The Portofino is the most important Ferrari in a decade

It's the most important Ferrari in a decade – and the car Ferrari hopes more people will drive more of the time.

The Portofino also represents a big change in name, stepping away from the California moniker that has graced the entry-level to the lineup since 2008.Not that much has changed in the basic makeup of the 2+2 convertible.

Like the California – and, later, California T - the Portofino nestles two child-friendly seats behind the two front seats and pops a clever folding hard-top above them all. The roof lowers in 14 seconds at anything under 40km/h.

And it looks the business.                                                         

Listen up

Up front there's a 3.9-litre twin turbo V8 powering the rear wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic that makes a wonderful sound - when you spin it out.

There's a full 441kW on offer way up at 7500rpm, at which point the engine is howling. The dash to 100km/h takes just 3.5 seconds, reinforcing the Portofino is a quick car.

Conversation in the cabin is a challenge such is the scream from the engine, something that adds to the immersive driving experience.

White noise

At lower revs, the noise is less convincing, more of a dull drone than anything aurally exciting.

The reality is many owners will be listening to that drone a lot more than the peaky shriek – all because of the immense low-rev pull of the V8.

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At just 3000rpm the Portofino musters its hearty 760Nm shove of torque. Even below that there's plenty on offer, with plenty of oomph from as low as 1200rpm.

Bend and stretch

The Portofino isn't just good in a straight line, either.

Brakes are constructed of carbon-ceramic discs that cop punishment better than traditional steel units.

There's some sandpaper-like scraping at low speeds but when hit hard they're a potent mix that confidently wash off pace – again and again. You get the impression the Portofino wouldn't shy away from a fast race track blast.

Hard braking applications also allow the seven-speed transmission to shine, quickly firing into the right gear for the next bend.

Softly does it

But the California doesn't have the razor sharp feel of a 488 or 812, which is good and bad. Blame it on the suspension, which has more comfort built into it for that everyday driving.

Sure, there's some initial firmness over short, sharp bumps, but ambling along a snaking road its suppleness shines.

Despite the supercar badge it's a car that pampers in most everyday situations. Those used to the hard-edged steeliness of a purebred Ferrari sports car may feel it's too soft, lacking the firm connection that has defined so many of the marque's models.

Take a seat

While it's more grand tourer than lap time screamer, the Portofino is brimming with Ferrari flavour.

Superb seats hold you snugly and the dash design has the family appearance that makes things inside all the more special.

The steering wheel, too, has inspiration from Formula 1, with its overload of buttons covering everything from the stop-start button and horn to the indicators.

Roof down there's a welcome rush of air over your head, although that can be reduced by affixing the wind deflector.

Family welcome

That's partly deliberate.

Ferrari Australia boss Herbert Appleroth calls the Portofino "probably the most important Ferrari we've launched in a few years". He says it will continue the California's role of attracting new people to the brand, or the "Ferrari family", as it's often referred to.

"We expect 60 to 70 per cent will be new to Ferrari … it's our main conquest vehicle," he says.

Appleroth also refers to the Portofino as "our everyday Ferrari", while reinforcing that the brand is naturally producing vehicles with "greater performance yet higher levels of refined luxury".

"It's a car that can be driven every day but it's even more refined."

It could also be one of Ferrari's top sellers, helping position the brand for sustained growth and, possibly, helping smash sales records.

Take a number

Ferrari loves a queue. Or, at least, it loves making owners wait in line for their new ride.

A year or more waiting for the latest must-have from Maranello adds to the mystique and the sensation you're stepping into one of the world's most revered sports car brands requires.

Witness the 812 Superfast, the quickest Ferrari ever sold in Australia, both in its on-road performance and the way it leapt out of dealerships.

The entire allocation took a matter of days to be snapped up, in part because it's expected to be the last Ferrari to get a howling V12 without the assistance of turbochargers and/or electric motors.

It's a Ferrari

At the other end of the Ferrari heartbeat scale is the Portofino, which doesn't have the enthusiasts lining up to the same extent.

Which is good news for those looking to own a car with the yellow prancing horse badge.

At $399,888 it's no bargain compared with other four-seat drop-tops with similar straight-line punch.

But it is a Ferrari, it's fast and it looks stunning.

More than enough for an entrée to one of the most revered sports car brands.