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A Ferrari that serves luxury but no real power

Ferrari Portofino M, the mid-generation grand touring convertible is just fine. And that’s just not enough

The Portofino M comes with a new, eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission and revamped styling. 
The Portofino M comes with a new, eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission and revamped styling.  (Courtesy Ferrari USA/Instagram)

If you are in the market for a Ferrari, the kind of Ferrari that makes your hands sweat and your pulse quicken and your mind race long after you’ve parked for the night, do not buy the 2022 Ferrari Portofino M.

The new $226,000 convertible lacks the seriously sensuous curves and chiseled supermodel cheekbones that Ferrari has perfected over decades of making the most beautiful and collectable cars in the world.

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Aside from the signature manettino switch and thumb-activated indicators, the interior lacks a distinctive “Ferrari-ness” in the way signature cabins in vehicles from Bentley and Lamborghini have that whisper or scream, respectively, of the brand that birthed them. With plastic-feeling knobs and air vents, a torture-chamber of a back seat, and a trunk that will fit three six-packs at best, this could be mistaken for the interior of a car far less expensive and with a substantially lesser pedigree.

Which is not to say that the Portofino M is a bad car—it’s just not a great Ferrari. Its driving style is comfortable and quick, and although it doesn’t meet par against other grand tourers, it may be more usable than most Ferrari models. But the Portofino M will never be a car that comes close to defining the marque.

A rich heritage

Let’s go back to where it all began. Named after the touristic former fishing village on the Italian Riviera, the Portofino M is the mid-cycle upgrade to the Ferrari Portofino that debuted in 2017, a model that replaced the rather banal California and the better California T.

M stands for modificata, or “modified,” and this update to Ferrari’s new grand tourer does indeed come with some vaguely pleasant modifications: 20 more horsepower than its predecessor; an eight-speed gearbox instead of seven; new torque control that makes it smoother under lower speeds; and a “race” mode, the first on a Ferrari GT convertible. Styling mods include air intakes on the hood, a new drag-reducing vent on the top of each wheel arch, and aluminium slats along the grille. It also has a new rear diffuser, which can come in carbon fiber.

Together, these enhance the driving experience over the previous Portofino, and it made for a fun four-day loan, including a Sunday jaunt to the beach. The new engine note sounded different enough from, say, that of a Toyota to get some attention; the feel of the brakes, suspension, and steering obligingly altered while switching driving modes (choices: Wet, Comfort, Sport, Race, and ESC-Off) racing down Interstate 10 toward the Pacific Coast Highway. It dove smoothly and nimbly through traffic, and the retractable hardtop adequately shut out exterior road noise, so one could enjoy the Portofino M as a coupe, if one so desires. 

A mixed bag

With a respectable zero to 62 mph speed of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 199 mph, the car is objectively fast, although it is not as light, nimble, or beautiful as the Ferrari Roma—which, at $218,670, costs noticeably less.

Despite such new creature comforts as heated and ventilated seats, the Portofino M lacked the overall posh pomp and artisan excellence that another grand tourer, the Bentley Continental GT, had in spades. Grand tourers at their best excel at high-speed, long-distance driving. They’re the kind of vehicle you would want to drive in for eight hours a day, back to back, the kind of car you’d choose if you had to venture from LA to Las Vegas, New York to Miami, Paris to the Côte d’Azur. 

The Portofino M is just too uneven. With the top down, the visibility was excellent. Not so with the top up: That rear pillar is a black blot. And the new wraparound front bumpers that contribute to the car’s too-softened looks make it hard to see over the hood when parking.

In the plus column: The tilt of the windshield, which can darn near totally obstruct my view in some exotic convertibles, easily accommodated even my long torso. In the negative column: The tiny trunk lacks any button to close and open it automatically, a normal component for plenty of GT cars and, at a price of nearly a quarter-million dollars, hardly a diva request. Is this not a luxury car?

More good and bad: The top drops in a short 14 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph—but lands with a decidedly not-posh clunk when it hits bottom.

The front seats are exceptionally comfortable; the rear seats were so small that when the front seats were arranged to allow decent legroom, no leg would ever fit in the back. The familiar jokes about using such perfunctory seats simply as hat- and purse-holders are true. That’s all fun and games for cars that don’t also purport to be for long-weekend holiday trips and practical driving, for which space and genial accommodation are key.

The phone synced with the car’s infotainment system just fine. 

Except, yet again, there was a snag.

The Bluetooth audio faded in and out constantly as I drove one afternoon down Highway 101, even as I tried and failed to correctly adjust the volume and sound settings. I assumed this was a problem related to the European spec of the car, but during a phone call after the drive, a Ferrari spokesperson helpfully suggested it was likely related to the too-sensitive setting of the automatic ambient-noise adjustment, which silences the radio when the car is in close proximity to other objects such as vehicles in heavy traffic. Had I known, I would have adjusted it to lay off the sensitivity issues. No one should have to fight with the radio while stuck in traffic; in such a situation, a good soundtrack can be the only saving grace. 

It’s not a big deal, but in a car at this high of a price point, it detracts from the overall experience. I know I’m not alone in being vexed. Consumers increasingly report that the ability to easily connect and control their phone with their car is of utmost importance. According to the 2021 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study released on 31 August, one of the top four annoyances cited by new car buyers in the first 90 days of ownership pertained to faulty or inconvenient infotainment. In an ultraluxury car intended for the Italian dolce vita ideal, a seamless, intuitive interior experience matters. 

Usable, if forgettable

Here is my favorite thing about the Portofino M: It is high enough off the ground (Ferrari declined to discuss the exact clearance) to navigate tricky driveways in Hollywood, valet stations in Beverly Hills, and pockmarked streets in the downtown Arts District. Now, that is what I call useable. You can’t say that about many other fast rigs from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Pagani, Bugatti, and so forth, which make stressful driving for exotic sports cars that are otherwise divine.

The Portofino M is best used for leisurely trips around pretty areas on sun-drenched afternoons—as long as you don’t need to put much in the trunk. During my test drives, it accomplished this with ease in ergonomic seats behind rich exterior paint hues and distinctive wheel rims, all while brandishing that all-important status symbol: the yellow Ferrari badge. I got plenty of (unwanted) attention in this rig from truck drivers and dudes in Hondas, who will honk at any blonde in a red car. Driving with the top up reduces that nonsense by half. 

But as a driver, I found nothing really thrilling. A little love bite—a jolt to the senses—once in a while should  remind us of the rich, blue blood prancing through its veins. That’s exactly why one desires a Ferrari. The Portofino M lacks charismatic impetus. For all its softened edges and driving comforts, this is one prancing pony we can live without.

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