The next time you find yourself driving a 2021 Ferrari Portofino M down near the Florida Keys, might we suggest a quick visit to Monkey Jungle? One of the few and dwindling old-Florida tourist attractions, Monkey Jungle is staffed by friendly people and hundreds of predominantly friendly, non-excrement-throwing monkeys that date back to a scientific experiment in 1933, the same year Enzo and his Scuderia Ferrari team took over the Alfa Romeo F1 team and never looked back.
Which is a thin premise on which to base a Ferrari-Monkey Jungle story, but when Ferrari introduces a car in the Upper Keys, what are we supposed to do, just drive the twisty roads of south Florida? Damned state was laid out with a T-square, with turns that vary from a right angle to an even righter angle.
First, Monkey Jungle: Naturalist Joseph DuMond, believing that the land near Homestead, Florida, was remarkably like Java, released six Java monkeys into the forest to see what would happen. What happened is there are now 150 Java monkeys, 150 squirrel monkeys, a few capuchins, and a bunch of other animals that live free in the woods. To observe them, you walk through enclosed wire tunnels. You can enter the squirrel monkeys' habitat and feed them from a plate that can hold, by actual count, up to five squirrel monkeys. The 30-acre Monkey Jungle—"where humans are caged and the monkeys run wild"—is still owned by the DuMond family, and it's a blast.
The Ferrari was owned by Ferrari of North America, obtainable only by signing the usual form that suggests if you scratch the Portofino M, you may as well keep on going. Ferrari introduced the 2018 Portofino in the winter of 2017 in southern Italy, in a part of the country where the roads are as potholed as any in Detroit. This tested the ride—which was and is quite good—more than it did the performance, which was also quite good when we could find some decent asphalt.
The Portofino replaced the California T, and it's done quite well as both an entry-level and exit-level model for the company. It's an entry-level Ferrari in that it's the least expensive model, starting at $226,000, and exit level because it is docile around town, quite roomy, and with the top up it has room for golf clubs in the trunk. With the top down, you can't fit much more than a briefcase back there, but there's always the mostly theoretical rear seats, which are tiny and likely to be empty unless you are making a little money on the side with Uber. That $226,000 base price can quickly top $300,000 as you pile on the options. Our Portofino M cost more than $320,000, and not all of the options were strictly necessary. I mean, do you really need an electric neck warmer?
The Portofino M—the M is for modified—is a mid-cycle freshening with tweaked styling front and rear, an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission replacing the seven-speed, a smaller and quicker clutch assembly, and a reworked exhaust that helps up horsepower from 591 to 612. Top speed remains a reported 199 mph, and we predict a zero-to-60-mph time of 3.1 seconds.
The manettino, the steering wheel-mounted dial that dictates the car's personality, has a new setting. Along with existing Wet, Comfort, Sport, and ESC-Off modes, the Portofino now offers Race mode. ESC-Off tweaks the ABS response and the electronic differential calibration and turns off all the other electronic nannies. Race keeps all the nannies but at their most relaxed calibration.
Inside, the Portofino M remains friendly and intuitive. Seats are incredibly thin but all-day comfortable. Brakes, with standard carbon-ceramic rotors, are superb. Visibility, top up or down, is quite good. The top, by the way, still raises or lowers in about 14 seconds. When it lands in its spot in the trunk, the whole car shakes. You can operate the top up while driving to about 25 mph, which is about the average speed in the Florida Keys.
The M's revised styling will require a trained Ferrari eye to spot the differences from the pre-refresh model. It's certainly better than the California T, which, to make room for the folding top, had a rear end that stuck up like a monkey in heat. It doesn't cry Ferrari the way a 720S cries McLaren, but Ferrari has other models if you want to announce your presence in a louder voice.
Back in the '90s, we regularly encountered Ferraris that exhibited temperamental behavior. In 1995, there was a 456 GT that required periodically pulling the fuse for the flip-up headlights, because they would just flip up and down at random, constantly, and not in an orderly, syncopated fashion but in a left-left-right-left-right-right way that mesmerized small children. A few years later, we tested a 355 F1 with the new automated manual six-speed transmission that, at a stoplight, would default into neutral, and no amount of paddle-shifting or rebooting or holding your mouth just right would make it go. Horns would blare because people assumed the ass in the red Ferrari just didn't feel like going right then.
Since then, nothing. Ferraris have remained as handsome and invigorating as John Stamos, and as dependable as, well, a sober John Stamos. No unwanted drama. Idle down Highway 1 at 20 mph, air conditioner blasting even though the top is down, and there's no overheating, inside or out. If you want drama, try Alabama Jack's, the quintessential dive bar for the locals.
That's on Card Sound Road, the only stretch of pavement in the Keys that might—might—be as entertaining as a visit to Monkey Jungle.
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