MARANELLO, Italy – To evaluate a car impartially, the driver should not be influenced by the brand nor by the location. But here I am at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello with the key to a Rosso Portofino in my hand. It's a crisp morning with blue skies overhead and the sat-nav has been programmed to direct me to snow-covered mountain tops along snaking roads. Clearly, objectivity will be difficult today…

All-new

The Portofino replaces the California T as the Maranello-based firm's entry-level GT and is indeed an all-new car from the ground up, sharing no chassis or body components with its predecessor. And the new aluminium-alloy platform accounts for 40 percent of the total mass saving of 80 kg. Indeed, a proud engineer at the Scaglietti chassis plant in Modena pointed out the only steel parts used in the platform: tiny lugs for the seat attachment points. The rest of the mass is saved in the engine, electronics and interior components.

How does it go?

I spot the turn-off to SP26; a tight, twisty lane up a mountain recommended by the Ferrari PR lady for dynamic evaluation. Up until now, I've been impressed by the pliant suspension set-up in comfort mode, allowing the Portofino to effortlessly devour long distances. I select sport mode on the Manettino dial and opt for manual gearshifts via the fixed carbon-fibre paddles. Owing to their size, there is no space for stalks, with the indicator buttons instead sited on the steering wheel (and proving tricky to activate or cancel while turning).

The first corner approaches and I take care not to place too much trust in previously untested grip levels in these sub-7 °C ambient temperatures. As the switch-back road continues, I begin to lean harder on the car’s dynamic abilities ... and the Portofino does not disappoint. Sure, it's not as sharp as a 488 GTB and the accurate electric steering is way too light for decent feedback, but this is impressive for a GT out of its comfort zone.

I certainly have no complaints with the way the 441 kW, V8 turbopetrol fires the Italian out of the corners (Ferrari’s E-Diff3 is now fitted in this vehicle class for the first time), with blinking shift lights on the steering wheel demanding quick action on the paddles. Not that the driver needs to rev the engine to its 7 500 r/min limit as the large chunk of torque available at virtually any engine speed pushes the Portofino effortlessly towards the horizon. The transmission responds rapidly to any driver input, making the exercise of swapping cogs highly entertaining.

Looks

Styling wise, this is an improvement over the California, with the latter looking instantly dated. Gone is the boxy design of the boot area, which now gains a flowing coupé-like silhouette not too dissimilar to its big brother, the 812 Superfast. This, along with a redesigned underbody and new vents next to the headlamps that channel wind to the front wheel ducts and past the sides of the vehicle, results in a drag coefficient of just 0,31. The long nose and cabin-back stance is typical GT and the beautiful proportions hide the fact that the Portofino is a larger vehicle in the metal than expected. The width is emphasised by the positioning of the tail-lamps at the extremities of the body.

Climbing inside, the driver is greeted by a modern cabin with strong horizontal lines and a much-improved 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The superb craftsmanship in certain areas (such as the leather seats) is let down slightly by the quality of some of the switchgear. The driver position, however, is spot on, with a large central rev counter flanked by two digital screens taking pride of place in front of the pilot. The 2+2 seating arrangement results in compromised rear perches best reserved for children (and for short hops only, at most), although, interestingly, Ferrari claims that its customers do indeed use those tiny pews on a regular basis.

Top down

Back on the main arterial leading to the next town, I hit the button to drop the fixed roof. This operation now takes just 14 seconds (while leaving useable boot space for overnight bags) and can be performed at speeds up to 40 km/h. The climate control, heated seats and wind deflector do an excellent job of keeping me cosy (Ferrari claims 30 percent less wind blast in the cabin with the roof down than in the California) as I pick up the speed.

The flowing bends suit the Portofino better than the hard cornering experienced earlier and I have the chance to stretch its legs in the upper regions of third and fourth gears. There's no denying that this is a fast car (Ferrari claims a 0-200 km/h time of 10,8 seconds). The standard, powerful carbon-ceramic brakes are called upon often to scrub off speed before the next bend, although the slight disadvantage of this fade-free set-up is minor squeal during town operation.

Summary

Ferrari has built an exceptional tourer that can be used on a daily basis. Where the Portofino surpasses the California (and to a lesser extent, the California T) is with the prowess of its powertrain, resulting in an indecent turn of speed when required. Indeed, it would take a brave driver in a supposedly more dynamic supercar to shake the Portofino on sweeping bends with short straights thrown in. Ultimately (and objectively), this new foal is a very welcome addition to the Ferrari stable...