Portofino – Highland Fling


Exploring one of Scotland’s finest driving roads in the sublime Ferrari Portofino

Does any name capture the romance of driving a classic GT car better than Portofino?

Not only is it a deliciously Italian word to pronounce – gliding down the tongue like a fresh scoop of gelato – but the title of Ferrari’s latest baby is taken from an outrageously chic coastal resort on the Italian Riviera. Squeezed between the Alps and the Mediterranean, it’s exactly the sort of place you can imagine a drop-top Ferrari prowling the boulevards.

Except, Ferrari says there’s far more to this car than that. Since the California was introduced in 2008, the front-engined V8 formula has been constantly refined. The Portofino is some 80kg lighter than the California T that it replaced and it’s inherited the suspension setup from the Handling Speciale Edition. It also comes with no less than 592bhp – enough to catapult the Portofino from 0-to-62 mph in 3.5 seconds and on to nearly 200mph.

Influx couldn’t quite stretch to the Riviera, so to get a feel for the Portofino we’ve come to the next best place: Scotland. To be precise, we’re starting in St Andrews, home to the world’s first golf course and Scotland’s oldest university. But there’s no time to take in the sights, because our plan is to head north towards the Highlands.

The Portofino’s cabin is unmistakably Ferrari, with lashings of carbon fibre, beautifully intricate details and a square-bottomed steering wheel, complete with inbuilt shift lights and the famous Manettino mode selector. Most of the major controls are clustered around the wheel, in a nod to Formula 1 practice. And there’s one in particular that we’re interested in: a big red button labelled Engine Start.

The Portofino’s 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 erupts with a deep, rich bark that reverberates off the surrounding buildings. It later transpires that flicking the Manettino over to Comfort mode results in a less theatrical entrance. But where would be the fun in that?

We head north, past the old RAF base at Leuchars and over the majestic span of the Tay Bridge, which brings us into Dundee. All the while, the seven-speed dual clutch transmission shuffles quietly in the background and the Portofino’s adaptive suspension gives it a genuinely supple ride. This truly is a Ferrari that you could use every day.

As we pass through Perth, the hills start to rise up on either side and the traffic begins to thin out. A few exploratory lunges towards the upper end of the Portofino’s 7,500rpm rev range reveal that it is indeed ferociously fast. That’s perhaps not surprising given its vast power output and comparatively trim 1,664kg kerb weight. But what’s really impressive is the way that the power is delivered. At anything about 3,000rpm there is simply no discernible turbo lag. Instead, there’s pin sharp throttle response and a deliciously linear torque curve that seems to go on forever, accompanied by a spine-tingling howl. It’s as if the engine has no inertia whatsoever.

The weather is still glorious as we approach the outskirts of Crieff, but we decide to raise the folding hard top in the name of research. It turns out that the Portofino with the roof up does a remarkably good impression of a coupe – not just from inside, but also from outside where the family resemblance to the V12-engined 812 Superfast becomes strikingly apparent. If anything, the Portofino looks better as a coupé than it does as a convertible, but you lose the full operatic effect of that V8, so we soon revert to al fresco motoring. And just in time for something rather special.

Just before Crieff a little turning off to right takes you onto the A822. We click down a couple of gears and the V8 fills its lungs once more. What follows is a road straight out of Scottish central casting, beginning as a gentle country lane, meandering through lush green pastures, before spearing out onto the wild, heather-strewn moorland of Sma Glen. It’s also seemingly deserted. Long straights are punctuated by some deceptively tight corners, where the Portofino’s sharp steering comes into its own. For the first few miles it can seem hyper alert, as if the car has had one too many espressos, but it doesn’t take long to adjust. No other 2+2 grand tourer offers quite the same level of agility or the same cat-like reflexes.

The road just keeps getting better and better as we head north. Confidence in the Portofino rapidly grows too; in these dry sunny conditions it’s possible to use a reasonable amount of its 600-odd horsepower without requiring supernatural driving ability. In fact, you could argue that the Portofino hits something of a sweet spot – brutally fast, yet not so bonkers that it’s impossible to exploit.

We sweep right onto the A826, through a rather Alpine forest and back onto a particularly wild and beautiful section of moorland. The road passes Loch na Creige – its cold and choppy waters glinting in the sunlight – before snaking down the hillside to the market town of Aberfeldy. Here, you can feel the Portofino breathe out and relax as we flick back into Comfort mode on the Manettino.

It’s this breadth of ability that makes this car such an outstanding GT. When the mood takes you, the Portofino’s screaming flat-plane crank V8 and its hyper-agile chassis seem to tap directly into your adrenal gland. Ease off, however, and the Ferrari responds to the change in pace with a supple ride, decent sound insulation and a tractable engine.

It may not be the Riviera, but our trip up to the Highlands has well and truly delivered, as has the Portofino. Next time anyone complains that the UK’s roads are too crowded or that nearly 600bhp is too much to enjoy I’ll point them towards this drive. It’s proof of just how good things can be.