The Everyday Ferrari? It’s Called Portofino

Want to drive a Ferrari 365 days a year? The Italians think the answer is the new Portofino convertible – a 2+very small 2 grand tourer costing £166,000. Lighter, faster than the out-going California, the Portofino is powered by a 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 that produces 591bhp.

It’s a direct rival to the delightful Aston Martin DB11 Volante and if you are interested, the waiting list is getting longer by the day.

It’s Ferrari’s new ‘everyday’ car. We drive it across the Cotswolds on a sunny morning in July…About six years ago I was whisked off to Maranello for a global press conference that was entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Coachloads of journalists had been shipped in from around the world to receive an update on the company’s progress – It must have cost millions and probably kept Alitalia in business for a whole year.

Unfortunately, it was one of those PR disasters that in Italy involves somebody sleeping with the fishes. Coaches went round and round in circles, translation earpieces failed to work – the good people of the press were left bamboozled.

To add insult to injury, the ‘big’ story was that Ferrari wasn’t going to embark on a massive sales drive, instead choosing to ‘preserve the brand’. Production would not increase and erm, what exactly was the story again?

Well, that’s a little like being invited to the launch of the new Portofino. This is the natural successor to the ten-year-old California, a 2+2 convertible grand tourer that never really lived up to the hype.

The Portofino obviously looks great roof up or down. It sounds amazing, is well proportioned and will fit newbie Ferrari drivers like a glove.

Underneath, the framework allows the Portofino to be 35 per cent more rigid than the California and it’s lighter too. Stiffer suspension and electromechanical power assisted steering instead of hydraulic should improve the handling.

A revised 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 sits up front, there’s an easy-to-understand 10-inch display and, well, it looks jolly from the inside and out. You can even fit two jockeys on the back seats. The hard top also folds up in 14 seconds and at speeds of up to 30mph.

What’s wrong with it? At first glance, not much. The Portofino has incredibly annoying indicator buttons on the steering wheel and despite onscreen multi-adjustment of the seats it’s not a comfortable place to sit.

But more importantly, what I’m missing from this Ferrari is the human touch. Everything about this car ‘feels’ like it is controlled by computers. There’s no drama and ultimately no skill involved in making it fly – and if you enjoy driving that’s a bad thing.

I’m sure this is exactly what Ferrari want to hear because it is an easy drive at very fast speeds. Anybody could sit in this Ferrari and feel like Lewis, it’s very good at that.

Me, I want to feel like Fangio and connect with the car I’m driving. I’d like to feel it through the seat of my trousers, the pull on the steering wheel. If that sounds old-fashioned then you take the Portofino and I’ll opt for the DB11.

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Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design – lathered in lagom

The new mid-size SUV from Sweden is racking up a raft of awards, as Volvo’s resurgence in the family car market continues. The D5 R-Design costs £43,505 and returns an impressive 54.1mpg (combined) from its 235bhp 2.o-litre diesel engine – more importantly than that, it’s an exceptionally good car with a classy interior and more safety features than you can shake a reindeer antler at…

In recent years Volvo has left its antique dealer/two Labrador image behind and become the epitome of Scandinavian chic. No, it doesn’t sell a sports car but as a multi-tool of motors, the Swedes now put together SUVs better than an Ikea flat pack.

The transformation started with the XC90 in 2002, a full-fat luxury crossover that left many conventional MPV owners with a sour taste in their mouth. The latest XC90 is already regarded as a legendary all-rounder, super safe and very desirable.

The pint-sized XC40 has just launched Volvo into the compact SUV market too. It has snatched the European Car of the Year Award and is going to give the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 a bloody nose, make no mistake.

Now I’m discovering my inner Sven driving the XC60. The semi-skimmed, mid-range model is smaller than the XC90 and minus a third row of seats but otherwise a doppelganger. Last month it was named World Car of the Year. Yep, and it’s a Volvo.

The XC60 is lathered in lagom – that’s trendy Scandi-speak for ‘just right’. I’ve already discovered it boasts the world’s most relaxing and well-organised cabin, feng shui’d to the hilt and all the more brilliant for it.

