Light and Shade

Since the beginning of automotive history, people have been trying to stretch the limits of new motorcars. Faster, better, faster again and their shape as ever-changing masses of creativity and aerodynamic efficiency. Yes, in 2018 we should as ourselves that have we come so far away that there’s no return? Should we keep going on and on innovating, with the same perseverance of those who came before us, or should we stop, gazing at what once was and move on to something new?

Be honest, we live in times where an “entry” level baby supercar has 600 horsepower, 27 hp less than the almighty McLaren F1. Such things are a force to be reckoned with. What once was a true exotic power figure to behold and fear, it is now become usable every day. Driving the new Ferrari Portofino fast on some b-roads feels like whispering to the thunder: bending extreme force to your wishes, with minimum effort.

Times are a-changing: you can literally play on the road with such power. For some reason, it almost feels that it shouldn’t be that way. Power should be scary…exciting and furious at the same time, but here, everything feels comfortably familiar. The interior feels like a lounge clad in soft Poltrona Frau leather with the roof fully retracted, blasting through the night from sunset to dawn in Sardinia is the perfect petrolhead’s “thinkery-place” for philosophical elucubrations.

First off, the Portofino is the heir to a whole generation of Ferraris, the so-called “baby” or “entry-level” ones. Such a dynasty started with the V6 Dinos of the ’70ies, it evolved with the popular V8’s of the 1980ies and arrived to the present times with the 2008 California. Such a model line was the first Ferrari with a front mounted direct injection V8, a dual-clutch automatic gearbox and a fully retractable aluminium roof. The California has always been the model for those who enjoyed most the beauty of Ferrari’s distinctive gran touring finesse, rather than performance alone. The distinctive comfort of this Prancing Horse that would look elegant both with the roof up or down is what attracted customers in the first place. The three-volume Pininfarina design made enthusiasts almost re-live the glory days of the 1950ies, where the 250 LWB and SWB Californias roamed the World. This model created a genre that is still going strong today: after the success of the turbocharged T, the new Portofino is a new chapter for this breed of Ferrari GT’s and it has come a long way since its predecessors.

Interesting enough, that what once was regarded as the “soft” Ferrari, the one destined for those who have no idea what a “true” Ferrari should be like, has now become a serious threat for the excellent 488 GTB. The explosive power deliver of the engine and the intuitive handling, make the Portofino a great driver’s choice.

Firstly, it’s a two volume, retractable-roof coupé, a clear departure from the previous, three-volume design. Many won’t care, but the new design lightens and adds dynamics to the silhouette of the car. It now looks sharper and more aggressive than before and more importantly, it is an elegant car first and foremost. No wonder why it has won the prestigious Red Dot Award this year.

It’s a full-on supercar now, the perfect choice to meditate at very high speeds. The car is also all-new: new chassis, new engine, a new management software and the new electronic differential (EDiff 3). It also has a bigger boot than before as its day-to-day usage has been enhanced even further.

Besides, it is a very easy car to drive: it’s the accessible side of 600 horsepower. It’s the kind of car that makes you focus on other things, allowing to catch small glimpses of the surroundings and admire the sky above you. Feels strange saying this on a Ferrari, but if there’s a “downside” of easy driving, is that you can focus on other things. Drive it from sunset to dawn, and you’ll know exactly what we mean.

And yes: it feels wonderful to gaze at the beautiful dashboard, feeling the soft leather and smelling the fragrance of the sea breeze mixing with the Mediterranean plants while cruising. Yet a question arises…shouldn’t any Ferrari smell of brakes and burnt rubber?

Time for a high-speed reflection on some petrolhead-wisdom. Giving the almost “digital” nature of the Portofino, we decided to chase the light driving through the shades in search of an answer. Is it the end for that distinctive, fresh and spirited nature of the typical Prancing Horse driving experience? Or are we in a transitional phase to something even more exciting?

With the V8 bellow filling the ears and a lengthy road in front of us, it is time to explore the area, trying to clear our thoughts. Driving along the coast, from Golfo di Marinella to Golfo Aranci and Porto Rotondo, the Portofino gives proof of its GT qualities. The fresh air entering the cockpit tingles your skin, helps the “stream of consciousness” while driving.

The handling is neutral, sharp and well suited for fast road driving, as the suspension copes very well with the irregularities of the tarmac. Needless to say, it is a car that it’s very competent in every area. Maybe…can we say that it is a little too excellent? It doesn’t have any flaws at all and says everything it has to say in a very professional way. When you ask her to go, it flies; when you ask her to take you from point A to point B, it makes the trip look like a million Euros; when you want to push it into the corners, does so without trying to kill you. Push it harder through the corners and it will stick even more, brake later and it will behave with more composure: what more could you possibly want?

Killing progress would be a crime shame and we’re not going to criticize this. Long live technological advancement, but let’s be honest: flaws can be fun. Is the automotive industry killing the “zing” that we need to produce cars for a wider audience? Probable…or it is just us who are becoming old, individuals on the verge of becoming 30-year-olds, who still remember the times when the Lancia Delta Integrale was the queen of the roads? Maybe.

No time for remembrance here, time to just drive. The Ferrari is strong and going well, nailing corner after corner, cutting through the air like a knife, with its Bleu Tour de France bodywork gleaming under the first light of dawn.

The Portofino might have a “muted” feedback and almost digital feeling but the idea of having such a car as your only driver is indeed, very thrilling. Lay back, enjoy the friendly side of 600 horses during your commute: isn’t this an experience to behold? Nevermind: with the many questions and thoughts we have in our mind, we decide to stop and gaze at the horizon, enjoying the colors of a glorious morning in Sardinia.

A healthy Pecorino, sausage and formaggelle breakfast is what we need to catch our breath and just enjoy the sight of another truly great Ferrari. After all, times may change, but great cars and great drives will hopefully stay the same.

Happy 3rd birthday, Escape on Wheels.


Many thanks to our Friend Greg B.

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