CarBuyer’s freshly-minted staff writer takes on a Prancing Horse for the first time in his life, comes away with clean pants and a clearer impression of the what makes it the world’s best brand
Photos: Ferrari Singapore
Of all the ‘first-times’ a person could have, you’d think driving a Ferrari has to rank right up there next to skydiving or bungee-jumping in being tremendous and terrifying, in equal measure.
As the newest member of the CarBuyer team, I was at the job barely a month when managing editor Leow Ju-Len kindly asked if I would like to drive a Ferrari. It was a bit of a shock, as this sort of drive doesn’t happen very often, but that was entirely the point of The Esperienza Ferrari Test Drive Session, a one-hour experience designed to give existing customers and press media a feel for the latest Ferrari models in-country.
My designated Prancing Horse for the day was the Ferrari Portofino (which we’ve covered in more detail on CarBuyer.com.sg, and our sister magazine Top Gear has reviewed), the most affordable Ferrari in their range, but ‘affordable’ seems funny when it’s used in the same sentence as ‘price starting from $855,000 (without COE)’.
Suffice to say buyers of Ferraris exist on a different plane from most people, financially, but if you think about it, being able to own a car at all in Singapore is a big privilege, and the urge behind it is pretty much the same, be it a Ford or a Ferrari. Size, and price, of your toys and all that.
Named after an italian fishing village, the Portofino is significantly lighter (80 kg) than its predecessor, the California T, and has stiffer springs (+15.5 percent at the front and +19 percent at the rear), which are bolstered by the latest evolution of Ferrari’s magnetorheological damping system (SCM-E) that ‘guaranteed superb ride comfort’.
The Portofino is the ‘least’ Ferrari’, but it wasn’t just the price tag, nor the performance of this 3.9-liter V8 twin-turbocharged beast which can go from 0-100 km/h in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 320 km/h, that I really wanted to experience: I was curious if the Portofino could show me what all the hoo-hah is about, and why Ferrari is the foremost brand in the world.
As part of the Experienza event, Ferrari’s carefully constructed plan is to pair the car with a driver-guide to match – in my case Marco Bonanomi, a pro-racer and Ferrari driving coach – and a special route designed to showcase the best qualities of the drop-top Portofino.
With my luck, naturally on the morning of my test drive it was ‘perfect’ cabriolet weather: Wet and thunderous.
Under the umbrellas, Marco introduced me to the Ferrari Portofino. In person, it’s a low-lying, sleek monster, and with its 20-inch wheels, the Portofino looked both imposing and inviting. It was an easy car to like and the menacing ‘smile’ it had on the front piqued my interest.
What I didn’t know was that I’d be driving an all-black version of the Portofino. I had expected a red car (I wonder why…), but understated elegance worked for me. Still, I’m all for shouting it to the skies – if you own a Ferrari you may as well be proud of it.
“This is the most comfortable Ferrari in the line-up,” Marco told me before entering the car to demonstrate the various seat settings (heat and cushioning) of this two-door, 2+2 retractable hardtop convertible, all on a touchscreen.
There was also a short introduction to the manettino (little lever), located to the lower right of the racing-style steering wheel. The F1-inspired steering wheel is another step for Ferrari in bringing their drivers a step closer to the brand’s beating heart – the racetrack – but it was the crown on which the jewel of the manettino laid.
The manettino is Ferrari’s bespoke dial to toggle between the Portofino’s driving modes of Comfort, Sport and ESC Off (Electric Safety Controls Off) – for everyday driving, speed and no-holds barred fun (or behind bars, if you’re not careful/skilled) respectively.
Amidst the peak hour traffic and inclement weather, my Ferrari journey started, right after a friendly reminder by Marco to place my hands at the 10:15 position of the steering wheel for maximum control.
What happened next will shock you! (Stop using clickbait titles or I’ll slap you – Editor). Or rather, it shocked me: The Portofino actually put me at ease just minutes into the drive, leading to a slightly-more relaxed driving stance. Ferraris, or at least this Ferrari, are actually not that hard to drive in real life!
The car did that by riding smoothly, it took curves quickly but not abruptly, the power came in a gentle wave rather than a raging torrent, so I had no problems mixing it up with general traffic.
Midway through, I was inclined to agree with Marco that a comfortable Ferrari was of good value in the wider market. While in motion, the interior of the Portofino was extremely quiet, plus the well-designed windscreen prevented an excess of morning light from blinding us.
After spending some time in the Portofino, I found myself trying to do more in the name of fun but with the road conditions that I was subjected to, there was no way I could come close to experiencing the horsepower promised (not for lack of trying!).
But nothing spoke more about Ferrari than the roar. That roar was almost flat-out obnoxious and attention-grabbing, but it also an almost-sensual vociferation of power and style. The oldies complain about new turbo engines lacking the soulful scream, but hey, we can’t go backwards in time and only forwards, and this V8 was pretty full of spunk.
To a total noob such as myself, the roar was the most obvious way the spirit of Ferrari spoke, or shouted rather, and being able to producing that sound (and the accompanying power) with just a flex of a foot was intoxicating.
So while I can’t say that much about crazy velocities and the technicalities of mastering a Prancing Horse, I began to understand the appeal of owning a Prancing Horse. Not everyone can be a Michael Schumacher, and yet pretty much every Ferrari that goes on sale has a months, if not years, long waiting list.
“(With the Portofino) Ferrari is looking to give its supporters the best both in style and technology”, Marco summed it up in our post-drive breakfast. And that’s really just the beginning.
For the value of one Portofino, the Ferrari buyer doesn’t just get a car. He gets to live the Ferrari experience (or the Ferrari Esperienza, in my case).
For example, the annual Ferrari Cavalcade takes Ferrari car owners on epic road trips in different parts of the world in their own cars, while the Esperienza Ferrari series and Passione Ferrari feature Corsa Pilota licensed trainers briefing enthusiasts about the newest cars in the range, before taking them on a test-drive like mine.
If you love the idea that Ferrari started out making racing cars first, and road cars second, the Ferrari Challenge racing series has extended into its 27th year of existence, with over 1,000 races held across three continents, including the 488 challenge.
At the highest level of involvement, you could even own a Ferrari F1 car of the past and drive it whenever you want, or even contribute to Ferrari’s race testing with super-exclusive programmes like the FXX. But things like that aren’t just about the cash to splash, one has to have a good relationship with the factory, something that can only grow organically over time.
CEO of Ferrari Far and Middle East Dieter Knechtel puts it quite clearly: “Customers are no longer just purchasing a product. They are purchasing the experiences and emotions the brand can offer them and the customer experiences of some of our events are money-can’t-buy experiences uniquely tailored to our customers.”
It wasn’t simply a morning of supercar driving, it was also a peek into a very different world, one with a fascinating blend of history and engineering. It may have rained on my first Prancing Horse parade, but if my luck holds out and I win the lottery, at least I’ll have a much better idea of where to spend it all.
Read More: Ferrari Portofino