‘If you’re after a Ferrari that ticks every box, all roads lead to Roma.’ That was the sign-off for my Ferrari Roma review, written last autumn. In truth, though, the multi-tasking Roma does leave one box unticked. If you want to drive your Ferrari al fresco, you need to look elsewhere.
In short, you need a Portofino M. The £175,345 convertible sits alongside the £170,984 Roma coupe as the first rung on the Ferrari ladder. ‘M’ stands for Modificata, a mid-life update for the car that replaced the California T in 2017. Read our thoughts on the original Portofino here.
Ferrari has launched a deluge of new models since it split from Fiat and went public in 2016. Recent arrivals include the Roma, 1,000hp SF90 Stradale and new 296 GTB. In such company, a tweaked Portofino could easily feel like a footnote, yet it doesn’t deserve to. Indeed, it might be the best open-air GT of the lot.
Nip and tuck
One suspects a few Ferrari owners have enjoyed a facelift to make them look more dynamic. The Portofino is no different, although the changes are, thankfully, more nip-and-tuck than bulging botox.
The main ‘M’ giveaways are new front vents at wheelarch height, which flow neatly into the side scallops. Look closely and you’ll spot the toothier grille with aluminium slats, redesigned rear bumper and new diffuser.
Ferrari has also introduced a range of heritage paint colours, such as the elegant Celeste metallic seen here – a hue first used in the 1950s. It suits the Portofino M far better than trad Rosso Corsa.
Engage Race mode
More significant changes are found beneath the skin, where the 3.9-litre turbocharged V8 gains 20hp to match the Roma. The important numbers are 620hp and 560lb ft: good for 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds and 199mph.
The Roma also donates its eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, replacing the seven-speed ’box fitted previously, along with its five-position manettino dial – now with Race mode.
The latter provides access to the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer (FDE), an electronic brake-steer system that helps you perform inch-perfect powerslides. On a race track, of course.
A sportier character
Hang on. Isn’t the Portofino supposed to be the soft option? A Ferrari for Beverly Hills or Saint-Tropez, not screeching around like Charles Leclerc?
Well, sort of. The four-seat Portofino M still straddles the gap between GT and supercar, somewhere between a Bentley Continental GT and Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. However, after feedback from customers, Ferrari has honed the chassis to offer ‘superior handling’ and a ‘sportier character’.
Testing those claims, particularly on a balmy summer day in the Cotswolds, would be a gruelling and thankless task. But I selflessly stepped up to the plate.
Decadent and exotic
The Portofino M isn’t a beautiful car like the Roma. It has the heavy haunches that afflict most folding-hard-top convertibles and some of the details are fussy. Still, it has a presence that no drop-top 911 can match.
Retracting the roof takes 14 seconds and it stows neatly below the humped rear deck. The mix of exposed carbon fibre and wall-to-wall caramel leather in my test car feels decadent and exotic, although those in the back won’t share such enthusiasm; the ‘+2’ seats are strictly for small children.
Long, slender gear paddles and a steering wheel with F1-style shift lights are further clues that this Ferrari isn’t merely a riviera cruiser. Hold onto your Ray-Bans…
All the gear
Press the red engine start button and the V8 fires with a boisterous blare. It sounds breathy and menacing, if not particularly mechanical, with most of the decibels coming from four sawn-off-shotgun tailpipes.
Leave the manettino in Comfort, though, and it soon fades into the background, the suspension offering a supple ride that befits a long-legged GT. The ‘Bumpy Road’ button calms things further, slackening off the dampers without sacrificing lateral control – ideal for crumbling British B-roads.
In normal driving, the V8’s defining characteristic is torque. Maximum twist-action arrives from 3,000rpm, but each ratio in the clever SF90-derived ’box has its own torque curve, ramping up the drama as your right hand click-clunks through the gears.
Into the red
For the ‘entry-level’ Ferrari, the Porofino M still feels brutally quick. The V8 revs keenly and punches hard, red LEDs stretching around the upper rim of the wheel as you near the 7,500rpm redline.
Switch to Sport mode and you feel it tense a little. The electric power steering is much quicker than most rival GTs, making it more flighty and restless than you might like. This is how all modern Ferraris are configured, in fact, but it seems less suited to a GT car.
Attack a series of corners and the Portofino M stays flat and focused. It doesn’t have the finely-wrought balance of the F8 Tributo – but few cars do, frankly.
Lastly, before you ask, I did twist the manettino around to Race mode. And no, I didn’t attempt any tyre-shredding slides on the road. From previous experience, however, Ferrari’s dynamic systems flatter the driver almost to a fault. If you must take your 1,664kg open-top GT on a track day, it would doubtless be great fun.
Boxes of appeal
So, if you’re after a Ferrari that ticks every box, all roads lead to… Portofino? It is a town on the Italian coast, after all.
For me, the Roma’s best-looking-car-on-sale beauty, more modern interior and 100kg weight saving still tip the balance in its favour. That said, the luxurious and exciting Portofino M offers a lot to like.
Including, for fans of fresh air, that extra ticked box.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
PRICE: From £175,345
0-62MPH: 3.5 seconds
TOP SPEED: 199mph