So if you currently drive a sports utility vehicle with a busy dashboard, marvel at what Volvo’s interior designers have done to theirs. My dog could count the number of buttons in our XC60 on two paws.

They’ve been swept away and replaced with a mini iPad screen. It’s not as big as the one in a Tesla but intuitive and simple. That also leaves a larger space in the air-conditioned glovebox where the manual used to be. You see everything needed to learn about this car is accessed via the touchscreen manual.

I wouldn’t say I’m your typical Volvo driver – one hound, no kids – but almost begrudgingly, after just seven days, I have to admit the XC60 is something I never expected it to be. Cool.

My Jeep Cherokee just wants to sing to me, all the time…

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Lordy, I think I’ve clocked up considerably more miles in the Cherokee than intended. The crazy beep alarm is still driving me nuts (I think it’s a speed camera warning) but now that sound has been joined by something even less melodic.

The tyre pressure monitoring system suddenly let me know today that there was absolutely no air on the rear near-side wheel at all. All rather unnverving when you are tootling along at 70mph.

Anyway, as expected, the pressure was fine but there is now a fault warning that occasionally sounds and makes me wonder if I really have run over an armour-plated hedgehog.

We’ve done a good 800 miles now in thick fog, down icy tracks and at high speed on the M1. The Jeep is a perfectly adequate SUV but I’m not sure it would stop me buying the visually more appealing Range Rover Evoque.

I guess it’s horses for course…

 

The dog only growls at a roaring Bentley GT Speed…

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My dog only growls at two vehicles – the local farmer’s tractor and the arrival of a Bentley GT Speed. The fastest GT money can be chucked at has a sensational roar in Sport mode.

The W12 engine even outperforms last week’s Morgan Plus 8 for naughty acoustics in the high street. It takes guttural gurgling to new levels and is seriously sexy.

Of course, it pumps out huge amounts of pollutant from those tailpipes too – 338g/km to be exact. Some might consider that V12 turbo something of a dinosaur but hell, does it sound good.

The cheaper V8 S model might be regarded as a better all-rounder and substantially more efficient but for balls out bravado, well, driving a Speed is like turning a victory roll over the CO’s control tower, full throttle in a Spitfire.

Over and out

An SUV crossover that carries both people AND luggage? You’d be nuts not to consider a Volvo XC70

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Other car manufacturers would tell you they make a better crossover but the XC70 is an SUV and a ‘proper’ estate rolled into one.

A proper estate? Well, SUVs are fine, except when you want to carry people and luggage at the same time.

So while the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Mercedes bling thing all boast more speed and badge cred, the XC70 is extremely practical and arguably a more luxurious car.

And yes, because you don’t see that many of them in the UK, the Volvo has a certain niche cache missing from the German marques which, let’s face it, are everywhere these days.

This is a classy estate. Volvo has beefed up the appearance with some purposeful pieces of plastic trim but on the latest models, it’s all done to good effect.

Perfect for the Boxing Day sales or the Boxing Day hunt, the XC70 is an understated winner.

The Peugeot Sport 208 GTi is £22k – I’d expect a sat nav system for that sort of money

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I need to check if the 208 GTi has headlight adjustment. Sticking to the ‘only drive the crazy-coloured car at night’ routine, I discovered yesterday that the dip beam barely reaches 20ft from the bonnet. My eyesight isn’t exactly 20:20, so coping with last night’s fog was something of an achievement.

And while we are talking about night time driving, the ignition key slot isn’t illumination. Which means I’ve had to poke and prod around on the steering column trying to find the location. I imagine that after several months the scratches will be very noticeable.

Is this a good moment to point out that the GTi at £22k doesn’t have a sat nav system either? The entertainment system includes internet but I think I would be disappointed to pay that much and not have a woman who likes to tell me where to go.

You may also find the buttons for the heating system a little on the small side – at night it’s a bit of a scrabble to locate them. I had to pull over and turn on the interior light to find the buttons…