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Review: The Ferrari Portofino M Can Turn Heads And Hold Its Own In A Drag Race

The grand tourer is more poseur than racer, but that’s not a bad thing.

Review: The Ferrari Portofino M Can Turn Heads And Hold Its Own In A Drag Race
Ferrari’s Portofino M

In Ferrari’s Portofino M, the prancing horse’s GT Spider gets a much welcomed nip and tuck. And even if you consider yourself a true Tifosi, the Portofino M is still an entry-level Ferrari, but one that can turn heads, hold its own in a drag race with a Tesla and drive circles around pretenders on a race track.

The “M” in the name stands for “Modificata”. Think of it as going to the gym and emerging more toned, versus downright muscular, in human anatomy terms. The sheet metal remains largely unchanged although there’s a new bumper up front that boasts reshaped air intakes and new cutouts on the edges that flow into the vents on the front fenders. At the rear, a more compact bumper together with a new diffuser design makes the Portifino more taut-looking. It’s like applying a “beauty cam” to the car that was first launched in 2017.

If there was ever such a thing as a practical Ferrari, the Portifino M would definitely be it. You can fold down the rear seats to fit a golf bag in the boot. The suspension, equipped with its magnetorheological dampers, makes quick work of even the most challenging road conditions. A century sprint time of 3.45 seconds and a top speed of over 320km/h won’t have you looking sheepish when trading stats at the bar.

What I really like about the Portofino, though, is how good it looks both with the roof up or down. Most convertibles look snazzy topless but tend to apppear frumpy with the roof in place. Not the Portofino M. Its roof-up silhouette might be different from the Roma — which it shares the same chassis and powertrain with — but the hard top, which takes just 14 seconds to deploy and can be activated while on the move (at up to 40km/h), blends holistically with the marque’s long hood–short deck design. Some might even think the Portifino M was strictly a coupe.

Officially a “2+2” car, the Portofino M has two seatbelts in the rear, although these are best reserved for kids under five years of age. Even friends desperate for a spin may not be keen to assume a hunched over position just for a joyride. With the top down, the lack of headroom at the back disappears but, ultimately, the rear seats are best reserved for keeping that Birkin bag out of sight when parked.

In fact, your beloved Birkin will feel right at home here as there are swathes of leather everywhere and the finishing is, as expected, top notch. From the smell of the handstitched leather to the metal accents along the dash and centre console, the cabin of Ferrari’s grand tourer is classy but far from dowdy.

For the driver, the Portfino M continues the modern Ferrari philosophy of having all essential controls on the steering wheel. Hence, there are no traditional stalks for the turn signals or windshield wipers. What is new on the Portifino M though is a new five-position (up from three) Manettino drive-select dial on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. This little switch controls a plethora of vehicle dynamics control system with acronyms like SSC (Side Slip Control), F1-TCS (traction control), E-Diff (Electronic Differential), SCM-E (MagneRide dampers), FDE (Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer) and so on.

Unless you’re a petrolhead, you don’t have to know what all this technical mumbo jumbo means to enjoy the drive — just know that it all works, and that switching from “Comfort” to “Race” does have a discernible effect, even for daily driving. The throttle response is sharper, the ride firms up slightly and if you are pushing it hard around a racetrack, the myriad electronic safety nets will be dialled back, allowing you more fun before intervening.

Ferrari's Portofino M front seat
Ferrari’s Portofino M front seat

On Singapore roads though, the nuances between the different modes when pottering around at the legal speed limits — and pottering is what is feels like when you have over 600hp under the hood — is subtle, save for the marked increase in throttle response and the quickness of the gear change from the new 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

To justify the “Modificata” in its name, the folks at Maranello have put the 8-speed gearbox from the 1,000hp SF90 Stradale into the Portifino M and, for good measure, re-tuned the 3.9-litre V8 for 20 more horsepower, bringing the total to 612. Compared to the original Portofino I had driven back in Italy, the seat-of-the-pants impression makes it impossible to feel the slight power bump, but the 8-speed transmission with an extra ratio is more noticeable. Shifts are imperceptible when the Manettino is set on “Comfort” with the auto button in the centre console activated.

Besides the thrilling exhaust sounds that constantly remind you that you’re driving a supercar, your hard-of-hearing grandma would be a happy camper if she was riding shotgun. But switch to “Race” and rev the glorious V8 up to its 7,500 rpm before pulling back on the carbon shift paddles, and you probably won’t need that caffeine fix anymore; neither would anyone in the vicinity because, while it is the audio symphony that turns heads, the sheet metal is what keeps their eyes riveted for those extra seconds.

And let’s face it, when one is paying close to $1 million for the privilege of owning a Ferrari in Singapore, show is as important as go, even if it’s the haughty Ferrari we are talking about. And while there are more exciting Ferraris to drive and ogle, the new Portfino M makes it less of a compromise.

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