THE SUN IS PERFORMING its daily party piece as it makes its final approach to the horizon. Tinges of orange and yellow fill a sky dotted with the odd wisp of altostratus. The coastal Victorian town of San Remo is doing a poor impression of the Italian Riviera but in a pandemic world where overseas travel has been made virtually impossible, this is as close as I’m getting to a beach in Sanremo anytime soon. For a fleeting moment, in the former fishing town that gains its name via Ligurian influence, I can dream of an alternate life of wanderlust. The weather is playing the ultimate game of smoke and mirrors because, despite the gin-clear visibility and lowering sun, it’s bitterly cold. The in-car read-out displays 12 degrees, but the wind-chill factor is making me question its legitimacy.
It’s this kind of deception that’s almost unwittingly bestowed upon the Ferrari Portofino. Ironically, the cheapest, ‘entry-level’ Ferrari requires the most work to sell. Its ethos and design brief come across as contrived to purists; a model born purely out of necessity to lure new money to the brand. A cynic could claim it’s a lifestyle GT for posing instead of a driving tool that burnishes the badge rather than only borrowing from it. Even the marketing bumf seems to work that little bit too hard to convey its legitimacy. Yet, now with an M designation or Modificata in Ferrari-speak, there is a new narrative. The story now turns to its dynamic ability as the plot moves away from mere aesthetics and badge hierarchy.
It’s why I find myself, many hours earlier when this road trip starts, trundling along the Bass Highway in single-digit temperatures. I’m in search of the more challenging ribbons of tarmac nestled within west Gippsland. Cruising at 100km/h, folding hardtop in place, I’m staggered by the ride quality. The manettino dial gains two new modes, being Wet and Race, but for now it’s firmly in Comfort. And it’s hard not to question how some luxury manufacturers can’t master the level of bump absorption Ferrari has with its magnetorheological damping.
The addition of Race mode shouldn’t be glossed over. It’s the first time Ferrari has endowed a GT convertible with such focused parameters. The mode allows greater liberties and newfound aggression from the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8. The revised F154BE unit now comes in at a heady 456kW and 760Nm thanks to new cam profiles and revised turbochargers. Yes, you’re reading that right; more than 600 horses for a ‘base’ car. Not that I’m massaging its 7500rpm cut-out, trundling along at 1550rpm. At least I’ve braved the six-degree temperature to drop the roof in. It’s made easier by the optional neck heater that gently wafts hot air through the heated leather seat.
Fuelled and parked at a servo outside Lang Lang, the Rosso Portofino hue – a $22,000 option that’s a shade less overt than Rosso Corsa – suits the car. With the fog lifting faster than the thermometer, the soon-to-be-warming rays bring out the vibrancy in the red, which matches well with the tan-coloured leather innards. Photographer Ellen Dewar, arrives and promptly states, “I thought it was a convertible” such is the coupe-mimicking cohesiveness when the roof is in place. With a sunset deadline looming and fading winter light a concern, it’s finally time to head off on the 87km route encompassing some of Gippsland’s best, and most challenging, driving roads.
I gallantly agree to keep the roof down. Ellen wants to take advantage of the drop-top’s handsome silhouette. This isn’t a Roma with more headroom and according to Ferrari, it only shares 30 per cent of its structure with the two-door, two-plus-two coupe. McDonald Track takes us to Nyora which, somewhat fittingly, is where ABC TV show Something in the Air used to be filmed. “Turn around, I’ve seen something” radios Ellen. It’s a Pony Club sign. Nice one.
Raw figures are often hard to fathom, yet underfoot, the Portofino M feels every bit as quick as its numbers suggest. Zero to 100km/h takes 3.45 seconds. And for those sticklers for details, you’ll know that’s 0.05sec faster than the usurped model. Attaining 200km/h from rest requires 9.8sec and it’ll go on to more than 320km/h. Quick doesn’t really cover it. The ‘baby’ Fezza has entered a different performance realm.
Tied to a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which differs from SF90 by having longer ratios and a mechanical reverse gear, it’s rapid-fire. Top gear is for economy, but due to the Variable Boost Management system that feeds in torque through higher gears, traction is a feasible construct. The relentless way in which the Portofino M eviscerates the road ahead is utterly intoxicating.
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