2021 Ferrari Portofino M – review
Words by Steve Chalmers
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The everyday Ferrari that’s quicker than a legend
If you were in any doubt about the 2021 Ferrari Portofino M’s performance credentials, then just compare them to those of the Ferrari F40, one of the most formidable road-going cars ever made.
Even if you have the tiniest hint of petrol in your veins then you’ll know all about the Ferrari F40. Launched back in 1982, the Pininfarina-styled, mid-engined supercar was a no-compromise road-going race car that was loud, uncomfortable and fearsome in the wet. Its infamy was well documented, with some motoring journalists at the time describing it as a “mix of sheer terror and raw excitement", with others admitting it was “unfit for daily road use”. It was, and still is, renowned for the legendary performance of its twin turbo V8, a snarling beast of an engine that produced 478bhp, leading to a top speed of 321kmh and a 4.7 second sprint from 0 to 100kmh.
Cut to today and I’m behind the wheel of the 2021 Ferrari Portofino M. Like the F40, it too has a twin turbo V8, except thanks to the M-update (M in Ferrari terms meaning Modificata, or a model evolution with a significant performance boost) I have an F40-crushing 612bhp at my disposal. The updated Portofino’s 561lb-ft of torque also trounces the F40’s 425lb-ft, and if I were to floor the throttle from a standing start, the ‘king of the supercars’ would have trouble keeping up, as the Portofino M can despatch the 0 to 100kmh benchmark in a mere 3.4 seconds – over a full second quicker than the F40.
These are astonishing numbers, made all the more impressive by the fact that this is Ferrari’s entry level motor. Six hundred and twelve horsepower is now as low as you can go in the Ferrari range, but unlike the F40, the Portofino M is as good at going slow as it is at reaching a top speed of 321kmh.
Mated to the four-time winning International Engine of the Year is a new 8-speed gearbox that is in effect a longer geared version of the one found in the SF90 Stradale and what an amazing bit of kit it is.
If you want a chilled cruise, or you’re sending grandma out to pick up some milk (yes, the Portofino M really is this easy to drive), then press the Auto button in the centre console and the gearbox will smoothly shift up to 8th gear quickly and smoothly, every time.
In Auto mode, the five-position Manettino switch on the steering wheel can be left in the Wet, Comfort, or Sport position for a gentle drive, as Race and ESC-Off, are really only for the racetrack. The super tall 8th gear is perfect for relaxed, economical cruising as the V8’s torque allows you to waft along at just 1,900rpm at the Sheikh Zayed Road speed limit. Along Jumeirah Beach Road the V8 is even lazier, but it still manages to make plenty of noise. The twin turbo is a talkative engine. Under acceleration, you can hear the induction system sucking in air along with the faint sound of the turbos spooling up. Let off the gas and the exhaust note crackles and pops satisfyingly, but to really enjoy the Portofino M, you have to head out into the desert and swap auto mode for the paddle shifters.
As soon as you take command of the Ferrari’s gear ratios, the Portofino completely changes character. As you start to drive more aggressively, the M also appears to rise to the challenge. People say Ferraris have a soul and, opening it up for the first time, this is something you can definitely sense. Despite being technically a grand tourer, the Portofino wants you to experience its performance to the max and it’s at its happiest accelerating aggressively through first, second and third gears. The gear change is instant and each flick of the paddle lands you smack-band in the torque and power curve. The M’s acceleration is relentless, brutal and addictive. It’s one of the few cars where everything (power, torque, gear ratios and electronics) comes together in one perfect storm, pinning you to the back of your seat – and all with a howling, flat-plane crank V8 soundtrack that truly tops off the open top Ferrari experience.
The Ferrari Portofino M, with its infotainment system, seven-year maintenance programme and ability to cruise at under 2000rpm in 8th gear would appear to be a safe, mile eater, but in reality, it just happens to be a comfortable, four-seat, convertible supercar.
There’s not a lot of machinery that can match the Portofino M as an all-round performance machine. It’s as happy taking you along JBR as it is attacking Yas Marina Circuit’s back straight. In fact, it’s almost completely suited to living on the racetrack. Believe those numbers, the Ferrari Portofino M is as brutally fast as its statistics.
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