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.

Advertisements

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T – does everything, apart from snow

The last time I cocked up this badly organising a test car was the foggy week I borrowed a Bentley. The Mulsanne was mine for the five days when visibility was so poor, speed limits around the country were restricted to 40mph.

So to collect the keys to a GTC4 Lusso T the weekend it decides to snow in England is frustrating. I can see the Ferrari parked outside my window but we haven’t actually been anywhere together for two days.

As the snow came down on Sunday, I managed to crawl home with the transmission in ‘ice’ setting. And I mean crawl – 603bhp rear-wheel drive provides all the traction of a bobsleigh.

What can I tell you? If you want to know about handling and performance, try Top Gear. I can reveal the cabin is a smashing place to reside and the deep rear seats will even take a grown up, possibly wearing a hat.

The Lusso T is an oddly placid place to sit though. It doesn’t ‘feel’ quite as titillating as a Ferrari should, although I’m told there is tons of grip if you want a wild moment of rear-wheel drive pranking.

If you are in the market for a four-seat supercar that will take the kids, or a dog, plus decent-sized boot of shopping, then the GTC4 Lusso T could be the answer. Key alternatives? The beautifully formed Aston Martin Rapide, of course…

 

Friday – Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

v5

I used to live near a Government listening station in Cornwall. Early one morning in 2011, I followed an Aston Martin up to the entrance. The window glided down and I watched a cuff-linked sleeve reach out holding an official entry pass.

If James Bond does exist in real life, then we all know he has to drive an Aston Martin. Not a BMW, a Ferrari or a Mercedes but a proper, British built car.

The new Vanquish Volante has only just come onto the market.

I’m no Commander Bond but there’s no doubt that driving a car like this makes you feel special, very special indeed. Just eyeing the glass key in my hallway is enough to make the pulse race. I’m constantly looking for reasons to pop down the shops or head in to town.

First impressions? Well, OK, what’s not to like? Just from the outside, it certainly looks like it is worth £5 less than £200,000. Shades of Jaguar XKR perhaps, a touch of F-Type in the profile?

The most expensive and most powerful Aston Martin has a lot to live up to. Join us over the next week to find out how it measures up…

Saturday – Living With Chevy

 

cropped-566164__camaro_conv_001.jpgThree times I have walked up to the Camaro – three times I have walked up to the wrong door. I’m used to driving left-hookers after living in France but something as wide as the Chevrolet is quite a handful through an English high street!

The 6.2-litre V8 is actually quite refined around town, well unless you factor in the 12mpg that is. Be warned though, the slightest press of the accelerator lifts the bonnet and sends the American surging forward.

Unlike a Ferrari or Aston Martin, the Camaro doesn’t let out a highly-tuned squeal when you do decide to make progress. It’s more of a gut grumble, or as a famous motoring writer once penned of TVR exhaust pipes, ‘like two lesbians moaning in a bucket’.

Despite the ridiculous stripes over the car, the retro looks and in-your-face image, the Chevrolet is quite civilised on a day to day basis. If only they made a right hand-drive it would be even more feasible. That and a following petrol tanker…

 

 

 

Tuesday – Cute But Flawed

658738_VX_13011

Jeremy – It’s been an interesting week behind the wheel of the Adam – the upmarket city car that Vauxhall hopes will compete against the Fiat 500 and Ford Ka.

On the one hand, I really like the styling, the funky interior and the range of options available but the Adam is let down by lifeless engines and mediocre handing. Get those right and this really could be a great little car.

As it is, the Adam doesn’t match the expectations I had when it first turned up at Car Couture. So much work has gone into getting the image right that the actual driving experience has become secondary.

I’m really hoping that the next time I drive an Adam, it will have a range of new engines, a sportier gearbox and, perhaps, a ‘hot’ version that brings it to life. For now, it is going to struggle against the established opposition which have style and drivability in abundance….

Thursday – More Reliable Than A Beautiful Woman?

603394_Adam_203_DxO

Jeremy The president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, told me yesterday that his cars are like beautiful women. However, a Ferrari was more desirable ‘because you can have dinner with a beautiful woman and then feel disappointed’. There speaks a man who knows.

I was tempted to ask him his opinion of the Vauxhall Adam but then thought better of it. After all, in his opinion, the only other rival to Ferrari is Porsche, which he regards politely as ‘quite a good sports car too.’

Ferrari is investing big euros in developing the Maranello factory, making it more eco-friendly and modern. It’s a sprawling site and the 3,000 staff can use any of the 150 bicycles dotted around the place for transport. I think the Adam (if it had a Fiat Group badge) would be a great alternative for them.

Like Montezemolo‘s beautiful women, it’s fantastic to look at and turns heads. However, driving back from Heathrow last night, it was quite clear that the Vauxhall is definitely a car for city use only. Cute as it is, the supermini feels uncomfortable on the motorway, is dominated by tyre noise (could it have been the optional 17-inch alloys?) and gets the jitters in a crosswind.

Many Adam buyers will opt for the Vauxhall purely on looks alone. But this is one car you really do have to take for a test drive if you are planning long journeys at high speed. Oh, and the rattling dashboard mentioned yesterday? My iPod in the glovebox!

 

Wednesday – Talking Italian

618958__U1R0143_DxO

Jeremy I’m in Italy for a Ferrari press conference and have noted that the country is full of small, madly driven cars. Yes, there are Fiat 500s by the legion but the Italians seem to have embraced the small car ethos in every shape and form. They still drive them with wild abandon though, that will never change.

Just what Italians would make of my purple Vauxhall Adam I wouldn’t like to guess. With black, 17-inch alloys, purple leather trim and a dash of chrome, I imagine it would have the same effect as a leggy blonde crossing the piazza at lunchtime.

It had the same impact on me when I first saw it. Distinctly different and a designer’s dream. The drive to Heathrow yesterday was therefore something of a disappointment. I could forgive the 1.4 for feeling a tad underpowered but the little Adam failed to sparkle on some fast, winding A-roads.

It felt sloppy when driven hard into corners and the steering was, at times, vague. There is also an incredibly annoying rattle coming from somewhere around the glovebox. I’m going to have to remove my belongings and see if it is the car, or if it is my fault. I suspect it is the former.

High-speed motorway driving isn’t the Adam’s strongest point but with some hefty right foot and a gear-change on steeper inclines, I was able keep up with the flow. It’s at its best around town though, posing in the High Street.

The Adam is such a pretty, distinctly different car I want it to be a winner for Vauxhall. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…