Auto review: Ferrari’s 2019 Portofino is racy, but rough around the edges

Los Angeles Times

Being a Ferrari is like being a superstar entertainer or an elite athlete. If you do everything perfectly, no one really notices. But have one bad day and you’re a bum, and the rumors start that your career is in trouble.

The 2019 Ferrari Portofino is that kind of superstar. Sleek, stylish, elegant and extremely fast, the newest sports car from the Italian stallion company is almost everything a Ferrari should be. How much emphasis will potential buyers place on the “almost” part?

The Portofino is the replacement vehicle for the California T. A two-door four-seater with a retracting convertible hardtop, it is powered by a front-mounted 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that puts out 591 horsepower (up from a reported 552 on the T) and 561 pound-feet of torque, on a vehicle that weighs almost 200 pounds less than its predecessor.

It’s quick, jumping from zero to 60 miles per hour in under 3.5 seconds, and only stops accelerating at a manufacturer-mandated 200 mph. The engine fires up with a pleasant purr that rises to an impressive roar. Downshifting after a forward rush produces that fine Ferrari gurgle.

Power can be applied to the wheels via a variety of driving modes, using either the automatic 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (no stick-shift version is offered) or employing the paddle shifters to select gears manually.

The driving feels racier than on the California T, in part because the Portofino is embedded with electronic upgrades borrowed from the company’s F-1 racing cars. At the very limits of performance, the Portofino will behave more like a track car and less like a grand touring vehicle.

Appropriately, the steering is tight and the suspension is stiff. Feedback from the road is intense. That makes a canyon drive delicious, but also allows for pleasant freeway driving and around-town erranding.

The race-style steering wheel, as on other Ferraris, supports all the buttons and switches required for driving. Gear selection, turn indicators, drive modes, windshield wipers and communication and entertainment choices can all be made without letting go of the wheel.

The shift points, in automatic mode, seemed designed more to maximize fuel economy than driving excitement. One block from a full stop often found me already in fifth or sixth gear, with the engine lugging badly. I had more success switching to sport mode — which also sharpens the suspension and steering — and using the paddle shifters to change gears, keeping the Portofino inside its power band and making the most of the torque and horsepower.

The leather-clad seats are wider than typical sports car thrones and they are firm enough to keep you planted in tight turns, but comfortable enough for long-distance excursions.

Though it seems at first glance to be a hardtop coupe, the Portofino is fitted with a retracting lid that, with the press of a button, raises the ceiling and then hides it in the trunk. Wind management, with the top down, is pretty good. Tooling along the coast on a blustery afternoon to an appointment in Laguna Beach, I didn’t need a cap to keep my curls from unfurling.

Taking the top down also increases visibility, which is limited with the top up. The A pillars and the placement of the rearview mirrors block the vista. The tiny rear window doesn’t help much, which means it’s a bit harder than usual to keep an eye out for cross traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists and other impediments.

Of course, dropping the top also diminishes the appeal of the JBL sound system and the efficacy of the Bluetooth phone connection. A bit noisy when the top is up, the Portofino makes a real racket when the top is down.

It’s not just wind and tire noise. The fan on the HVAC system wheezes like an iron lung, and the windshield wipers sound like a foot soldier in squeaky sneakers.

The razor-sharp steering and suspension cut both ways, too. Sensitive enough to qualify for hot laps at Willow Springs, these give a lot of unwelcome feedback around town. In the hills of Silver Lake, where the roads are notoriously bad, I felt every wrinkle in the road.

On another vehicle, these would be minor quibbles, and hardly worth mentioning. But this is a superstar car, and the best is expected of it.

2019 Ferrari Portofino

Times' take: Pure Italian elegance, performance

Highs: Lovely to look at, delightful to drive

Lows: Lacks refinement in some areas

Vehicle type: 2-door, 4-seat hardtop convertible sports car

Base price: $210,783

Price as tested: $268,608

Powertrain: 3.9-liter, twin-turbo V8 gasoline engine

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Horsepower: 591

Torque: 561 pound-feet

Estimated fuel economy rating: 16 miles per gallon city / 22 highway / 18 combined

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