, the replacement to the California T. What surprises you right away is how roomy it is—at least in the front two seats. Even with the roof up, there’s plenty of space for two passengers. You just have to get used to the low entry point.

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Yes, that hardtop does go down in a handful of seconds with the flick of a switch. In fact, the Portofino is the fastest convertible Ferrari to date in terms of roof origami. Honestly, the car looks good whether the roof is up or down. Chalk it up to the vehicle’s sharp and sporty lines, sloping roofline, long wheelbase complementing the low stance, and short overhangs.

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Speaking of the interior, its layout is really something to admire. This unit had a mix of tan and black leather bits, replete with the standard rocket-ship-style buttons and switches. It seems every little thing in the cabin is adjustable in some way. There are displays galore, too: The 10.25-inch touchscreen is massive, and the front passenger gets a screen that shows the vehicle’s current performance. The latter is either a good or bad thing, depending on who you’re riding with.

The Portofino’s GT nature is evident in the long travel of the accelerator pedal. It’s as if the car gives you two options: Tap gingerly for a nice cruising experience, or bury your toes down into the footwell to draw out the 591hp and 760Nm you have available.

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Still, it’s a Ferrari. Once you do reach the depths of the gas pedal, you can reach 100kph in just 3.5sec. When the roads are clear, it feels damn near criminal to reach triple digits so easily, but when you need to come to a stop, the big Brembo discs provide plenty of stopping power. The low stance ensures that the car stays planted all throughout, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel lightly guides it to and fro—a stark contrast to the 488 GTB’s stiffness on the track. With the engine up front in the Portofino, however, it’s a little more prone to understeer.

Thankfully, Ferrari’s engineers made the Portofino’s exhaust note sound more like that of a supercar than a grand tourer. As the revs climb, you hear an aggressive crescendo from the V8 that elicits those fast-car noises you used to make during your imaginary races with childhood friends.

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For all that power, the Portofino is surprisingly comfortable. Remember, it’s a GT. The leather seats provide plenty of support. In Comfort mode, the magnetic suspension offers a plush experience, while the throttle becomes a little dulled to suit the setting. There’s also a Bumpy Road setting, which you can turn on if the road becomes particularly harsh.

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So, does the Portofino live up to the Ferrari aspirations of a supercar first-timer like me? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it accelerates and growls with all the face-mashing glory that a supercar offers. And no, because aside from the price tag, this is a car that surprisingly gives you just the right mix of comfort and fun. Enough to, dare I say, use on a daily basis. That’s something I didn’t expect.

But alas, as a wise man once said: “More than you can afford, pal. Ferrari.”Still, I’m thankful I got to live the dream even for just a day.

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PHOTO: Jason Tulio
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